Sunday, April 30, 2006

Day of Contrasts

Early this morning I waited on East 15th Street in New York City for an airport shuttle.  At 6 a.m. the outside air felt cool.  Typical for these situations, the shuttle whirled around the city until they filled every seat then we headed to the Newark airport. I checked my luggage, bought a Sunday New York Times and grabbed a little breakfast before heading to the gate.

The direct flight from Newark to Phoenix is a four-hour experience but was uneventful. I’m glad to be back home but the cool temperatures of New York were replaced with a blast of desert heat and 96 degree temperatures in Phoenix.  My several days in New York City were crammed with meetings, great conversations, seminars and ideas. I’ll write more soon with some of my writing insight from the last few days. It’s always good to return home.



Monday, April 24, 2006

Off to New York City

Last year, I was elected to the board of directors for the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the leading nonfiction writers group in the nation. If you’ve never heard me talk about the ASJA, it’s an unusual writers group.  Here’s the key reason: you have to meet the professional qualifications or standards of the group in order to join.  The majority of the writing groups have a wide open membership policy. If you pay, then you can join. It’s not like that with the ASJA. You have to meet the membership standards then you can pay and join. I’m well aware of these standards (follow this link) because I’ve been on the membership committee for the last several years. Each month we process applications and not everyone who applies meets the standard so they don’t become members. ASJA Guide

The majority of the Society business is conducted through email or monthly phone conferences. Twice a year, the board has face to face meetings in New York City. One meeting is in November and the other is tied to our annual east coast conference. This coming Saturday I will be moderating a panel on contracts with three lawyers and a literary agent. It should be an interesting discussion about book contracts. Many people think these book contracts are black and white—when the reality is each one is different. The longer I work in publishing, the more I understand how little I know about this area. I will learn a great deal from the experience of moderating this panel.

If you can’t come to this conference, the next best thing is to read The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing edited by Timothy Harper. Different ASJA members have written different chapters and each are excellent. I was a part of the ad hoc committee which selected Tim to edit the book but I must have been moving or deleting my email too fast or something when they assigned the various topics. I completely missed the opportunity to contribute to the wealth of information in this book. The bulk of the book is geared toward nonfiction writers but some of our members write fiction (Mary Higgins Clark is one of our best-known members in this area).  I highly recommend you study each of the chapters in this well-done book. 

As for my entries on the writing life, I doubt I will be able to do anything else until next week—but maybe I’ll surprise you.


Sunday, April 23, 2006

Tout Your Expertise

Last week during John Kremer’s teleseminar for novelist, he offered a free chapter from the forthcoming 6th edition of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. The chapter was about different ways authors can take advantage of the various marketing opportunities at Amazon.com or the largest online bookstore in the world.

Until today, I had never tried the first method, Kremer mentioned called So You’d Like to Guide. I never focused on these guides but they provide another way for authors to promote their expertise in a particular area and connect with readers.  In a short amount of time, I pulled together a guide called Publish A Book. Get Insight From An Editor.  I have written on this topic a great deal over the years so it was easy to rework some of this information into a guide. They have a maximum of 1,500 words so my drafted article was almost to the limit. In fact, it was too close to the limitations. I’m unsure how Amazon.com counts words but if the guide is too long, they do not let you publish it.  Also the guide has to be in plain text or the type will look weird.

When you look at my guide, you may notice I include a number of other books besides Book Proposals That Sell. Why? According to John Kremer, Amazon.com will list your guide on the pages of the books which you mention. It’s required to mention a minimum of three books and a maximum of 50 books. It’s one more way to get your book in front of customers who are making buying decisions about your book. I added a number of titles because I figure it will get my guide into more places within the Amazon.com system.

I hope you will read this guide and email it to others. Many people need this information and I see the constant flow of submissions from these people who lack this important information. Some of these guides have been read thousands of times. What expertise do you have which you could tout and write a short guide? I hope So You’d Like to Guide will be another tool you can add to your own writing life and marketing plans.

Also I’ve added some new entries to my Amazon.com blog. It’s another resource to check.


Saturday, April 22, 2006

Wild Things

Many years ago at the American Booksellers Meetings in Los Angeles, one of the speakers was bestselling children’s author, Maurice Sendak. This author of the bestseller Where the Wild Things Are was very entertaining at this breakfast and colorful. It’s the only time I’ve heard Sendak speak.

I’ve always been fascinated reading about the background of authors. The April 17th issue of The New Yorker contains a detailed seven page profile of Sendak called “Not Nice, Maurice Sendak and the perils of childhood” by Cynthia Zarin. Unfortunately the magazine didn’t put the entire piece online—so go to your news stand or some other way to see the entire piece. I want to highlight a couple of paragraphs that caught my attention about this talented author.Wild-Things-cover

Zarin writes about the themes that Sendak has selected for his writing saying, “Like every Sendak story, “Where the Wild Things Are” explores his preoccupations, chief among which are the vicissitudes of his own childhood, and the temerity and fragility of children in general. His narrative is almost always about a child in danger whose best defense is imagination. The book editor Michael di Capua, who has worked with Sendak for more than forty years, calls this “the story.” In September, Scholastic will publish Sendak’s first pop-up book, “Mommy?,” about a baby who finds himself in the wrong house, and defeats one monster after another. “ ‘Mommy?’ is the story again!” di Capua says. The cartoonist Art Spiegelman told me, “Maurice reinvented what a children’s book is: it’s a book.”

HarperCollins, Sendak’s longtime publisher, estimates that there are about seventeen million copies of “Where the Wild Things Are” in circulation. Its success has allowed Sendak to pick and choose his projects: “Max is a useful child. What other four- or five-year-old allows his father to stay home and sulk?”

