Friday, September 30, 2005

Curl Up With A Good Book

This past weekend in San Diego writer’s conference, it was fun to hear what other writers are reading. Several of us swapped recent books that we’ve read and enjoyed. I consistently go back and forth between nonfiction and fiction titles—as you can see if you read these entries about the writing life. I’m often reading something which I can’t write much about—because you would only find it frustrating. The book will not be available for several months so instead I choose to write about books that you can easily find.

One of the keynote speakers, Barbara Nicolosi, gave me an advance review copy of her forthcoming book. It was one of two copies that she brought to the conference. I plan to write more about this book in another month or so—when you can get it. I’ve seen Barbara off and on at various conferences over the years and we’ve talked briefly. In fact, I have emailed her several times (without response). I thought those emails were never received—but in fact, she had read them and still planned to respond. I add this little bit of information so you understand that not everyone responds to every email. It’s impossible—especially with huge volume and some people like Barbara have good intentions. So..if your email is falling into a black hole without response, don’t despair. It is hopefully being read and I hope you will increase your patience—as I’m trying to do with many people and hopefully they are doing with me as well. It’s another reality of this publishing business.

Let’s return to my topic of cozy books. Here’s a couple for you to consider adding to your bookshelf. For several years, Judith Miller has joined forces with Tracie Peterson to write bestselling historical novels. Now Judith Miller has launched her first novel called First Dawn: Freedom’s Path (Bethany House Publishers). The story is set after the Civil War and predominately goes between Georgetown, Kentucky and the plains of Kansas. I enjoyed the story and found it fascinating reading. Follow this link to read my full review and more detail about the book.

Last summer I met Bob Beltz and I had an advance version of the novel Somewhere Fast (NavPress) on my bookshelf.  One afternoon, I was looking for something different to read and I started on the first few pages of this book. Almost immediately I was hooked into this contemporary novel of a middle age man trying to find his spiritual connection while riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle across Route 66.  Bob is writing his first novel and I hope the Harley Davidson crowd catches on to this title. There is a great deal of spiritual truth built into the fun storyline. As with First Dawn, follow this link to learn more about Somewhere Fast.

I hope over the next few days, you will take a bit of time to curl up with a good book. The experience will transport you to a different place—and that could be fun.


Thursday, September 29, 2005

An Eternal Question

It’s a question bantered about constantly in publishing circles—and often with different answers.

What variables make a book sell into the hands of readers?

I don’t pretend to have the answer for you in this entry about the writing life but it’s something that I continue to learn about and investigate. I’ve mentioned and recommended reading Making the List by Simon and Schuster Editor-in-Chief Michael Korda. It’s not your typical how-to-write book and one that can be acquired quite inexpensively through Amazon.com’s used books.  I found the book fascinating reading because it analyzes all of the bestseller lists from the last century. While getting on the bestseller list isn’t always the best indicator of sales, typically bestseller books have sold in a particular volume.

While Korda’s book is a great educational experience, you witness in black and white the lack of rhyme or reason for certain books and why they catch the public’s attention and imagination to make the list. The prediction part of the process is almost impossible and something editors talk about among each other (and writers would love to listen because they want to sell their book proposals to these editors). Editors and publishing executives make their best and most educated “guess” at what will sell to readers, then work hard at the marketing aspects and stand back to see what will happen. Those results are often surprising—to everyone in the process.

This week, Editor-in-Chief of Publisher’s Weekly, Sara Nelson, has a clever article on the topic called “Read My Tattoo.” She tackles this topic and tells about a serious fiction book with some different marketing efforts. (I’ve not read this book.) She writes about the difficulty to market these “serious fiction books” saying, “Just don’t tell it to Riverhead editor Sean MacDonald, who has just released The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, a 130-page $13 paperback novel on a 1984-ish theme from George Saunders, author of the well respected but heretofore not blockbusterish Pastoralia. In most other hands, this oddball offering would languish in all the usual ways; but MacDonald—whose title, tellingly, is both senior editor and online creative director—has embarked on a grass-roots, anti-hype hype campaign geared at the 20- and 30-something audience he knows well: smart, hip, Internet-savvy readers suspicious of any marketing campaign that seems too slick. His promotions include hand-screened (by him and his art director) T-shirts designed by cultish graphic and fashion designers, temporary tattoos, a Web site, blog outreach and a very, very unusual letter from the author to booksellers. Whether Phil will become a bestseller remains to be seen, but potential readers’ consciousnesses have definitely been raised—at a recent Saunders reading at a New York B&N, over 200 people showed up. If only such creative thinking would wake up the sluggish and entrenched among us, many of whom still believe that it’s somehow uncool to admit that books, like any, forgive the expression, consumer product, need to be marketed.”

Ok, do I have any answers for you to the eternal question? No, but I will admit to continually learning more and trying new ways to reach different audiences.  Each of us are looking for the Tipping Point when the book will capture the greatest possible audience.


Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Small World Connections

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like you are a small part of the big picture of publishing. Then other times you feel quite connected. I had one of those “it’s a small world” experiences this week.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that I read Publisher’s Lunch. It’s a free email newsletter (so subscribe to it) with a large circulation. Often I skim the information or read a few of the links. For example, I learned that a New York editor on my collaboration panel last year’s ASJA conference changed publishing houses. Brenda Copeland was Pamela Anderson’s editor at Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) and has become an executive editor at Hyperion books. I caught this change of personnel from a bit of information on Publisher’s Lunch.

Tuesday’s Publisher’s Lunch included this news item: San Francisco Reads, Too
Gus Lee’s autobiographical novel China Boy is the first selection for San Francisco’s One City One Book program. The SF Chronicle files a long piece about the author and the book.

Instantly I had a small world connection with the story.  Almost two years ago, my wife belonged to a small book group of women in Colorado Springs. For one of their meetings, the group read China Boy, then invited Gus Lee to come and speak.  For this particular meeting, the group invited their spouses to attend the session. While I had not read China Boy, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Gus Lee and meet his wife Diane. The novel is really an autobiographical memoir of Gus growing up in the 1950s in San Francisco and has become a classic tale about the immigrant experience. It was fascinating to hear Gus tell about his childhood experiences. When we talked after the meeting, I learned his literary agent was Jane Dystel, which is a well-respected New York agency.  On a completely different occasion at an ASJA meeting, I met Jane Dystel. While during our meeting, I knew Gus was a Christian, I didn’t know much of his story—until this week when I read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle. I found it encouraging to learn about Gus’ ongoing influence in the publishing community and his personal faith journey. I hope it will be interesting to you as well.


Tuesday, September 27, 2005

The Books Keep Coming

The wisest man ever to walk the planet was King Solomon. He left a bit of his writings in our Bible and wrote about the proliferation of books saying, “Of the making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

When I have an opportunity to teach at writer’s conferences (like this past weekend), I don’t pull out my old notes from the past. I make an effort to add new and current information to my handouts and my verbal presentation. I’m constantly learning more details about publishing. Here’s an example of something I read in a couple of my workshops this past weekend:

I knew these next few months were a busy season of book publishing. Many people buy books as Christmas presents and other end of the year events. I noticed that a forthcoming issue of Publisher’s Weekly is going to cover new fitness and diet books. Why? Typically many of these books release in January—when people have made their New Year’s resolutions and are thinking about proactively doing something in this area.

