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Monday, February 20, 2006


Loss of A Champion

Have you ever faced the death of a dream? I have and it happens many times in the writing life. It’s something I’ve found rarely discussed in the publishing community. As writers and editors, we have more ideas for something to appear in print, than we can ever accomplish in a single lifetime—even a prolific and productive lifetime.

One of my “dreams” was to write a book for a ministry.  The idea came almost three years ago and looked like it was going to move ahead. A New York literary agent was excited about the concept and believed it could be sold for a substantial advance. I had an advocate or champion within the ministry who would be able to guide the idea through the approval process. The finished book looked like something that would have a large ministry and a long shelf-life in print. I was excited about the book concept and anticipated a success.  Over the last few years, I’ve invested a great deal into this project—thought, brainstorming, hours of telephone calls and emails, conference calls, lunch meetings and other things. Yet it never got off the ground. The book proposal was never created—except for several pages of rough material to lay out the concept.  I was persistent (a key quality for any writer) and knew I was working with some busy people. It was slow but still perking along as an idea.  A year ago, a key executive in the ministry left the organization. I should have seen the handwriting on the wall for the death of this project when I lost a key champion. Yet I had other advocates and continued working with them—more calls, more face to face meetings and more effort.  There were other personnel changes in the ministry. Then last week I received the official death rattle for this idea. It was over and will never happen.

While I told this particular story about working with an organization, it happens within book publishing as well. Book publishing is often a long process with months between contact between an editor and the author. For example, you may currently contract a book for fall of 2007 which is due in six months or August 21st. You sign your contract and receive a portion of your advance, then you don’t have much communication with that editor.  The publishing community is constantly changing. Barely a week goes by that I don’t hear from some editor who has moved to a new location or an editor who has become an agent or _______ (you fill in the blank with the change).  Often there has been a single editor who has “carried the flag” for a particular project. This editor has been the champion who has convinced others inside the publisher about the importance of a particular book. What happens when the champion moves to a different publisher? The change surprises many authors. I’ve experienced this change as an author (when my editor changes) and as an editor (when I change and leave behind my authors).

Here’s a few ideas about what you can do when you lose a champion:

1. Plan for things to change. It happens with every project so you might as well plan for it.  Then when something changes, it will not surprise you.

2. Manage your own expectations for yourself and the publisher.

3. When you lose your champion, I suggest you increase your own marketing efforts for the book. It can’t hurt anything for your book promotion and sales—and it may be what tips the energy from the publishing house in your direction. Success breeds success so if you are beginning to get a buzz going related to your new book release, it often gathers greater energy from the publisher.

4. Take some preventative steps before the change happens. Develop and foster your relationships with others in the publishing house beyond your editor or single contact person. If no one changes, it can only help your relationships with the house—and it might be the preventative step which will be critical. After the change happens, increase your relationships with others inside that particular publishing house. Now this increase will be a challenge to actually achieve because other authors will be taking the same steps but it’s worth your attempt.

5. Finally, be aware that change breeds change and what can happen with your book. To be forewarned is to be forearmed.

It’s a reality of the business. Between the signing of a book contract and the published book, there are many different possibilities that happen.

8 Comment:

At 10:24 AM, Blogger Cathy West Left a note...

Terry,
I am sorry for your loss. :(
But in the infamous words of Julie Andrews,
"When God closes a door, He always opens a window."

Take heart - if He wants this particular book out there, it will be.

 
At 10:37 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Cathy,

My particular book project is not coming back. I wasn't telling the story for sympathy--but to make explicit that in the writing life, this process happens over and over. So...get prepared. If you are in the marketplace long enough, you will experience it.

Terry

 
At 6:17 PM, Blogger Macromoments Left a note...

Terry, you're right; this is a topic we rarely see addressed. Have you considered teaching a conference class on it, or incorporating it into one of your workshops somehow? You raise excellent points.

I remember how disillusioned I felt when my first editor left. I was a young writer and hadn't had much experience, and although it was a magazine editor, she was one of my regulars who had encouraged me along. Change is tough at every level.

 
At 9:40 PM, Blogger shannon Left a note...

Bonnie's right--this would be a great topic for a class.

Sorry about the project, Terry. At least you got a great post out of it! :)

 
At 10:59 PM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

I was scheduled to teach a workshop on this topic--but a bit broader about how to find a champion, keep the champion--then the topic of this post--what to do when you lose a champion. It was last year at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference but I had to cancel my attendance and change my own plans--so I never taught that workshop in that place. Good idea.

Maybe it will happen some time in the future.

Terry

 
At 9:57 AM, Blogger Sam Pakan Left a note...

Terry;

I hope the workshop is available in my area. Keep us posted as to where you're going, which conferences you're attending, etc. Hope to see you again at Frontiers in Writing.

 
At 10:57 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Sam,

I had a great time at the 2005 Frontiers in Writing conference. I've not heard anything from the organizers since I attended that event. I'm traveling enough without pitching myself to attend these conferences. For this year, I've got an active schedule (just updated)as you can see this link just click the "Speaking" button.

Terry

 
At 12:16 PM, Blogger Vicki Left a note...

Thanks for keeping my eyes. I've not yet dealt with book contracts, but frequent changes within the publishing community is unsettling but a fact. I recall when my favorite editor left a local parenting mag--everything changed after that.

Thanks, Terry.

 

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