In light of the long-term sales of Where the Wild Things Are, look at the reaction to this book when it was first published: “The year after the “Nutshell Library” appeared, Sendak published “Where the Wild Things Are.” Publishers Weekly, while praising the “frightening” illustra­tions, noted that they accompanied “a pointless and confusing story”; a librarian reviewer wrote, “It is not a book to be left where a sensitive child may come upon it at twilight.” The book won the Caldecott Medal for the best picture book of 1963, but Sendak encountered the same mix­ture of condemnation and approbation with the publication, in 1970, of “In the Night Kitchen,” in which a naked, gleeful little boy called Mickey narrowly avoids being made into a cake. Even into the nineteen-nineties, because of Mickey’s nakedness, it was routinely banned from school libraries, but it now sells almost as many copies per year as “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Finally look at what I learned about how this writer/ artist practices his craft. Journalist Cynthia Zarin keenly makes this observation during a lunch in New York City, “We were eating an apple crisp, and Sendak suddenly moved his fork from his right hand to his left hand. “This is delicious,” he said. “See, look, if I like something I switch to my left hand.” As a child, he was hit with a ruler for using his left hand; he draws with his right.” Sendak is now 78 years old and the detail was a reminder to me at how the education world has changed since Sendak was in grade school.

It’s always good to glimpse into the writing life and see what you can learn from their experience. Whether you are a children’s author or write magazine articles, I believe the insight is valuable.


Friday, April 21, 2006

Increase Your Awareness

Anything you can do to learn more about books and publishing in general is always a good thing from my perspective. It helps you increase your awareness. Earlier this week, I told you about a free teleseminar for novelists so they could learn more about book promotion. It was a good session and I gained a number of tips from this phone seminar.

John Kremer mentioned a website that was completely unfamiliar to me called Shelf Awareness. Apparently it is run by two former staff members at Publisher’s Weekly with the purpose of helping retailers of books, libraries and others to learn more about the book trade. The site includes a free email newsletter. Before I signed up for the newsletter, I read a number of  their back issues. According to the site, this newsletter has been daily since last June.

From my perspective, you can take a number of these types of newsletters. They amount to focused publishing information which is coming your direction. I  often skim through them and delete them. Some times they will bring some important bit of information.  Other times they will call to my attention some detail or news that is worth remembering and trying to fit into my own writing life. 


Thursday, April 20, 2006

Dipping Into History

When I select a novel for pleasure reading, I don’t often turn to historical novels. Admittedly as an editor, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, yet I do enjoy historicals from time to time and know they have a solid place in the overall fiction marketplace.

A few years ago, Sarah Johnson, Assistant Professor at Eastern Illinois University, said, “the popularity of historical fiction seems to be on the rise.  A number of authors best known for their work in other fiction genres are turning to the historical past for inspiration.  Included in this group are Michael Crichton (best known for his contemporary thrillers), John Grisham (famous for his courtroom thrillers), and Amy Tan (widely published in contemporary women’s fiction).  Historical novels have also won some of the major literary awards of the past several years.”

For many years I read the historical fiction from Bodie Thoene. The writing and the characters of these books kept me turning pages late into the night. I was fascinated with the Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant series and highly recommend these books. While I am a fan of Bodie Thoene’s work, I believe these novels are stronger than some of her recent titles. I’m always fascinated by what draws writers to putting together a historical. You learn a bit of my insight if you read my profile about the Thoenes.

In the April 10th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, historical novelist Ron Rash talked about his motivation for writing historicals saying, “Now that I have finished my novel, put in it everything I learned from decades of research, I know I will never know what my ancestor might have felt at Shelton Laurel. Nor will I ever fully understand what happened in Cambodia and Rwanda. But if I failed to achieve understanding, I gained awareness. That may be the best that any work of historical fiction has to offer—not just to its author, but, more importantly, to its readers—a chance to grapple with the mysteries and complexities of the past, in hopes of seeing the present a little clearer.” (Follow the link to read the entire article.)

Isn’t that the task of the historical novelist? To grapple with the past and shed light on the present events? It seems like this light shedding process happens for the writer and the reader.  It’s something to think about as you begin reading your next historical novel and dip into history.


Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Another Reader Connection

How does an author connect with their readers? Like many things in publishing, there is not one way but many different methods. First, it takes an excellent book. The foundation of any new book has to include excellent, page-turning writing. So if you haven’t mastered that element, keep it in focus and continue to work on your craft through shorter magazine articles and learning everything you can learn—such as at conferences and through how-to books.

Yet many well-crafted books don’t make it into the hands of readers. In previous entries, I’ve written about the many different snares and traps in the process of selling a book into the hands of customers. Yet as an author, I’m constantly looking for any avenue to connect with my reader.  Why? While you may do it unintentionally, every author is in the process of building name recognition and a brand. You want people to love your last book so they are eager for the release of your next product.


In recent months, the largest online bookstore on the planet, Amazon.com has launched Amazon Connect.  Each day authors of all persuasions are joining this effort. Whether you have one book or many books in print, I believe it’s worth knowing about and some level of involvement.  Almost any book can be purchased on Amazon.com—whether it comes from a large publisher or it is self-published.

The process is fairly painless—yet has some cautions. Amazon wisely forces authors to provide the name, email and phone number of a third party to “verify” that you are the author of the book. This verification person can be an agent, a publicist or an editor and they receive an email with a simple button to push.  The books which you select are then verified and connected to your Amazon blog.  To try out this system, I selected my last three published books and they were verified—but they were not connected until I made another entry in the Amazon.com blog. After I published this entry, the books instantly were connected to my blog—and to my author profile.  Here’s a couple of my examples: Book Proposals That Sell and Running On Ice. Scroll down on these pages and you will see my profile and my Amazon blog entry. Notice within the blog, you are allowed to provide web links and other information.  Here’s how my author profile appears on Amazon.

Is this connection the ultimate one that will solve all your book sales problems and connect you constantly to your readers? I’m enough of a realist to not push this connection too far. It’s just one more tool to add to your arsenal of marketing efforts to reach readers.



Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The 100th Quake Anniversary

Every major news program carried a short story about the anniversary. April 18, 1906 marked the Great California earthqA Crack in the Edge coveruake. This 100th anniversary only comes around once—today.

During the late 70s and early 80s, I lived in Guatemala, Central America. In this part of the world, earthquakes come frequently. I lived in the village area where the homes are simply constructed. Even with a small earthquake, the damage can be extensive since the houses easily fall. It didn’t take long to learn no matter when the earthquake came—and they frequently arrived in the middle of the night—the sane course of action was to get outside as quickly as possible.

In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the California earthquake, last October HarperCollins published A Crack in the Edge of the World : America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester. This book has been on my “wish list” for books to read and eventually I will get the book and read it. I’ve read a number of Winchester’s books. I heard him speak at an ASJA meeting several years ago with the release of The Professor and the Madman (which I highly recommend if you haven’t read). The encouraging fact for writers about The Professor and the MA Crack inside map3_smalladman is the book was written from historical research—and became a New York Times bestseller. It gives each of us hope that we can come up with an amazing creative idea that will turn into a bestseller.

While I have not read A Crack in the Edge of the World, I did observe a fascinating design element with the cover. If you haven’t seen this book, it’s worth a trip to your local bookstore just to see this unusual detail. If you hold the book, you will notice some sections of the cover are unusually thick. It’s because if you take off the cover, the inside of the jacket contains a giant map of the city of San Francisco along with some other maps.

Simon Winchester has a different—yet riveting style as a writer. You can sample a taste of this book at the HarperCollins website (follow this link).

I certainly applaud the creativity poured into the writing and packaging of this book on the earthquake. From the looks of the rank for the book on Amazon.com, it’s doing well for the publisher. It will be a bit before I get to read it, but I wanted to do something related to the anniversary for today’s entry on the Writing Life. The lesson for us? If you look at Simon Winchester’s list of books, each one springs from a key historical event. His storytelling is excellent in these books and memorable yet it comes from a part of history. It’s encouragement for us to continue to pursue our bestselling ideas. If we find the right publisher and the right editor at the right time and place, maybe we can also make it happen.


Monday, April 17, 2006

Free Novel Promotion Teleseminar

I just got an email about a free teleseminar from John Kremer, the author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. It will be geared to novelists.

Here’s some of what John will discuss on the call:

  • The 3 most important actions novelists can do to promote their novels.
  • The 4 marketing resources every novelist should know about.
  • The 5 biggest publicity mistakes novelists make.
  • How to do a book tour that creates real results - and sales!

The teleseminar will be held at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Thursday, April 20th.

Sign up now. There is only room for 500 people on this call. It sounded interesting to me and I wanted you to know about it. Go over to this site and sign up for the specifics.


Interruption Insight

How well do you handle the constant starting and stopping process from interruptions? It’s different for each of us and I think it’s all a matter of what you grow accustomed to handling. As I think back to my chaotic days in the news room of a newspaper office, it’s a wonder that anything got written—but it did—every single day on deadline.  There were no quiet offices or even cubicles but simply a long room with desks and typewriters (pre-computer days). You could hear a reporter across the room handling an interview while you were writing your own story. It was a matter of crawling into your personal space and hitting the keys to complete your own story. I’ll admit it was a challenging environment but a great training ground to learn you can write almost any place and any time.

The April 3rd issue of Publisher’s Weekly included this little bit of interruption insight about best-selling novelist Steve Berry. It comes from the Paperback Bestseller page where Berry’s The Third Secret is number 9.  About his writing routine, he says, “I still practice law and I serve on our local Board of County Commissioners (Camden County, Ga.), so my days are full. But I write every week day between 7 and 9 in the morning. There’s a rule at the office that those two hours are mine, but that rule is broken every single day. I actually can’t write without interruptions. I’ve grown accustomed to constantly starting and stopping. I told Gale, one of my employees, that if I’m ever lucky enough to write full time I’m going to hire her to interrupt me every 10 minutes.”

The key is to continue—no matter what. Press ahead with your writing and keep making progress.


Saturday, April 15, 2006

Recapture the Conference

Last month, I spoke on the topic of Book Proposals That Sell at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. This conference is every other year and has a maximum capacity. When registration opened earlier this year, it sold out in a matter of weeks. I had several people contact me who wanted to attend but could not.Ermabombeck

Yesterday’s mail brought an unusual package from this conference.  First, I received terrific feedback about my workshop and how it was received from the participants.  When I teach at a conference or workshop, I have a simple goal: that each participant feel like the information in my sessions gave them the value of the whole conference.  I understand it costs each person to attend a conference—and not just financial but time away from family and other responsibilities.  Over the years, I’ve been in some workshops which were a complete waste of my time. I never want anyone in my sessions to go away with that feeling.  It’s driven me to almost over prepare for these sessions and include detailed handouts (which contain information beyond what I cover orally).

With this background of how I prepare my workshops, it was encouraging to me when I received this type of feedback:

“I do believe I got the most out of this session than out of any other.” or “I came away with the real sense that editors are merely human beings just like the next guy you pass on the street, but the only difference is that he is in the book industry.” or “Terry’s information combined with the many handouts he offered to his class was exceptional!”

Besides this workshop feedback, the package included an unusual gift. I received an MP3 CD-ROM of the complete conference audio recordings.  If you’ve ever taught or participated in any of the behind the scenes work at these conferences, you know it’s almost impossible to attend any sessions (or at least all of the sessions that you would like to attend).  As a speaker, it marked a first for me to receive the recordings of my own session along with everyone else who taught. What a great idea for anyone who is a conference director!

If you missed this conference, you can purchase one of these complete audio recordings for a great value. Just follow this link. Listening to the audio isn’t the same as being in the actual session. You miss the networking and opportunity to get your questions answered on the spot—but it’s the next best thing from my view.