Sara Nelson, the Editor-in-Chief at Publisher’s Weekly, recently wrote, “As memories of summer vacations fade and the new magazines, TV shows and movies begin to land, we’re once again treated to the realization that fall is also a busy time in the book business. Maybe because, admit it or not, we’re still living on the school-year calendar, or maybe—as some publishers will tell you—it's because releasing books in the fall sets them on their trajectories to the holidays, when books magically turn into gifts. Whatever: September and October are always the months in which the greatest number of books are released. By our count, nearly 200 adult hardcovers with announced first printings of more than 100,000 will come out between September 1 and December 31. That’s 20 million books, you back-to-schoolers, and is only a sliver of the publishing activity.” (I added the bold emphasis, September 12, 2005, p. 5)

Many people dream of getting a book published and publishers continue to release new titles each season. If you have one of those books (or if your book is in a publisher’s backlist of books), you need to be continually thinking about how to tell people about your books. Lissa Warren has some excellent advice to authors with books in her ten tips excerpt from The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity.

And if you are like the individual writers I met this past weekend, who dream about getting a publisher to accept their book in the first place, then check out my tested advice in Book Proposals That Sell. Repeatedly I find writers have not poured enough energy into the opening (hook or overview) of their proposal. Or maybe they have a terrific title but their actual execution of the proposal doesn’t deliver—not engaging or lacks some information. Missing information is one of the hardest elements to find in someone else’s proposal or magazine article. I recommend using a checklist or some other tool to make sure you’ve put your best foot forward in this area.

In the meantime, those books will keep coming. What role will you have in the process? Writing something that will catch fire (in a PyroMarketing way) and really do what it’s supposed to do? I hope so because no writer wants the other result.


Monday, September 26, 2005

Day To Re-Group

As writers and editors, I find that most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. We have high expectations and high goals for our own writing and production and success rate.  Notice how I’m writing in the “plural” tense and including myself in this bunch. These expectations are not always realistic. 

For the last few days, I’ve had a fairly intense schedule of meetings with individual writers and speaking at the conference. Yesterday I flew home and reconnected with my wife (always a recommended step if you are married).  Some times there is no alternative with a schedule than to plunge right into the next activity.

If at all possible, I like to take a day and re-group. It always seems like I have a lot of follow-up work after any trip, bills to pay, email to answer and other bits of organization. If I don’t take these steps, then the matters tend to pile up and I have to attack it with several days of effort instead of a few hours of effort. From my experience as a writer and editor, organization counts. It’s important to keep track of new names and addresses as you meet people. It’s important to invoice for reimbursement (if needed) in a short amount of time while the information is still fresh. Otherwise something else is bound to interrupt.

Also since I had very little down time over the weekend (which I understood from the beginning when I was going to teach at a conference) I try and catch a few hours here or there in the next day or so. The process of reading or working out on my treadmill will help renew my spirit and help me to re-group.


Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Refreshing Change of Pace

It’s a rare event to be savored and appreciated.  A few times a year I get away from my computer and go to another writer’s conference. I’m writing this note on the road in San Diego, California. In a few hours, I’ll get home to the Phoenix area. Yesterday’s conference is only a memory. When I walked out of the conference, a small group was transforming the room back to it’s previous state in a local church.

Each one of these conferences have their own flavor or feeling. Sherwood Wirt, now 94, founded this conference when he retired to this part of the country after leaving Decision magazine (where he was the founding editor). Now many years later, it was terrific to see Woody again and have a few minutes with him. At his age, Woody is slowing down but he continues his passion to help others with their writing. It’s that spirit of helping others which permeates each of these conferences.

I always find it particularly stimulating to meet new people, listen to their dreams and aspirations then try and help where possible. In the ASJA we commonly say, “We train our competition.” In one sense it’s true but in another sense, I believe each person attending has different dreams and places to publish than where I will write my materials. So I welcome the opportunity to give back, listen and help. I find the change of pace stimulating and encouraging.

Yes, it is tiring a bit for the editor. I taught three workshops yesterday (one of them twice). In addition, I was meeting with individuals about their potential projects for Howard Publishing or helping them with their nonfiction (with my ideas). It was an opportunity to tell people about Book Proposals That Sell and encourage them with their own aspirations for books.

Because I’ve been attending these conferences for many years, it’s also like old home week in another sense. It give me a chance to catch up with various editor friends as well as literary agents.  For example, I read the publishing trades and process what I sense is behind some of the news—like when one publisher purchases something from another publisher’s backlist or any number of other details.  Talking with these friends, I have a chance to process and understand some their interpretation of the news and what is the story behind the story. I hope that makes sense—insider talk—and normally restricted to the phone or email—you can do it in person at a conference. I hope you can see that I’m a bit tired but I’m still high on the great things which can happen at these conferences. Now to wing my way home….


Friday, September 23, 2005

Why I Don't Transcribe Interviews

It’s always a relief when the personality for your interview walks through the doorway. Yes, you schedule the interview, plan your questions and prepare for it—but life happens and some times they are rescheduled. Thankfully the interview I mentioned from yesterday happened without a hitch. Well, relatively without a hitch.

I interviewed in a McDonald’s play area which marked a first for me. I could tell from the music in the background my tape recording would be a challenge for transcription (but I still recorded my conversation). Over the years, I’ve worked out a technique where I take a few notes—but also record. It allows me to maintain eye contact with my subject and interaction with them. At the same time, I get a few thoughts and quotes on my pad (provided I can read them later—my handwriting is pretty terrible).

I need a few minutes after the interview. It’s always key in my magazine article writing. These few minutes give me a chance to think about the interview and the potential shape of the article. In my head, I create an outline for the article.  Then hopefully I get another few minutes to scratch the outline on paper.

Immediately after my interview, I headed to the airport to pick up my wife returning from a trip back east. My drive in freeway traffic gave me these few minutes of breathing space to think about the significant portions of my interview.  When I reached the airport, I scratched a few outline notes. Soon I will type this outline and it will give me a road map of how I’ll piece together the eventual article.

With that background, I’m going to tell you why I always tape but rarely transcribe the tape. I will often return to the tape and check a few quotations on it. I know a number of writers who transcribe their tapes after an interview.  I’m unsure about the reasons. I know when I worked for Decision, the magazine required us to tape our interviews then transcribe them. Often as editors, we wrote stories for some of the celebrities that we interviewed. There was a strict way the articles were handled internally (written and edited) and part of that process involved having a transcription from the tape. It was many years ago, so the procedure has likely changed in their current operation. For that reason, I can see having a transcription but not normally.

Here’s the problem with a transcription: it puts the words into stone. They can’t be moved because they are typed or written on the page from the tape. Instead, I’ve found the interview process is much more fluid and as a writer, you need to move those words around from the interview—in your head—but also when you eventually write the article. 

My interview yesterday began with a particular detail from the sports figure’s life. I thought I understood the story—but then late in the interview (about an hour later), the athlete revisited the same topic—and added even greater detail so the significance became crystal clear to me. If I had been transcribing the tape, I might not have connected the two incidents when I wrote the article. The words would have been cemented in stone and not as easy to move around after they were transcribed.

In a few hours, I’m off to San Diego to teach at the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild Fall conference. It will be a full weekend. In the meantime, I hope I have shown you the fluid nature of interviews from my experience.


Thursday, September 22, 2005

The Clock Is Ticking

Each time I take an assignment—whether a short magazine article or a book length project—I know the clock is ticking with a deadline to turn in the material. Writers are notoriously late with these deadlines but one of the hallmarks of my work has been to turn in excellent material on time.  If you commit to this issue, you will distinguish yourself from many other writers. It may come as a surprise, but it’s true.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been accepting these deadlines. It’s almost like an internal clock begins to tick when I accept one of these deadlines. Weeks ago, I accepted a magazine assignment.  It’s in a different area of the market for me—sports. I’ll admit to being one of these unusual guys who don’t live and breathe sports.  Yes, I give the sports page a quick read in the morning and I’m usually aware of the major events—but I don’t follow every statistic or watch the appropriate sport every season. It’s a trait my wife loves—that I’m not consumed with Monday Night Football. For me, it’s just how I’ve been wired.

