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Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Face to Face Help

Sunday I returned from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. Like most of these writers conference, it passed in a whirlwind of activity from early in the morning until late at night.

I love this process of interacting with writers and talking through their concepts and dreams. One of the most valuable times from my perspective is this face to face help for writers. It’s a chance to listen and then give them my personal perspective on their idea and how it can be improved. I’m not speaking as the absolute authority—I’ve learned the hard way in this business that none of us have that absolute insight. Each of us only have our own perspective and each book has it’s own challenges as to how it enters the market. Or each magazine article idea or each book proposal is filled with it’s own difficulties and joys.

Here’s one example from the marathon of meetings last weekend in Philadelphia: One writer came with her book proposal for me to review and give suggestions. When she introduced herself, she pulled out a copy of my Book Proposals That Sell and asked me to sign it. It was another well-used copy of this book with various sections highlighted in pink. Her proposal was in the right format and looked fairly complete. I asked about the reaction from other publishers and learned each one she showed it wanted to see it and consider it. Normally this reaction is a good one but I had some concerns about the content of this proposal. As a nonfiction book idea, it was set overseas and focused on the life experience of someone from a different culture. While I understand and applaud the motivation of this type of book, I know from sitting in publication board meetings inside publishers that it will be a tough sell. Why?

Whether you realize it or not, the book marketplace is very self-centered. When someone is looking for a book, they pick it up and carry it to the cash register because of the “me” value. The type of focus from this writer was “other” centered. It goes completely against the grain of the marketplace. Walk into any bookstore and look for the missionary stories. They simply aren’t there. Over the last fifteen years, most of these types of books have disappeared from the bookstores—and sales is the major contributor. They simply don’t sell. Every publisher that I’ve talked with about this area has a poor sales story to tell me about one of their missionary titles. The publisher can’t afford to take a risk on this type of material and not be able to sell the books.

I hated to be a wet blanket for this writer’s enthusiastic idea—but it was part of what I was doing with these face to face conversations in Philadelphia. I gave her a realistic picture of the reaction inside the publication board meetings. Then we turned and talked about how to overcome these objections. Who cares about this particular situation? Is there a group that would be willing to purchase a substantial number of copies initially (or even regularly) for your book idea? Can you approach this group before you take the proposal to the publisher and secure their commitment? This writer was willing to try and see if she can do it. I don’t know if it will work or not, but I wish this writer well in getting her book into the marketplace.

See the value of these face to face conversations? I could never take the time to give such a detailed critique with an email or a written submission but at a writer’s conference these types of conversations are key. It’s one of many reasons for you to head to a writer’s conference with your work. I understand it’s an investment of time, money and energy but a necessary part of the writing life—especially if you want to continue growing in your craft.

3 Comment:

At 12:08 PM, Blogger Pam Kumpe Left a note...

Welcome back...You signed my copy of your book last fall at Glorieta ...Mine was scribbled in, marked on...with notes and very much used. I've since read it again, and worked up yet another proposal. I'd have to say...the more I do it, the easier (sort of) it gets...and it's such great practice to streamline and get one's focus in where the book is headed...Actually 2 publishers want to see it...

Hooray...someday...ya never know...

 
At 8:07 PM, Blogger Heather Ivester Left a note...

I'm in the middle of reading Steve Saint's End of the Spear, and it's fascinating how he's completely enthralled me with life of the Waodani tribe in the Amazon. I can identify with him since he's coming from civilized life in Florida. And I especially identify with his wife, who was at first very afraid to move there! Yet the heart of the book is all about tribal life, a topic that I normally wouldn't have been interested in, except for the compelling way the story pulled me in.

 
At 6:41 AM, Blogger Terry Whalin Left a note...

Heather,

Yes, some of these books set overseas can work--but they have to be positioned right into the marketplace. My first collaborative book was One Bright Shining Path, Faith in the Midst of Terrorism (Crossway Books). See the focus for the reader in the subtitle? It was well received and in print for about 10 years but it was written in a contemporary fashion, page turning style. It takes something special to get these books over the objections.

Terry

 

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