Friday, April 14, 2006

Believing When No One Else Does

As a young journalist, I was fascinated with the writing and life of Gay Talese. As one of the founders of “new journalism” in the 1960s, his commitment to the craft of writing has been something that I’ve found inspirational. Now at age 74, Talese will release a new book later this month called A Writer’s Life. In the April 3rd issue of Publisher’s Weekly, one of the feature stories was called “Talese Gets the Story.”  Some times the subjects of Talese’s writing are completely different than anything I would tackle as a writer or editor. Never the less, I’m attracted to his commitment to craft and excellence. A Writer's Life cover

In the PW profile, Karen Holt recounts a story where Talese spent a lot of time and energy on a piece which never appeared in print. I recognized the story because many times it’s happened to my writing life. I’ve chased a particular topic, interviewed a bunch of people, created material and for one reason or another, the project never reached the intended reader. There are many different reasons why a particular story never worked out. I was intrigued with this well-known journalist’s answer to the question.  Here’s a couple of probing paragraphs from this profile (which you can read online to see it all):

“I ask him what it takes to invest so much in a piece of writing, knowing it may never make it into print. “What you have to do is believe that what you’re doing is really important. Not that anyone else believes it,” he says. “And this is what A Writer’s Life is about. The odyssey of a writer.”

It’s a good answer, though a little too smooth, so I press. The word “obsessive” comes to mind, but I cop out with the more polite, “Does it take a kind of faith?”

He considers the word “faith” for a moment. “What it takes beyond faith is the willingness to be out of print and the willingness to be off the radar screen without any public acknowledgment that you are a writer,” he says.”

Isn’t that the life of a writer? You create and pursue stories and words with an internal belief. You believe that the words and the story are important—even when no one else believes it. 


Thursday, April 13, 2006

Rarely Discussed About Bestsellers

I’ve been in editorial meetings where we sit around and look at current bestseller lists.  Leaders will set goals of getting on these bestseller lists. If you are unaware, there are many different versions of bestseller lists for books.  Some people focus on the New York Times list while others concentrate on the Christian Booksellers Association lists. Yet others look to publications like USA Today or Publisher’s Weekly (the trade magazine of the publishing industry).  I find the details of how the list is compiled are often lost to authors and observers of publishing.  How the bestseller list is compiled falls into the same category with how books are sold into bookstores. When you walk into a bookstore to purchase a book, unless you are an author, you don’t often wonder about how the book got there.  If you get looking into it, how that book is sold into the bookstore is often a pure mystery. The same mystery surrounds the bestseller list.NY_Time_Best_Seller-sm

For greater understanding of these issues, I recommend the April 3 issue of Publisher’s Weekly and in particular the last page column called Soapbox.  Jonathan Merkh, a senior vice president and publisher of Nelson Books and Nelson Business pulls back the curtain on this issue in his article, Jesus and the Bestseller List. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from his article to entice you to read the rest of it, “I study bestseller lists obsessively. Often I find that some Christian books that don't make the general market lists are outselling the books that do by two to one, and sometimes more. In recent years, for instance, our house has had books land among the top 10 of the New York Times hardcover nonfiction lists that were consistently outsold during the same period by other in-house authors such as Max Lucado and John Eldredge—yet neither of these authors ever made the list. The reason? Over half the sales of Lucado's and Eldredge's books were through Christian retailers, whose sales are not reported to Bookscan or counted by the New York Times or USA Today, and are only counted for PW's religion bestseller list.

“If bestseller lists counted sales in Christian bookstores, the list keepers would be surprised to learn how big the religion category really is. When I point this out, I'm told, "We count Christian book sales because we count Ingram, and they own Spring Arbor [a division focused on the Christian market]." Yet Ingram numbers represent only a fraction of Christian market sales for frontlist titles. There's close to, if not more than, $1 billion in retail sales of Christian books unaccounted for by these lists.”

Isn’t it odd? We simply look at the lists—and don’t think about how it is created or how the books are counted—yet those questions are critical to the understanding process and making realistic goals for your own writing life.


Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Another Magazine Disappears

I belong to several online forums. A post from yesterday caught my attention, with the subject heading, “Marketing Update Christian Parenting Today.” The writer said Christian Parenting Today had ceased publication. Another fine magazine has disappeared off the marketplace. If you spend many years writing for magazines (as I have), you learn the magazine business had a high failure rate. If a publication stays in business five years or more, they are unusual. Christian Parenting Today was around probably about twenty or twenty-two years. CPT-COVER

As a fairly new writer, I remember getting a call from the founding editor of Christian Parenting Today. He and a small staff were putting together the first issue and in the process of lining up their regular contributors and columnists. At the time, I was reviewing many books (something that continues to a small degree). Most of my reviews were for trade magazines and Christian Parenting Today was launching as a consumer publication (for the general news stand and marketplace). With my verbal marching orders from the editor, I became the first book review columnist for CPT. The magazine launched as a bi-monthly—every other month. My assignment was to review the best and newest books for parents and also to suggest children’s books (a variety of ages). I’m unsure of my word limitations (that was years ago) but it was probably about 2,000 words. I crammed as many short, positive recommendations into that space as possible. Because I was selecting which books to include (with little or no input from my editors), the floodgates of books opened from the publishers. Almost every Christian and many general market publishers added my name and mailing address to their “A” list of reviewers. Let’s take a major publisher like Zondervan who releases about 150 books a year. I would get almost every one of these releases. Just opening the packages from the publishers became quite a challenge—much less selecting the particular books which I would write about for the magazine. Each publisher was eager to reach the growing audience of this publication. I believe at one point the magazine circulation was at least 150,000.