Weeks ago, I took a sports assignment and the clock began to tick. Shortly after receiving it, I contacted the appropriate people to try and set up an interview. I’ve exchanged phone calls and many emails—yet the interview was never scheduled.  It’s not appropriate for me to tell you the specific magazine or person—but it’s a fairly high-profile personality. I’ve interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors over the years in all sorts of settings (their homes, restaurants and even one interview sitting on the floor of a large convention hall). Because I don’t write investigative pieces, I have a cooperative spirit for the person and normally that spirit is what I get from publicity people and others who arrange these interviews.

A day or so ago, I realized my interview with this personality was never scheduled—despite providing copies of the magazine and many exchanges. I used a tactic that I’ve never used before—and something to be used sparingly—so I’m not recommending it. I questioned the real intentions of this scheduling person and expressed doubt the person cared about my deadline or interview request. I explained that while I had lots of time at the beginning of our discussion (weeks ago), that time had evaporated and I was knocking at the door of my deadline. Before long the opportunity for the story would disappear (a real threat—and bad for me if I couldn’t deliver to my editor but I made it), if the interview would not be scheduled. Instead of polite exchanges, I turned the correspondence a bit accusatory and waited, wondering how the person would respond.

I received a note of apology with several excuses about why the interview had not happened yet—along with a promise to see if it could be scheduled this week.  Yesterday, I learned my interview is scheduled for later today. I’ll be taking a bit of time today to review my editor’s instructions for the story and prepare a list of questions. Plus I’ll be reading some background information. While I’m not a sports fanatic, I am prepared when I walk into these interview situations. You never know what will happen during the interview time—if the person loves to tell stories or simply provides one word answers.  The finished article is always easier to write when the person tells detailed stories.

Provided my interview happens today (some times they are rescheduled at the last minute) and I collect the right story material, it looks like I’m on my way to meeting another deadline.


Wednesday, September 21, 2005

An Introduction To PyroMarketing

Over the last few days, I’ve been telling you some of the fascinating information for writers that I’ve learned from reading PyroMarketing. I hope I’ve stirred your imagination about this concept and how applicable it is for writers and all sorts of new products.

If you are a bit muddled about the concept and how PyroMarketing is different from any other type of marketing effort. You may be wondering the fire analogy and how it makes sense with this concept. Or maybe you’d like to read a couple of detailed examples about how PyroMarketing works.

I’ve got good news for you.

This week, Greg Stielstra sent me a PDF of the introduction his book with permission to use it. It’s the first dozen pages of PyroMarketing. Rather than write another entry about the book, here’s the link to this introduction. I recommend everyone who is involved in any sort of marketing—and if you are a writer or editor, then you are involved in marketing (whether you want to be or not)—download this PDF, study it and pass it on to others.  You still need to purchase the book to get the complete picture—but it’s a substantial taste to give you some insight about the value of this book.


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Realistic Expectations

Over the last few days, I’ve been writing about PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra (Harper Business). I was fascinated with a short section of the book which shows Greg’s realistic yet serious marketing intentions for his own book. Here’s the section:

“Each year between 120,000 and 150,000 new books are published in the United States. Last year 5,301 of those titles were business books, a 30 percent increase from the year before. They join a library of 3.2 million books already in print. To put this in perspective, it helps to realize that a typical Barnes and Noble superstore accommodates only about 110,000 titles, or between 10,000 and 40,000 fewer than just the new books published each year. If there are about 56,000 business books in print, and assuming an average cost of approximately $20, that means individual business titles sell only about 323 copies per year—and yet my publisher and I expect my book to sell many times more...

“The challenge is daunting, and yet the business book market hit $828.6 million this year and some business titles sell millions of copies. People are buying them. The trick is to understand the process and their motivations. No one steps through the front door of a Barnes and Noble and, after drawing the smell of books and coffee deeply into their lungs, determines, “Today I'm going to buy me a book and I don’t much care which one.” People aren’t like that. They care deeply about certain books and not the least about others. So, who are these people? How do they discover new books? Why do they choose the ones they do? What kind of person will choose mine, and why?” (PyroMarketing, page 50) 

Notice the realistic perspective about his book and how it will enter the marketplace. I’ve met way too many authors who lean entirely on the publisher for any marketing and expect their book to rocket to the top of the bestseller chart (or at least quickly earn back any advance from the publisher), then they are sorely disappointed when it does not happen. See the questions that Greg asks in the final section of the quotation? These questions will give you some insight about the questions you need to be asking about your particular book project—but more than the questions, you need to be finding the answers to them. 

If you find these answers and build the results into your book proposal (particularly the marketing section), then your proposal will receive serious consideration from the publisher.  To be realistic, serious consideration is the only reasonable request that a writer can make from a publisher. Then the publisher has looked at the idea, considered if it’s right for them, then either taken it ahead in the consideration process or rejected it. As writers, we want to rejection-proof our submissions. I believe we can learn a great deal from the principles that Greg has written in PyroMarketing.


Monday, September 19, 2005

Powerful Marketing Insight

When it comes to introducing a new book into the marketplace, I know a truth firsthand. It’s easy to spend massive amounts of money in the marketing area—with little measurable return. What works for one product may or may not bear results for the next product.

As a part of the marketing department at Zondervan Publishing House, Greg Stielstra has been involved in marketing more than 750 different books including twenty #1 bestsellers and eight books which sold more than a million copies. PyroMarketing gives the history of mass marketing and points out the current lack of effectiveness with such techniques.

What if you could change your technique to give relevant messages to the right people then foster their enthusiasm to spread throughout society? It’s a technique which doesn’t require a large marketing budget—just a focused thoughtful plan. Using the metaphor of fire, Stielstra has boiled the technique that he calls PyroMarketing into four steps: 1) Promote to the people most likely to buy (something he calls finding the driest tender), 2) Give the consumer an experience with your product or service (Touch Them with the Match), 3) Help them tell others (Fan the Flames) and finally 4) Keep a record of who they are (Save the Coals).

Each chapter includes a brief summary then thought-provoking questions for the reader to apply PyroMarketing to their own situation.

Thousands of new books are introduced into the market each year—now as I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s easy to get a book published. You can get a garage full of books but how many books can you get sold into the hands of readers. I believe the technique of PyroMarketing is something many people can apply to their own product development. I highly recommend this book to stimulate and jump start your own marketing plans. Whether you are in a business or any other aspect of product creation (such as writing a book), you will want to pay attention to this title. If you are writing a book or a book proposal to submit to a literary agent or a publisher, you should read PyroMarketing then use the techniques to sharpen and improve your own marketing plans.

Let’s take some of this information and apply it to writing a book proposal.

What is your best potential audience for this book? What means do you (as the writer—not the publisher) have to reach them? (The Driest Tender)

What can you do to give that audience a taste or experience of your book? (Touch them With A Match)

How can you aid them in passing along your message? For example can you sell to this audience at a discounted (or special) price to assist them getting more copies of your book that they will in turn pass to others and stir them as evangelists for your message? (Fan the Flames)

Do you keep track of who these people who are purchasing your book? (Save the coals) Then when you have a follow-up product you can easily reach them again. One of the continual problems with mass marketing or retail marketing is this lack of follow-up or data management. These concepts are spelled out in detailed examples in PyroMarketing.

Hopefully these questions will help you apply the techniques from PyroMarketing to your book proposal (nonfiction or fiction). I’ve only begun to describe the principles which are detailed in this book. If you apply these principles to your proposed book, it does several things: 1) it shows the publisher immediately that you “get it.” You understand marketing is a cooperative effort between the publisher and the writer. It’s not that you write the book and abdicate this effort to the publisher but you will be an involved partner. 2) It distinguishes your proposal from anything else in the stack of proposals. I mean anything—and elevates the interest from the editor (who in turn champions your book to others within the publishing house).

I believe such steps will likely improve the results from your marketing efforts. So…1) Get this book 2) Study this book 3) Apply the techniques to your own life. It may make you into one of those PyroMarketing “evangelists” who love the book and want to pass it on to others.


Sunday, September 18, 2005

Read or Sleep?

Whenever I travel, I regularly notice whether people are reading or sleeping or doing something else. Last week for example, I noticed a woman one row ahead and across the aisle. She had a small DVD player and was watching the romantic comedy Hitch. On the flight to Dallas, the man in the next seat had a new thick John Irving novel, Until I Find You. Almost three minutes after opening the book, he closed this over 800–page novel, dropped his head to his chest and was asleep. When I made the return trip, the man in the seat beside me didn’t make any pretense at reading. After takeoff, he was asleep for the duration of the flight.

One of my greatest personal challenges about traveling is deciding which book to read on the airplane. It sounds trivial but there are many choices and when I’m locked in a single place, I want to have something that absorbs my attention.  

Last week I carried a book which I had partially begun to read at home. Almost immediately when I sat down, I was lost in the content of PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra (HarperBusiness). Subtitled, “The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life,” Greg has promoted more than 750 books through his work at Zondervan Publishing House. Of those many books, twenty have been #1 bestsellers and eight have sold more than a million copies.  Starting tomorrow, Greg is the new Vice President of Marketing for Christian books at Thomas Nelson Publishers

Because of my enthusiasm for what I’ve learned from PyroMarketing, I’m going to take the next few days of entries and write about some of the lessons that I’ve absorbed from this book. I strongly believe if you are a writer (whether much published or unpublished), you need to think about the messages in PyroMarketing. I believe as the author builds such techniques into their proposal and work with the publishing houses, then they can drive their books to succeed at a high level in a crowded marketplace. Hurry back tomorrow for the first detailed explanation of PyroMarketing.


Saturday, September 17, 2005

Slay the Naysayers

Let’s face it. If you attempt almost anything in the writing life, you will hear the word “no.” Or you will receive the form rejection letters which politely say, “No, thank you.” Or maybe you haven’t even gathered any of those rejection slips because you have the voices in your head screaming, “No.”

It’s a battle to fight those internal demons which whisper, “You are never good enough. You can’t really do that sort of project.”

Many years ago, Multnomah Publishers brought out a colorful little book on creativity. I enjoyed reading the book (while I don’t remember any specifics) but I’ve never forgotten the title, It Won’t Fly, If You Don’t Try. See the truth in these words, you have to try—and in the publishing world—you have to try repeatedly in a given area for it to fly.

Our challenge is to overcome our fears and plunge into the water. Admittedly you have to learn the craft of writing. You have to understand the audience for your article or your book plus you have to learn the expectations of the editor (and meet those expectations). Each of these aspects are fundamental and something that someone can learn. If you don’t learn them, you will be doomed to not receiving a hearing from the editor.

What are you dreaming about getting into print? Are you putting the effort into learning how that particular portion of the marketplace works? For example, if you are writing a novel and have never been published, then you will need to write your entire manuscript—before you send a query into the editor. It’s a basic expectation for first-time novelists that you will have to learn about—then meet. If it’s nonfiction, then you can learn the skills to write a dynamic sample chapter and a complete book proposal, then propose or float your idea with the various publishing houses or a literary agent. If it’s a magazine article, you have to learn about the publication. Some publications prefer to receive complete manuscripts while others will only read query letters. Then you have to learn how to write a terrific query letter for your idea to receive a hearing. It’s something you can do—learn the procedure—then follow the procedure.

The first hurdle is squashing the fear inside you and trying. Learn what it is that you need to get there—then make a plan and do it. I know I make it sound easy but there is a way to slay the naysayers. An old Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step.”


Thursday, September 15, 2005

Follow The Open Doors

Have you ever stood around with a bunch of writers or editors? When there is some honest conversation in play, it usually doesn’t take long until you hear about the litany of things which are not happening. Maybe it’s a personal crisis and the writer has missed a deadline. Maybe the sales on a recent book haven’t matched expectations. Or maybe those query letters fly into a black hole (no response). Or your calls to your agent are not returned (I’m talking about an editor or an agent where you have a working and on-going relationship).

We have to face that publishing is a difficult business.  As writers, we heard the word “no” a great deal. As editors, we have to say the word “no” a great deal. I don’t believe it’s any fun for anyone to say “no” or to hear “no.”

I’ll confess I forget who taught me this basic principle. I know my writing stands on the work and the shoulders of many teachers and other writers. As I’ve interviewed and talked with many of these people, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of information. Here’s the principle: follow the open doors.

Write for the publications that say yes to your query letters—and where the writing and editorial process goes smoothly. I know it sounds simple but to put it another way—work with the people who want to work with you.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have high goals for your book or your magazine article—to reach and touch many people. Some times we set our expectations on something and knock on the door repeatedly—too much—and it simply never opens. Go with those people (editors and publishers) who “get you.” They understand your audience and your writing. They don’t have to be coerced or cajoled into action but there is a simple meeting of the minds and an enthusiasm for great writing.

Do lots of door knocking—lead prospecting—query letter writingbook proposals. It’s where you express your availability and willingness to serve and to write what is needed in a particular situation. That door knocking is a constant part of the process in publishing. But let’s not sit around complaining about all the inaction in the publishing world (at least as we know it).

Instead look for those open doors and when there is a crack in the door, leap through them. Amazing things lie ahead for you when you follow this philosophy.


Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Just Teach Me The Rules

Throughout my years in publishing, I’ve met many new writers. They prepare and arrive at their first writer’s conference with high expectations.  These writers have come to sell their creation to the editor. You can see that glint of determination in their eyes and the eagerness in their jump into the conversation.

In the same way you can see their enthusiasm, if the conference lasts several days, you can also see when reality hits them. They begin to see the complex way the publishing world works and their need to understand the rules—much less produce excellent writing. It’s like they entered the conference with rose-colored glasses and these glasses have been removed.

These writers need to learn the rules of the road. They cry out, “Just teach me the rules and I’ll follow them.” Certainly there are a few rules and expectations from the editor. Then there are the exceptions to every rule. Publishing (magazine or book) has various systems in place. For example, most magazine editors read query letters from writers. Based on this one-page letter, the editor makes an assignment. In the book area, editors read book proposals—not full-length manuscripts. On the basis of these proposals, the editor champions your project internally and ultimately issues a few book contracts.

While there is a science and expectations to publishing and how it works, there is also art. It’s a funny mixture of art and science combined with standing in the right place with the right material at the right time. One editor loves your work while another one can’t slap the form rejection note on it fast enough. I’m certain you’ve heard this rule. “The first rule is there are no rules.” Not hardly true in this world but it’s not like you follow a particular well-worn path. Everyone follows a different path and a different journey.

No matter where you are in this journey, it’s important to understand publishing is based on excellent storytelling. You have to invest the time and energy to learn how story works and how you can tell good ones—whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction.

This week, I’ve been writing about packagers and how they produce a variety of products for publishers. I’ve worked with gift book packagers and children’s book packagers—as a writer and other times as an editor. Here’s the beauty for the editor: They have a stack of contracted manuscripts going through their system yet the sales people want a certain type of book. Where are they going to squeeze that new book into their already full schedule? If the new book comes from a packager, then it’s not much of an issue. The packager will deliver the designed and edited manuscript. The editor simply maintains a quality control on the project instead of a direct hands-on role. The sales area is happy because they get their product. Yet this type of system is outside of the normal rules and expectations of the system.