I wrote this material for the first two or three years of Christian Parenting Today. Plus I wrote several feature articles on parenting related topics. My children were younger then and I was in the throws of parenting and found it easy to write about these aspects. I was in touch with the editors because of the book review column. Eventually I watched these editors move to other parts of the business. Both of the founding editors are still in publishing but in book aspects of the business and not in the magazine area. Eventually the editorial staff moved from Sisters, Oregon (where the magazine began) to Colorado Springs. I continued writing for the new editors because only a few of them made the move with the publication. From several editors, I’ve heard the story of the day the magazine (there were several magazines) were purchased and moved. Those editors lost their jobs and were forced into other positions.

I’m recounting some of these moves so you can understand the importance of continuing your relationships with the editors. I continued my relationships with the editors who moved away. And I began my relationship with the new editors. Some of these editors have left the business while others continue in thriving careers.

Why is the magazine business so difficult and why do these publications disappear? It returns to an aspect many writers don’t think about when they write for a publication—the business side of magazines. Like commercial television, what pays for the programs? It’s the commercials. In the commercial magazine business, it’s those full-color ads which pay for the publication. Subscribers only pay a small percentage of the actual value of the magazine. The rest of the cost is carried through advertising. Inside the magazine, there is this constant juggling between editorial and advertising for space. It’s a delicate balance and the costs are many—staff, overhead (building, lights, etc) along with paying the freelance writers. The writer has to roll with the punches—or so I’ve learned after years of working with different magazines and editors.

While I understand these changes, it’s still a bit sad to see a fine publication like Christian Parenting Today disappear from the magazine landscape. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved in the early years of that magazine.


Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Slow Burn or Wildfire

I’ve seen that starry-eyed look from a new author with a new book. They are dreaming about becoming the next bestselling author. I applaud their enthusiasm yet if you took this little quiz, you learn that bestsellers are a small percentage of the overall market. Yes, everyone wants their book to catch on like wildfire and soar into the marketplace. Except too often the author doesn’t want to do anything to reach that market and delegates the responsibility into the hands of the publisher.

Publishers spend their days trying to educate their current authors and also locate authors who understand the importance of marketing (besides the key quality of creating an excellent manuscript).  You’d be surprised how few authors understand and appreciate the ongoing work to let people know about their book—and encourage them to purchase it. With the volume of books published each year, it’s fair to say that some good books simply don’t make it in the marketplace.Publicize Your Book cover

I have a fairly worn out marketing book on my shelf called Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval. Several years ago I met Deval and listened to her at a seminar in New York City. The publisher at Hearst Books Jacqueline has worked inside a number of general market publishers as the director of publicity. She’s been on the inside track to watch how books enter the marketplace. I love the realistic view which begin this book, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book. This means that some books will get publicity campaigns and budgets while others will go without.”  I continually turn to this book because it helps the author mount realistic plans to promote their book alongside their publisher.

When I worked at another publishing house, I worked with the marketing department and we purchased several boxes of Publicize Your Book! and sent them to new authors. It was a small investment in author education but a hopeful one to encourage the authors to be proactive in their efforts.  As for the results of this effort, I’m uncertain since I’m no longer connected to this publishing house but if even a few authors used the methods in this book, I believe the publisher received a solid return on this investment in their authors.

It’s true that in general a book gets it’s greatest publicity push in the months ahead of its release then three to six months after the release. But what about after that period passes? Does the author press on to other books (probably) and stop promoting their book (hopefully not)? The effort to tell people about your book and get the word out is ongoing.

After you pass through this initial period, look for other ways and other methods to spread the news about your book and encourage people to purchase it. Some of the strongest books at different publishing houses are their backlist or previously published books. These backlist books click along year after year with steady and increasing sales. These books may never appear on any bestseller list yet publishers love the consistent sales (and earnings) from them. Can you tap a sector of the market that will have a continual need for your book? I’m thinking of schools (which use textbooks) or conferences (ongoing needs) or even a church Bible study group.

Many books are more of a slow burn than a wildfire and slow is OK and works—for the author and the publisher. My Book Proposals That Sell just returned to second printing. I cheer because this event happened in less than a year (always a healthy sign for any book) and gives me something else to trumpet and promote. Yes all of us want to become pyromaniacs yet it takes consistent effort from the author.  You have the greatest passion for your book—much more than any publisher.

Something new in this area is Amazon.com Connect. If you haven’t seen it, it’s another way for authors to connect with their readers in a consistent basis and involves one of the largest retail spots on the planet.  I recommend taking a few minutes to check it out and learn about it. It might help you spread the burning enthusiasm for your book.


Monday, April 10, 2006

More Agent Dislikes

Agents and editors have some strong opinions about what they dislike to receive from authors. It’s critical to understand these dislikes so your submission gains a proper hearing from the recipient.  Otherwise you are wasting your energy on even submitting the material.

There are twenty-five dislikes in a chapter of Author 101 Bestselling secrets from Top Agents, The Insider’s Guide to What Agents and Publishers Really Want by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman. I wrote about five of these dislikes and today I’m going to cover five additional ones.  Like the previous list, these came in a random order and I’m going to mix my comments with some quotations from this book.Author 101 agent

Not revealing what a book is about

Firsthand I’m familiar with this kind of pitch because as an editor, they come into my mailbox. The writer believes they can write a “tease” to the agent and get them to request the manuscript. All too often this type of teasing query just gets flatly rejected or ignored.  Here’s what Frishman and Spizman write about it, “Simply saying that a book is good is not sufficient to motivate an agent to look at a manuscript. Agents need more information, including what the topic and premise are, in order to decide if the book is something they wish to consider. So tell them up front and save everyone valuable time.”

Writers who call and pitch

It’s pretty easy to understand this dislike from agents.  When it comes to pitching book ideas, it’s the written word that is going to make the greatest impression.  Some writers prefer to pitch their ideas on the telephone—which makes an impression—just not a positive impression. As Author 101 says under this point, “Agents are busy and they’re not looking for salespeople. They’re looking for writers. Although they screen their calls, some stragglers slip through…Many writers insist on calling and trying to pitch their books over the phone. Their pitches waste agents’ time and can irritate them. Agents are reluctant to get involved with writers who don’t learn about their policies and follow them.”