The journey is exciting because you never know what will happen with a particular project. Going into it, you have high hopes and dreams. Our responsibility is to simply keep learning along the journey—and constantly improving our body of work and our writing skills. It will pay off in the long run.


Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

It happens all the time and I’ve been guilt of it at times as well. You come up with a terrific creative idea and then can’t get it published. It’s soundly rejected in the market and you don’t understand it.

Some of those times, it has nothing to do with you. It’s because you don’t understand how the publishing world processes information and how you can fit your idea into this process.

Here’s several quick examples. You have an idea for a book. You open a computer file and start hitting the keys. You have no connections to the publishing world or idea about what format they want or expect—yet you are driven to write this book. Day after day you write it and finally you reach the last page. Congratulations are in order because you’ve consistently managed to create a large stack of paper. Now what? Because publishers are barraged with such submissions—many of them completely off the wall and inappropriate—they have closed their doors to new writers. You figure you need a literary agent. These people are also overwhelmed with a lot of “stuff.”  You’ve essentially barked up the wrong tree and written your book backwards. Instead of a book manuscript, you needed to create a book proposal.  This mysterious document contains a lot of information which will never appear in your manuscript but is critical to how publishers make decisions.

OK, you’ve decided to move ahead and publish your book manuscript—which was soundly rejected with form letters when you sent it to publishers and literary agents. Again, from my perspective, you have made a wrong move. Certainly many people will gladly take your money and publish your book. Now selling that book to the individual is another process. You’ve gained the satisfaction of a completed book—yet the majority of the copies sit in your garage. You’ve not done your homework and learned how the process works.

As another example, I’m involved in several online forums. Someone threw out the idea to create a devotional book with her photos to illustrate the book.  I wrote about how she didn’t understand the production costs for a publisher and how she was barking up the wrong tree.

Now as I think about it a bit more, this writer was even further off the mark. The majority of these devotional books are not acquired individually from a submission. Book packagers create these submissions then the packager shops these ideas to various publishers. The publishers make a decision about which ideas they want to produce—then the packager goes off and makes the books. The packager hires the writers (for a fee). The packager hires the designers and makes the book and delivers the materials to the publisher so they are ready to print.

As an editor, I’ve sat in these publishing meetings where the packager presents idea after idea—segmented and targeted to a particular audience with some reasons and marketing ideas attached. The packager has created a concept cover design and maybe a page or two of how the text will appear. On that basis (and the track record and reputation of the packager), the publisher makes a decision.  This process happens in a completely different manner than an individual author pitching a book idea to the publisher.

Packagers work in many different areas of the market but primarily in the gift book areas and in children’s books. They are a cost cutting method for the publisher—sort of a one stop shop to get a bunch of quality product without the publisher investing their own editorial and production resources. There are a number of these types of products on the bestseller list. Probably on the publisher and the packager (along with a few knowing people) will understand how these books have been made.

Yes, there is writing work to be done—but it happens between the writer and the packager—not the writer and the publisher. If you don’t understand this part of the process, you simply collect another rejection slip without learning how the system works. Sadly, this type of situation is happening a lot within the publishing world. 

It’s a simple idea: look before you leap or do your homework and gain understanding before you plunge into an area where finding success will be difficult.


Monday, September 12, 2005

A Mystery for Writers

The air tingled with excitement the day this box came into my home.  While it was many years ago, it seems like yesterday when my aunt revealed a box of mysteries she had purchased at a garage sale. My aunt loved to frequent these sales and gained an expertise in antiques frequently picking up a bargain or two. Normally I had no interest in these purchases but today it was books and I was thrilled.

When I opened the box, I discovered it was filled to the brim with Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift books. These books provided hours of entertainment as I read each of these series and went to the public library to read other books in these series. Yes the books were simple plot-driven and on a formula but they are much loved books.

About ten years ago, I met a children’s writer who had written several of these Nancy Drew books. That chance meeting exposed me to a different part of the publishing business which few writers seem to understand. It’s called book packagers. This author ghostwrote her books under the name Carolyn Keene (or the author of the Nancy Drew books). I hate to burst anyone’s ideal here but many different writers wrote those books. 

When I read the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, contributing editor Sandra Tsing Loh reviews a new book from Melanie Rehak called Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

While I’ve not read Rehak’s book (yet), here’s a brief quote from Tsing Loh’s review about the creator, “Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene? Given her brainy if virginal nature, it's perhaps fitting that Nancy Drew burst full-grown, Athena-like, out of a father’s head. He was the children’s-book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, whose expertise at the time—he wrote and published juvenile fiction for forty years, much of it under the auspices of his syndicate of writers and editors—was almost Alan Greenspan—esque. He’d discovered, for instance, that writing under pen names such as Arthur M. Winfield and Laura Lee Hope actually boosted sales. (For the curious, Stratemeyer’s Carolyn Keene began life as Louise Keene.) Also, he was not averse to throwing ever new leading characters against the wall and seeing who stuck. Aside from the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, Stratemeyer’s somewhat incestuous if lesser-known brainchildren included the Rover Boys, the Blythe Girls, the Outdoor Girls, the Motor Girls, Ruth Fielding, Doris Force, and Perry Pierce. As Margaret Penrose he had a promising start in Dorothy Dale, but upon Dorothy’s engagement sales immediately tanked. It was a mistake his syndicate would not repeat. In September of 1929 Stratemeyer pitched a new series, featuring “an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful, and full of energy.” Her name would be Stella Strong, Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Helen Hale, Nan Nelson, or Nan Drew (which the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, eventually lengthened to Nancy).”

Many writers want to know how to write these books.  To be involved in this portion of publishing, you need to learn to work with packagers. If you follow the link, Jenna Glatzer provides some great basic information about this area. In many ways, it’s like other areas of book publishing. You have to connect with the right person at the right time.  You will notice in this article, the book packager has the idea for the book and hires writers.  Because you didn’t originate the idea, normally the packager pays the writer a flat fee for the writing. There are many different types of books which are produced through this method. Some times these books are ghostwritten with no credit to the writer and other times the writer’s name appears on the cover. It depends on the packager.

Mystery solved. While these books had many different writers, I still loved the reading experience of these books.


Sunday, September 11, 2005

Choose Carefully What To Write

As a new writer, I wanted to capture almost every experience from my life on paper. In some ways, it’s a good place to start. Many magazines love personal experience stories.  Your first-person account of an experience can make a great illustration of a particular point. The storytelling—like any other type of writing—still has to be excellent and include the key elements like pointed dialogue, vivid detail and moving the reader toward a particular point or take-away.

I’ve written many of these personal experience stories and they have appeared in various magazines. I believe these stories have helped other people (part of my motivation for writing them). Also as a writer, they have been a key part of my development and learning how to tell good stories.

Yet I’ve also learned that some personal experiences will never appear in my magazine articles or in print.  It’s easy to recall these stories and they may have value for others—yet I’ve chosen to carry them as life experiences and not expose them to others in print. I may tell them in a casual conversation or I may never tell them—and that’s perfectly OK.

Four years ago, my wife and I lived in Northern California. I was working for a dot com and learning a great deal about the advancing technology—a great experience. Then our world was rocked with multiple acts of terrorism against the United States. I believe many of the personal stories from that single event will never be captured in books or appear in print. I can easily recall where I was standing when I heard the news and a number of the bits of conversation on that day. It was life-changing for me and many others. I’ve decided not to write about those experiences. They were something to hold close to the heart.