“Idea-a-day” authors

I’m sure you know these types of writers—and maybe you are one. Ideas are everywhere but the critical matter is which idea do you spend your focus and energy to carry out? When it comes to brainstorming ideas, don’t turn to your agent but instead bounce these ideas off another writer or a friend or let your research about the market, gather your validation for the idea.  Frishman and Spizman write, “Try not to wear your agent out by barraging him or her with more ideas than he or she can digest…Agents appreciate authors who respect their time and don’t continually use them as sounding boards for unformulated ideas.”

Authors who forget that agents have private lives

It’s pretty easy to understand this dislike from agents. The point returns to a basic wrong assumption. Yes, the agent works for his clients but they have a life beyond the business aspects of publishing—at least we try to have that type of life.  I tend to give the wrong impression at times in this area when I answer email on Sunday afternoon or late at night. As Author 101 says, “Some authors are demanding and insensitive with agents; they call them ten times a day, on holidays, after hours, before hours and even on weekends. Agents are not on call 24/7. They are not your shrink or your babysitter; they have families, lives of their own, and clear working hours.”


You may find this last dislike surprising but agents (and editors) can detect this attitude in a heartbeat.  Each of us should be aware of this attitude and how easily it can creep into your communication with the agent.  With the type of volume of work and years in this business, I still have a lot to learn. Here’s what Frishman and Spizman write in part about this dislike, “Some writers believe that they know more about the publishing industry than their agents do, when they actually know very little about it. When some individuals read an article or two or a book about the publishing world, they begin to think of themselves as authorities on it. While it’s important for writers to know and understand the book business, it’s foolish and arrogant for them to believe that their knowledge is equivalent or superior to that of professionals who have had careers in publishing.”

I’ve covered ten of twenty-five agent dislikes from this how-to book.  Hopefully it gives you some things to consider for your own writing life and interaction with agents and editors. 


Sunday, April 09, 2006

Selective Listening

I know I promised to return to the dislikes of agents—and that will happen tomorrow. For today, I’m focused on a different matter.

Whether we realize it or not, each of us selectively listen to a conversation. I’m most conscious of this fact when I’m trying to write down material from an interview or record notes from a speech, then use those notes to write something at a later date. I can’t write fast enough to capture everything so while I’m making notes, I’m missing something.

Since college, I’ve been composing my words at the typewriter or keyboard. It’s the common way that people write these days but in the 1970s, it was an unusual method. It’s helped my production and writing that I gained this skill many years ago and have been consistently using it ever since I learned it.

When I read the newspaper, I always make a point to read the comic page. The only exception is when I read a newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today which doesn’t have a comic page. Today I loved the comic For Better or Worse. If you don’t follow this particular comic, Michael, the son has become a writer. His wife is trying to get his attention yet he is listening selectively. I’d encourage you take a look at this permanent link for this comic. I showed it to my wife and she wanted to save it (highly unusual for her). Consider how selective listening plays into your own writing life. It certainly rang true for me.


Saturday, April 08, 2006

What Agents Dislike

Whether you have an agent or not, it’s always good from my view to learn about agent’s dislikes.  Because agents have to turn around and sell their projects to editors and publishers, it’s great information. You can be fairly certain the dislikes are similar for editors.

The chapter with this content comes late in the new book from Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman called Author 101 Bestselling secrets from Top Agents, The Insider’s Guide to What Agents and Publishers Really Want. I was interested in their preface to a list of the top 25 agent dislikes: “The fact that agents have so many gripes graphically drummed home to us the message of just how much agents judge and evaluate writers. When writers try to get an agent, they are asked to run a difficult course, and run it under a microscope. Although the level of scrutiny that writers receive is huge, it is definitely surmountable. However, it may take some adjustment and work. Read the following items that agents dislike and alter your approaches accordingly. Hopefully, the changes you make will improve your chances of convincing the agent you want to represent you and will help you work better and more productively.” Author 101 agent

Instead of covering all 25 dislikes, since Frishman and Spizman built a random list, I’m going to select five entries to give you a taste of what is here.

Unwillingness to promote a book

If you read these entries often you should not be surprised to find this dislike. Agents and editors alike are looking for authors who understand this essential part of the process. Here’s part of what they said under this entry, “Few nonfiction books can be successful if they’re not energetically promoted. Promoting a book can be grueling, and some writers are shocked when agents and editors tell them everything they are expected to do. If you’re unwilling or unable to promote your book, discuss it with your agent as soon as possible to identify efforts that you can make and find ways to do those promotional tasks that didn’t seem possible.”

Bad attitudes, or a feeling of superiority

Agents and editors quickly become experts at spotting someone who is overselling themselves or their idea. As these authors write, “Unless you have good verifiable reasons, don’t claim that the market for your book is exceptionally broad. If you think that your book will actually be the next Chicken Soup, dig up facts and figures to prove it.”

Writers who don’t trust their agents’ advice

You might find this one surprising. As an editor, you’d be surprised how often this happens.  You’ve established a relationship (read hired) your agent for a reason—their expertise.  As the authors write, “Agents are professionals; they know the publishing business and the literary market. They generally know more about what editors want and need than writers do. Also, they usually see the big picture better….It seems counterproductive to hire and pay an expert and not listen to his or her advice!”

Writers who don’t contact their agent when problems arise

If you don’t think there are problems or at least discussion points in the process of creating a product, then you don’t have a realistic view. It happens all the time and the key is to understand you have a resource when it happens—your agent. As these authors write, “Agents can provide creative second opinions. They usually have extensive experience in publishing and frequently they are accomplished editors. They can also be a writer’s best advisor.”

Writers who call their agent too much

“Many agents who are sole proprietors don’t have staffs, so they do most office tasks themselves. Find out when it will be convenient for them to speak with you, and schedule a phone conference at a time that will work for both of you.”