Years earlier I listened for several days of teaching from long-time writer and editor, Elizabeth Sherrill. She told us, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” How do you choose which idea to pursue? It’s critical you have a degree of passion about the idea for it to come into print. 

Your degree of passion about the idea might just be to write a one-page query letter about it. Then you send that query to different magazines and see if you can get someone else to share your passion. Or your passion for the idea might stir you to write a full-length book proposal, send it into the market and see if someone will allow you to write that particular book. It may happen—or it may not. I’ve written numerous query letters which have never garnered an assignment. I’ve written several book proposals that haven’t found their mark.

I believe there is something refining about the process. It’s understandable not every life experience translates into a magazine article or a book. It’s also understandable not every query or book proposal actually makes it into print. If it does, then your query or book proposal has stirred the heart of an editor who has championed your cause and rallied others to the merit of your idea.  Our challenge is to choose carefully what we decide to write.


Saturday, September 10, 2005

Touch the Library Market

I’ve been learning how to connect with the library market. Through my marketing of Book Proposals That Sell, I took a bit of energy and devoted it toward this specialized market. Librarians love books and recommend books to their customers. Plus there are thousands of potential markets through libraries.  I tried a number of different possible publications to review my book. As typical for any marketing effort, many of them did not work. I wanted to tell you about one that did work—Midwest Book Review. Established in 1976, the Midwest Book Review publishes several monthly publications for community and academic library systems in California, Wisconsin, and the upper Midwest.

If you follow their guidelines (as I did), you learn they prefer finished books and also like small presses (something to emphasize when you submit to them) plus the guidelines tell you how to follow-up (always something good to do in the manner and preferences of the editor). I sent a finished book and followed up at the appropriate time. The Editor-in-Chief, Jim Cox, told me that he would be reviewing the book. I didn’t bug him about it but from time to time, searched his website—and discovered nothing—until today.

His review of my book appeared in the September 2005 Bookwatch—plus Jim pasted the same review into an Amazon.com section (with five stars).  Here’s his review:

Book Proposals That Sell
W. Terry Whalin
Write Now Publications/ACW Press
5501 N 7th Ave, #502 Phoenix, AZ 85013
1932124640 $14.00

“More than 80% of all nonfiction books are sold from a book proposal, according to W. Terry Whalin, author of more than 60 nonfiction books and Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Book Proposals That Sell breaks down the art of refining and pitching one’s idea into simple individual steps such as “Know the audience for your book”, “Keep the title and format simple”, “Always include a SASE”, “Maintain a log of your submissions”, “Delete any hype” and more. Written in straightforward, no-nonsense terms easily accessible to writers of all skill and experience levels, Book Proposals That Sell is highly recommended for its nuts and bolts practical information drawn from research and extensive personal experience.”

I was excited to see it for several reasons—first that it actually happened. Some times people promise but for many reasons outside of their control, it does not happen. Also I’m excited about the potential to get this book in front of librarians so they can purchase the book for their library customers.

From my experience in publishing, I know someone has to hear about the value of a book repeatedly before they actually purchase the book and use it. It’s one more opportunity to get the book in front of the audience.


Friday, September 09, 2005

Perched At the Top

In recent weeks, I’ve written about the slow nature of the publishing business in August. Typically it’s not a time for blockbuster bestsellers.  I’m constantly monitoring the bestseller lists in various categories (hardcover fiction, hardcover nonfiction, etc.). As I’ve pointed out in other posts, there are many different types of bestseller lists—general market, Christian market, New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.  In general, these lists have the same books in the top positions. For the last couple of weeks, a different book has been perched at the top of the general market hardcover nonfiction list (Publisher’s Weekly): Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau.

In some ways, I’m not surprised since health books are continual bestsellers. This self-published book (Alliance Publishing) is loaded with controversy yet one of the year’s biggest bestsellers.  Maybe you (like me) have been channel flipping and seen the 30–minute infomercials with Kevin Trudeau talking about his book—and according to a Publisher’s Weekly article by Charlotte Abbott, Trudeau’s company spends $500,000 to $2 million a week to air these infomercials. The book is ranked #12 on Amazon (as of this writing) but only listed with two stars — despite the 954 reviews (that’s a remarkable number of reviews).

If you want to know more about the controversy with the contents of this book, follow this MSNBC link to learn more detail.

As a subscriber to Publisher’s Weekly, I was fascinated with this little bit of background about this book in the September 5th issue. Sara Nelson, the Editor-in-Chief wrote in her editorial called Snake Oil Crisis, “Whoever said August is a slow news time for the book business has apparently not been paying attention to the stories about Miracle Cures and its author, Kevin Trudeau. In article after article doctors have been quoted debunking the bestselling author and infomercial pitchman’s expertise and assertions, and both Trudeau and the publishing company he co-owns, Alliance Publishing, have been called to defend themselves...Like many who’ve spent their careers at magazines, I was initially surprised to learn that while articles are almost always fact-checked line by line, the same is not true of books. You would not, as a writer at even the flimsiest of periodicals, get away with saying, as Trudeau did in his book, that “a hospital in Mexico has virtually a 100% success rate in eliminating cancer” with some crazy concoction; the research police would be all over you: What hospital?, they'd ask. Can we see the study? But book publishing has no such researchers, and while virtually every house employs a legal department, one longtime publishing attorney explained to me that lawyers are not checking for errors of fact; they're looking for “anything libelous.” If a house has fact-checkers, they're usually doubling as copy editors.”

I’ve seen this book in my local bookstores and flipped through it but I’ll not be purchasing a copy. Several aspects of this book are fascinating to me. First the lack of careful research and fact-checking in the book—something that is apparently the case in other books as well.  

Also look carefully at the topic of this book. It’s the promised benefit in the title that draws the reader but points out the desperate need of the reader.  People are eager to find answers to their health needs and will purchase anything they believe will cure their difficulties.  This need is the reason for this book to be perched at the top of the bestseller list.


Thursday, September 08, 2005

Test Your Patience

Last week, my wife and I along with a plane full of other people loaded into an airplane at the Phoenix airport.  When I enter a plane, one of my first motions is usually to see if the air vent is wide open. It was—but nothing was moving. The temperature was over 100 outside and while everyone got settled, the pilot announced that air conditioner unit was broken but they would cool the plane when they got into the air. Great. In the meantime, everyone was using the “safety briefing card” as a fan. Eventually we got off the ground and the plane cooled but it was a test of patience.

Our return flight this week was thirty minutes late (pretty normal if you travel much). After the plane landed and pulled up to the terminal, the jetway driver couldn’t line up with the plane. The repeated attempts until finally connecting took an extra twenty minutes of standing in the aisle and waiting. You could hear the muttering and impatient comments around me as we waited to exit the airplane. These situations were a test of my patience and also taught me about the ugly side of impatience as I listened to others complaining.

These types of impatient responses are also a part of the publishing world. Last week an agent who I’ve known many years pitched a novel project. I answered my email and raised a couple of questions about the project (unclear from the initial pitch).  Less than twelve hours later, I received a second email from this agent asking if he could send the proposal or full manuscript. It was like a little kid standing there screaming, “Can I? Can I please?” I was clear about the limited opportunity yet the second pitch from this agent was pure impatience and unnecessary—even hinted at desperation and made me wonder if I should read the project in the first place—much less champion it for publication. When I receive the project, I will give it a fair hearing but the impatient response pushed it toward rejection.

In these days of instant message and email and cell phones and other technology, be aware that not everything moves at high speed. I attempt to be diligent and answer my email—but it’s not a priority for many other editors. You will hear from these editors when they have some need to interact with you about a particular project. Much of publishing involves meetings and many different internal steps to get a decision. It simply takes time—and impatience will only breed rejection rather than acceptance.  Open the doors you can and continue knocking until you have enough of them open.


Monday, September 05, 2005

More Than Labor Day

For 123 years, the United States has paused and celebrated Labor Day. Officially in 1894, Congress declared a legal holiday on the first Monday in September. This year, Labor Day falls on Monday, September 5th and because of the actual date, to me, it’s much more than Labor Day.

In 1907 or 98 years ago, Dwight B. Johnson was born on September 5th. If you “google” his name, you don’t find much. He’s number 16 on the list of the Oldest Living Graduates from the United States Military Academy, West Point.  A graduate of the class of 1932, D.B. Johnson achieved the rank of Major General in the United States Army and retired from his service to the United States during the 1960s. It’s been my privilege to accompany General Johnson on three different trips back to West Point (two class reunions and a separate trip). My father-in-law is one of the most unassuming and humble men that I’ve ever met—yet a true American hero and someone I’m privileged to call Dad.

Several years ago, I was writing a short biography of the great evangelist, Billy Sunday. While I’ve watched some films of Billy Sunday preaching on the sawdust trail, I’ve only met one person who ever saw him in person—D.B. Johnson.  I told Dad about my book project on Sunday and he said, “Billy Sunday. I saw him when I was a kid.” Yes, at the age of four, Dad went to one of these large crusades in Chicago. It made the history books spring to life for me.

On December 7, 1941, when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, D.B. Johnson was teaching at West Point. He served on General Douglas MacArthur’s staff in the Philippines at the end of World War II.  On the wall of Dad’s room is a photograph of General MacArthur with his personalized signature. Serving his country with distinction, during one of his last assignments, D.B. Johnson commanded the U.S. troops in Taiwan. Each week, Dad met with Chiang Kai-shek, the first president of Taiwan. Until her passing a few years ago at the age of 105, Madam Chiang Kai-shek sent Dad an annual desk calendar where he faithfully recorded his different appointments. He is a part of living American history—a person who has met Presidents and many dignitaries throughout his life.

Yet the story I want to tell isn’t about those aspects of Dad’s life. About two years ago, his health declined to the point Dad moved into a fine assisted living facility. We’ve visited him many times since that day. Once one of the young workers stopped us and told us, “Your dad wants to know my name. I’ve worked here for years and none of the other residents asked about my name—but your dad cares and calls me by name.” It’s one of the most significant steps you can take for anyone—to learn their name and use it. It’s a lesson that Dad learned years ago and continues to practice today.

We are amazed at Dad’s positive spirit. He has many things going against him physically and it’s a miracle for Dad to reach his 98th birthday. The milestone confounds the doctors and others who predicted it would never happen—yet it did. Why? No matter what happens around him, Dad has always had a positive outlook on life. That quiet joy and upbeat nature has been a hallmark of his life and his relationships with others. It’s a characteristic to celebrate on Labor Day and on his 98th birthday. Happy Birthday, Dad. We are honored to be with you and celebrate your birthday. As God wills, may you have many more birthdays.


Sunday, September 04, 2005

An Unusual Place of Encouragement

This weekend, the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly arrived.  The cover story, Lincoln’s Great Depression by Joshua Wolf Shenk was fascinating.

Here is one incident from the story about the sixteenth President of the United States: “Elizabeth Keckley, Mary Lincoln's dressmaker, once told of watching the president drag himself into the room where she was fitting the First Lady. ‘His step was slow and heavy, and his face sad,’ Keckley recalled. ‘Like a tired child he threw himself upon a sofa, and shaded his eyes with his hands. He was a complete picture of dejection.’ He had just returned from the War Department, he said, where the news was ‘dark, dark everywhere.’ Lincoln then took a small Bible from a stand near the sofa and began to read. ‘A quarter of an hour passed,’ Keckley remembered, ‘and on glancing at the sofa the face of the president seemed more cheerful. The dejected look was gone; in fact, the countenance was lighted up with new resolution and hope.’ Wanting to see what he was reading, Keckley pretended she had dropped something and went behind where Lincoln was sitting so that she could look over his shoulder. It was the Book of Job.”

I found personal meaning from this story about Abraham Lincoln because in my One Year Bible reading program, this past week I completed Job. It is not the first place in the Bible you would expect President Lincoln to read and find something encouraging and full of hope. 

Many Bible scholars believe Job to be one of the oldest books in the Bible. It’s about a man who trusted God and then the story turns to a conversation between God and Satan in heaven. Satan tells God that God is only trusting God because Job is living within God’s protective hand. So God permits Satan to take away Job’s children (they die) and his wealth (stolen) to see if he turns away from God. Job continues to trust God. Then Satan tells God it’s only because Job has his health that he continues to remain true. God permits Satan to cripple Job’s health. Several friends come to Job throughout the book and provide “traditional” reasons for these catastrophes in Job’s life. Job continues to trust God and ultimately his wealth and children are restored.

I wondered about which portion of Job where President Lincoln could have found some hope. I have no idea but I speculate some of his reading was in Job 38 which in the New Living Translation says, “Then the LORD answered Job from the whirlwind: “Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much. Do you know how its dimensions were determined and who did the surveying? What supports its foundations, and who laid its cornerstone as the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?

“Who defined the boundaries of the sea as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘thus far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east? Have you ever told the daylight to spread to the ends of the earth, to bring an end to the night’s wickedness? For the features of the earth take shape as the light approaches, and the dawn is robed in red. The light disturbs the haunts of the wicked, and it stops the arm that is raised in violence.

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you walked about and explored their depths? Do you know where the gates of death are located? Have you seen the gates of utter gloom? Do you realize the extent of the earth? Tell me about it if you know!

“Where does the light come from, and where does the darkness go? Can you take it to its home? Do you know how to get there? But of course you know all this! For you were born before it was all created, and you are so very experienced!

“Have you visited the treasuries of the snow? Have you seen where the hail is made and stored? I have reserved it for the time of trouble, for the day of battle and war. Where is the path to the origin of light? Where is the home of the east wind?” (1–24)

President Lincoln knew much of the world events were outside of his control. The reports and battles of the Civil War would weigh anyone in leadership. Yet these words of God in Job showed the President who was ultimately in charge of all events in life. These encouraging words are good reminders when life seems to reel out of control.


Saturday, September 03, 2005

Novels Worth Reading

If you are like me, you’ve already got a stack of novels planned out for this holiday weekend. My casual reading bounces from fiction to nonfiction in a broad spectrum in each category. I wanted to take a few minutes to call a couple of new books to your attention and link to my reviews.

Dinner With A Perfect Stranger, An Invitation Worth Considering by David Gregory is a little book which has been receiving a lot of recent media attention. What if you received a mysterious invitation to dinner with Jesus of Nazareth? What would it be like and what would you discuss? I found the book a stimulating reading experience and it’s also something you could give to friends and co-workers who are on a spiritual search. The book has solid Biblical answers yet in couched in a novel format. This week I heard about an agent who turned down representing this book (it happens). Also note this author sold the book over the transom (or without an agent representing the book). Again it happens.  Another bit of information which doesn’t show in my review link (but you might care about) is the category information on the back of this book. It’s not listed as fiction (where it clearly falls) but as “Christian Living/ Personal Growth.” I know these labels occur early in the production process but are important because the retailer uses these labels to know where to put the book in their store. I suspect it is something that will be fixed on a later printing. Check out this link from BookPage (a different review) and you will see they clearly label the book in the fiction category.