Maybe most of these dislikes were pretty obvious to you. I’m going to include five more in my next entry.


Friday, April 07, 2006

Reading About Agents

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading about literary agents. While I’m not finished with Author 101 Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman, I wanted to write a bit about agents—and tell you about this Author 101 series. 

Author 101 is a new series of how-to books from Adams Media and two of the books have been released.  There is a free newsletter and other resources at their book site. Two of the books—book proposals and agents are in print. Two more books on nonfiction and book publicity are in process.  I’ve read the book proposal book and I’m in the process of reading this book on agents.  In terms of branding and cover design, I’m interested to see what these authors are doing.  They seem to be more interested in promoting Author 101 than a particular title or writing topic. Each book has a distinct color and content—yet what draws your eye is the large Author 101.  It will be something interesting to watch with this series.101_agents

As an editor and a writer, I’m always looking to learn more about agents.  I work with agents as they pitch novels for their clients. I also work with agents as some times they represent my work as a writer.  As many publishers close their doors to unsolicited manuscripts (because of the large volume of inappropriate material), literary agents are often screening material and looking for manuscripts and proposals which they can champion (read sell) to editors at publishing houses. I’ve always tried to meet as many literary agents as possible because I know these individuals may stumble across something that will be a perfect acquisition.  When I head to New York City in a few weeks for the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings, I will likely spend a bit of that time meeting with a few more agents.

Just to give you a taste of this book on agents, I wanted to pick out a few choice quotes. Agents like editors look at a stacks of submissions. A subhead caught my attention, “What Turns Agents Off.” Here’s the first two paragraphs: “An immediate turn-off is when I receive an inquiry that shows the writer hasn’t done enough research,” agent Edward Knappman reports, “If I get an inquiry regarding a novel, it’s obvious that they haven’t done enough research to learn that we don’t handle fiction. If they haven’t researched our agency, the first thing I ask is, “How can they do enough research for the book?’  Another instant turn-off occurs when the agent’s name or the firm’s name is misspelled. Remarkably, agents informed us that such misspellings are common.” (p. 85).

If you’ve read these entries very often, you know that I’ve mentioned the same turn-offs as an editor. When someone misspells my first or last name, it instantly makes you suspicious about the rest of their submission. How you can misspell Terry is really a wonder but it happens a lot. Or the writer will send me a children’s book submission—when I only acquire Christian fiction.

OK, rather than end on a downbeat. I want to give two additional quotes from this book about agents. In a section interviewing different agents about queries, George Greenfield wrote, “When you have absolute belief in a project, you must sometimes walk through walls of cool rejection before you feel the warm glow of success.” Now that’s a statement each of us can put on our wall and recall often.

Here’s a good reminder about the process of getting an agent and the function of agents from Bob Silverstein, “Just as agents have to sell a project to publishers, likewise authors must sell themselves to agents. So always put your best foot forward when you make your pitch! And keep in mind the adage, “Publishers print, authors sell!”


Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Debut Novel Controversy

Several weeks ago in the mid-March issue of Publisher’s Weekly, an article caught my attention with the headline, “Debunking the Debut, How valuable is the term ‘debut’ when it comes to pushing a book?”  Dutton is promoting the forthcoming coming of age novel from Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and in the press materials calling it her “debut novel.”

Here’s the key information in Rachel Deahl’s excellent article, “Twice dubbing it a “debut” effort, the publisher fails to mention that the book, written by the daughter of famed White Way lyricist Tim Rice, is in fact the author’s third effort, since she previously published two books in the U.K. Whether the flub was an honest mistake or a sly PR move, the slippery language speaks to an abiding assumption in the industry: it’s always easier to sell a debut work. Right or wrong, this notion is creating some innovative, and perhaps questionable, behavior as some look for ways to claim the occasionally elusive tag.  Though Dutton failed to stipulate that Lost Art is the author’s U.S. debut, the director of marketing for Hudson Street Press and Plume, Marie Coolman, was unflapped by the oversight. “This book is a U.S. debut, so we’re calling it a fiction debut,” she said. Noting that Rice had “two very small books” published overseas, Coolman said she didn’t want to miss potential press coverage for the book by being technical. “There are some reviewers who really like first fiction, so we don’t want to lose those opportunities because something was written and published in a very small way in another continent.””

See the discussion? Rice previously published two novels in the U.K. and in fact, Lost Art isn’t a debut (or first) novel but it’s her first U.S. novel. A certain segment of the fiction reviewing press loves to look at first-time novelist and review those books.  Dutton is trying to take full advantage of their opportunity and include Lost Art among the books considered for this section. Supposedly you can only debut once and the article continues with the perspectives of different publishing insiders and journalists. Like it or not, the discussion about debut has garnered Eva Rice even more media attention.

Years ago, one of my long-time publicist friends told me that any publicity is good publicity. Whether that publicity is positive or negative at least people are talking about the book. It points out the challenge for any author and any book—to get attention. The author can’t leave the publicity and marketing efforts in the hands of their publisher. Instead, it takes a team—the author and the publisher constantly promoting their book. In some cases, the book takes a while to find it’s niche in the market. In other cases, the book never finds that niche and is taken out of print. Lissa Warren has some great advice in her article, Ten Things To Do If Your Book Isn’t Getting Media Attention. Use this article as a sWords That Sell coverpringboard for your own book publicity or marketing plans.And as you create those plans make certain you are using the most powerful words you can use to promote and sell your product.

How do you learn those words? Some people are naturals at using these words to draw people to a product. Others struggle to find the right word. If you fall into the struggle category, I recommend you get a copy of Words That Sell by Richard Bayan.  As I was writing this entry, I noticed last year, the publisher released a new edition of this reference book.  As I’ve written promotional material for different books or projects, I’ve turned to this book as a resource. The new edition shows how the words to promote are constantly evolving and changing. As writers and editors, we have to continue to work at our craft and make sure we are using the most power-packed words in our news releases or advertising or promotional letters.