Fire by Bill Bright and Jack Cavanaugh. If you want to curl up with a great historical novel. I’d recommend this title which is the second in The Great Awakening Series. Dr. Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ teamed with award-winning historical novelist Jack Cavanaugh during the final days of his life. Each book in this series is based on a historical event where personal and spiritual upheaval stirs the waters of our souls. Fire is the second novel in the series and is set in 1740–1741.

The Trouble with Tulip by Mindy Starns Clark is a terrific page turner. I admit that I don’t usually read “chick-lit” or a book that is green and pink—but I fell in love with this story and the characters. It’s worthy of your consideration.

Finally have you ever seen a toxic church situation and wondered how to escape? It’s the situation Dinah Traynell faces in this contemporary novel Pocketful of Pearls by Shelley Bates. While underneath the page-turning plot and fascinating characters, serious issues about life are in play in this novel. I learned a great deal and found it a terrific experience.

These novels are only a few of the great new reading experiences which have entered today’s marketplace.



Friday, September 02, 2005

Soup's On Review and Interview

In today’s entry on the Writing Life, I’m reprinting a review of Book Proposals That Sell and a Q & A interview which appeared in Andrea Campbell’s newsletter called Soup’s On. Andrea is an active member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors (and other organizations).  She’s got a wealth of experience and uses it to help writers. I recommend her free bi-monthly newsletter. Follow the link to read the full newsletter and subscribe.


“*** Terry Whalin’s Book: A Review ***


Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success by W. Terry Whalin


I was excited to read Terry’s book since nonfiction book proposals are a big part of what I do in addition to teaching Mediabistro students my methodology.  I study the discipline ad nauseum and hardly ever see anything new, although Terry’s book provides some great ideas for the novice, and managed to surprise me with some tidbits about the business end of publishing.


His statistics are particularly interesting. I didn’t know, for example, that “At any given time, 500,000 proposals and manuscripts circulate across the United States.” Daunting numbers those, but they still don’t seem to discourage writers from sending out the wrong material, in a nondescript or incorrect format, and worse still, with no clearly thought-out premise. For those folks, Terry’s book should be a staple. Not only does he explain the book proposal business through the eyes of an acquisitions editor, but he points out the misconceptions beginning writers have about the nonfiction book market in general, that they don’t consider from the publisher’s viewpoint:  “Publishing is about managing risk.” He also takes us through an editor’s day: the options open to them for procurement, and then plunks us down in the boardroom for the publisher’s meeting and gives us a revealing glimpse into why books are rejected. Important stuff this.


Terry scares us again when he tells about a publisher he knows who received over 6,000 unsolicited manuscripts and proposals in a single year, but did not accept a single one! Yet, despite these hard-boiled truths, Terry still seems to talk to writer-readers in a nurturing way, helping them to understand the correct mindset needed if one is going to break through to publication.


After I devoured this book in two visitations, I decided to ask the author some questions.


Q.: Would you please tell Soup's On subscribers a little more about your background, your job, and who you are in a more personal vein?


I work both sides of the editorial desk--as a writer and an editor. While I majored in journalism at Indiana University, after college, for ten years, I left my writing and spent that time in linguistics work (primarily in Guatemala, Central America). About twenty years ago, I started writing for different magazines and my writing has appeared in more than 50 publications like Writer’s Digest, The Writer, BookPage, Publisher’s Weekly and many other publications. The bulk of my writing has been about the religious inspirational market. In 1992, my first book released which was a 32-page children’s book. Since then I’ve written more than 60 books for traditional publishers--all nonfiction for adults, biographies for youth and a few children’s books plus I’ve written collaborative books for more than a dozen people. I’ve been a magazine editor for publications like Decision (1.8 million copies each month) and others.


Over the last four years, I’ve been an acquisitions editor for two different book publishers. Currently I’m the part-time fiction acquisitions editor for Howard Publishing (a small family-owned publisher based in West Monroe, LA). It’s part-time because I only acquire six to eight full-length adult novels a year--where the typical acquisitions editor in a full-time capacity normally does 15-20 titles (and I did over 30 my last full-time year on the job).


As to who I am? I love to write and yet love to help others succeed. It’s why I often teach at writer’s conferences around the U.S. and Canada. Plus I launched a website loaded with free how-to material for writers called Right-Writing.com (in the top 1% of the 56.1million websites). Also I’ve tried hard in the midst of a busy publishing business to be a different type of editor--one who cares about his authors and works to meet their concerns--and who faithfully answers my email about submissions. As a writer, I dislike sending submissions and queries into the black hole--and never hearing anything from that editor--even “no thank you.”


Q.: Terry, what was the impetus for your writing Book Proposals That Sell?


Book Proposals That Sell came when I recognized a need in the marketplace for writers. Thousands of people are submitting book proposals and manuscripts to publishers--yet often they lack the critical material which a publisher needs to make a decision and issue a book contract. As an acquisitions editor, I was frustrated. I wanted to help these would-be writers to become successful--yet with the time constraints, I couldn’t help everyone. If a proposal arrives 80% complete, I could guide this writer the rest of the way. Otherwise, it was going to be outright rejected--with no reason. If you put forth a reason, then you invite dialogue with this writer (something I didn’t have time to accomplish). I’ve read and studied almost every other how-to book on the market about creating book proposals. None of these books was written from the insider’s perspective--the acquisitions editor.


Q.: What are some of the more egregious mistakes you see in material that crosses your desk?


It’s an old saying in this business but true: many writers fail to study the marketplace and understand what the editor needs. Incomplete proposals or filled with language that reeks of their inexperience would be the worst from my perspective. For example, in the marketing section they will tout their “willingness to appear on Oprah” or to do radio and television interviews. No fooling! Every author will be willing to appear on Oprah or do media interviews--or most of us should be to sell books. The question is more what innovative (yet cost effective) marketing strategies are you bringing to your proposal which shows you understand the partnership to sell books?


Or writers will not include a word count in their proposal. I’ll call or email and ask about the length of their book. They will eagerly write back asking, “How long do you want it to be?” No, the author intimately knows their subject and it is their responsibility to cast the vision for the project--not the editor’s job. I need that word count--because without it, I can’t do the cost analysis necessary to issue a book contract.


Or here’s another stock answer in proposals, “My idea is unique. There is no competition.” Every book competes in the marketplace--and to make such a statement shows the complete lack of understanding for such a writer.


In Book Proposals That Sell, I tried to educate the writer about the pressures of an editor and the necessity for the writer to come alongside and help--not stirring problems or difficulties.


Q.: Is there one area of a nonfiction book proposal that must not fail?


The title and the hook or overview must excite the editor from the minute they pull your proposal out of the package or open the email attachment. The strength of your words and concept must thrill that editor so this person will champion your cause throughout the company (editorial, marketing, sales and publishing executives). It’s not your paper or your package--it’s the words on the page--in the proposal and your sample chapters.


Q.: Your book is filled with hard truths. How do you feel about the state of publishing today?


Publishing like any other business has many challenges. There is high competition for people’s time to read books and get excited about the content within those books. It’s no secret the reading statistics point out these numbers. More books are being published each year through small publishers and self-publishers plus the huge competition for attention or “buzz” in the marketplace of ideas. It’s easy to get a book published--especially if you do it yourself--yet selling that book into the hands of readers is a completely different task that would-be authors need to understand.


While the challenges are ever present, it is possible. I know many editors and literary agents. Each one is actively reading their mail (paper and electronic). They are scouring those submissions for the next bestseller, the next sleeper book, which rockets to the top of the chart or helps people solve a key issue in their lives. It’s a matter of understanding these realities of the marketplace and meeting those challenges head-on with fresh and creative ideas.”


You can sign up for Andrea Campbell’s free bi-monthly newsletter, Soup’s On at this link. Plus read the remainder of the current issue.