The controversy over the use of words like debut will continue. Maybe it’s taught us how to gain more attention for our project.


Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Truth Sells Books

Each week I read a great deal about publishing and what’s going on in the industry.  Also I’m actively involved acquiring fiction for Howard Books.  In a previous entry on the writing life, I pointed out the greatest number of increased titles for 2004 was in the area of fiction.  As I’ve said before, those numbers were the number of titles created or produced. It’s fairly easy to get a book produced these days. Now selling that book into the market is a completely different story. It’s the sales numbers which are critical when it comes to bookselling.

The headline of the Publisher’s Weekly article blared, “Truth Is Stronger Than Fiction.” The article examined the sales numbers for books sold during the calendar year of 2005.  Nonfiction sold substantially higher than fiction. It’s a message rarely heard but let’s look at the numbers.  Here’s a key quote from long-time publishing journalist Daisy Maryles article, “More new nonfiction titles sold 100,000+ copies in 2005 than in fiction—154 vs. 136. Also, in nonfiction, nine books reported sales of one million+; four of those were in the two-million+ range. In fiction, only six books had sales of more than one million (and two of those were by Nicholas Sparks).”

This article in Publisher’s Weekly is loaded with sales numbers and statistics. It’s available to subscribers. I want to show you the top five books in fiction and nonfiction along with the sales numbers:

1. The Broker by John Grisham. Doubleday (1/05) 1,827,877
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Doubleday (3/03) *1,576, 342
3. Mary, Mary by James Patterson. Little, Brown (11/05) 1,103,036
4. At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks. Warner (10/05) 1,093,717
5. Predator by Patricia Cornwell. Putnam (10/05) 1,040,250

1. Natural Cures "They" Don't Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau. Alliance Publishing (6/05) 3,724,422
2. Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by Joel Osteen. Warner Faith (9/04) *2,562,906
3. The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Zondervan (10/02) *2,500,015
4. You: The Owner's Manual by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. HarperResource (5/05) 2,000,000
5. 1776 by David McCullough. Simon & Schuster (**1,730,000)

Here’s the great irony with this sales information from my perspective.  Many writers are gravitating toward fiction. They wrongly believe they don’t need to create a marketing plan or have a “platform” to sell a good story.  Because I go to the writers’ conferences and read the submissions, I see firsthand the poorly-crafted results.

Some of these people who are trying hard (and unsuccessfully) to write fiction should probably move into the nonfiction arena. There is value in learning the craft of storytelling in the magazine world. Then the writer can take that storytelling excellence and carry it into writing nonfiction.

Which categories of nonfiction? Some of the top 2005 selling books were in the religion inspirational category. Also cookbooks were a strong performer along with biography and autobiography.  Here’s another interesting quote from the article, “Biography and autobiography enjoyed lots of bestseller play this year, too. For the most part, historical biographies outsold books by and about contemporary figures.”

From my work in publishing, I know that 90% of nonfiction books are sold on the basis of a book proposal—not a book manuscript.  On the other hand with fiction, the author (particularly a first-time author) has to write the entire manuscript. The fiction writer produces a 80,000 word manuscript on speculation (without certainty of actually publishing that story?).

This message seems to be buried in the excitement of writers to produce fiction. The sales numbers are in for 2005 and the results aren’t what many of those writers expect—the truth sells books.


Sunday, April 02, 2006

Learn A New Word: Blook

Several days ago in the comments section, Diane asked about my opinion of blooks? I had no idea what she was talking about—even though Julie and Julia covershe explained the term: books based on blogs.

Then I read this article about blook in the Wall Street Journal and had a fuller idea what it meant.  New words are constantly entering the English language and I guess we’ve added “blook” to our vocabulary.  I have heard of a number of blogs which have become books. One of the most recent success stories is touted in this article or the book, Julie and Julia : 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen which has sold over 100,000 copies since it released last September.  Clearly through blogging this author found an audience who wanted her book.  Note the distinction in this blog—the author wrote a great blog and built a ready-made audience.

I was interested to see the editor who acquired Julie and Julia said about blogging. She isn’t looking in blogs to find her next bestseller. Why? As journalist Ian Mount quoted Judy Clain saying, “I don’t think a blog is a great place to look for new writers because there are so many, and so many aren’t very good.”

Your blog might be the starting point for a book but it’s only a start. It’s a way to build an audience who is interested in you and your writing but the text will still need lots of polish before it is published into a book. I’m always amused with the occasional note I get from someone who thinks I need a copy editor for my blog.  My response is that I don’t need a copy editor for my blog. If you don’t like the way these words come out, then choose not to read it. I don’t labor over every single sentence in this post. I do spell check my words then get them out into the entry. Otherwise, the process becomes too labor intensive, not fun and most importantly consumes way too much time and energy.

As an acquisitions editor, I have no plans to look in blogs for the next bestseller, but I am happy to add another word to my vocabulary and continue watching the marketplace to see what happens in this area.


Saturday, April 01, 2006

Eliminating the Negative

This weekYour Best Life Now the New York Times printed a fascinating article about Joel Osteen, known as the smiling preacher and pastor of one of the largest churches in the United States.  Every now and then I manage to catch one of Joel’s programs on television and I almost always find it uplifting to my spirit.

I do have a small problem with one sentence in this article: “Mr. Osteen (pronounced OH-steen) said he would write the second book, like the first, on his computer, without a ghostwriter, based largely on his sermons.” I’m unsure how this inaccuracy crept into the article (it happens many different ways) . I happen to know Osteen worked with a ghostwriter or maybe he is called an editor. Whatever your term, there was a solid force of behind the scenes help for the writing of this book. It was not me but I do know the person Osteen worked with as a writer for the best-selling book. 

No matter how the book was produced, you certainly can’t argue with the success of it and it’s continual perch on the nonfiction bestseller list.