Friday, June 30, 2006

What Is A ThrillerFest?

Last Sunday, a series of newspaper articles about the first ThrillerFest caught my attention. The International Thriller Writers sponsored the event. I had never heard about this writing group with over 300 members. My personal schedule for the week was already pretty full but I decided to make time to attend part of the schedule. If you check the schedule link, you can see most of the event begins tomorrow and Saturday. I’m not going to be able to get to it tomorrow and even Saturday is questionable.

Thursday afternoon, I did manage to catch four workshops and some great content. I’ll be using some of this material in a forthcoming magazine article. I was fascinated to learn over 400 people will be attending this event. You can scan the schedule and recognize a number of names from the current bestseller list such as Steve Berry or R. L. Stine along with many others. Besides authors, literary agents, want to be writers, retailers and librarians were attending the ThrillerFest meetings.

Here’s just a taste of what I learned in the afternoon session called “Buzz Your Thriller” with M.J. Rose, David J. Montgomery and Sarie Morrell.

David J. Montgomery is an author and a critic. He writes a regular book review column for the Chicago Sun Times. His number one point to emphasize to writers?: Make sure your book reaches the book reviewer. Sounds simple right? He said, “You’d be astonished how often the publisher never sends the book. The author has to be vigilant and make sure the people who review crime fiction get your books.” Then he explained the list of possible reviewers isn’t very large—maybe a dozen. “If nobody else gets the book, make sure those few people get it and follow up with the reviewer to make sure he has received the book.”

Beyond receiving the book for review, also Montgomery recommended you make sure the reviewer receives the book early enough to be able to do something with it. It takes time to read the book then write your review. For example, right now Montgomery is writing his September column for the Chicago Sun Times. If your book released earlier this year, it will be too late to get into his September column. It was a basic which you would presume as an author would happen. Montgomery encouraged authors not to presume but to follow-up.

That’s a taste of ThrillerFest. I found it fascinating.


Thursday, June 29, 2006

Another Publishing Location

Whether it is magazine or book publishing, many people instantly think of New York City.  A feature article, “Singing Nashville’s Praises” by Edward Nawotka in Publisher’s Weekly puts the spotlight on another place in the central portion of the United States. You can read the entire article and study the publishing numbers and statistics which contain a lot of great information.

Some people wonder why the rise of interest in spirituality in the marketplace. Thomas Nelson CEO and president Mike Hyatt provides insight in this article. Nawotka writes, “Hyatt attributes the success of inspirational publishing to three trends. The first is demographics: “As baby boomers grow older and confront their mortality, they are returning to their faith,” he says. Next is globalization, which is “bringing new religions to our shores and causing people to reconsider how they worship.” Last is the rise of megachurches, which turn preachers into celebrities (think Joel Osteen) and can turn out a huge audience for a single author appearance.”  These three trends make interesting food for thought. How can you write something which connects with one or two of these trends? It might be the missing key to your next book proposal.

If you carefully read and process this Publisher’s Weekly article on Nashville, you will learn about other publishers and some interesting statistics.

Finally, let me recommend another place to spend a bit of time reading. In the same June 19th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, the inside back cover of the magazine caught my attention with a bright green ad and the large words: big bad book blog  Everything you need to know to ROCK the book industry.  OK, I typed in the URL and went for a visit. I added this site to my blogroll. I didn’t get everything read but I’ll be returning often to see what I can learn here.


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Heart-Shaped Book Cover

The magazine cover instantly caught my attention.  For their June 19th issue, which I pulled out of my mailbox yesterday, a red heart-shaped hardcover book with simply “XXOO” graced the cover of Publisher’s Weekly. Each week PW covers a different aspect of the book publishing industry.  While I have varied interest, some weeks contain more interest for me than others. I could tell this week was going to be about romance fiction. The headline teased, “Romancing the Author, How a publisher turned a housewife into an industry.” While I know a number of housewives turned romance authors, one author popped into my mind as a possibility—Debbie Macomber.

Debbie MacomberOver a year ago at the Frontiers in Writing Conference in Amarillo, Texas, I met Debbie and her husband Wayne. She was the keynote speaker at the conference and is one of the most personable and approachable authors—especially when you understand that she’s regularly on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold over 60 million books during the last 25 years. More than a simple housewife, Debbie is a savvy businesswoman.  I purchased one of her books carry home from the conference. As she signed it to me, Debbie said, “Now, Terry, you know this book is the second of a five book series.” Talk about the power of suggestive sales. I admitted my ignorance about where this book fell into the sequence of books.  I recommend you carefully read this link about how Debbie entered the publishing world. It’s a fascinating story about how she read, studied and wrote to begin her career on a rented typewriter.

Back to my guess about the subject of the Publisher’s Weekly cover story.  The story was about Debbie Macomber with a quick search online I found this article for you to read.  When you read this article, make sure you notice several key facts:

* “Romance dominates the American fiction market, accounting for 40% of all sales.”

* Debbie was not an overnight success.  She began writing for the Silhouette Special Edition series at Harlequin which dozens of authors write and it contains more than a thousand different books.  When I go to writer’s conferences, I meet so many writers who want to instantly land on the bestseller list but Debbie has been in the trenches faithfully writing and work for years. Now she’s written more than 150 books and each year her sales continue to increase.

* She’s grown her audience and fan base. Craig Swinwood, the executive vice president of retail marketing at Harlequin said in this article, “Debbie’s writing is consistently high quality. But we're careful not to drive new readers to an old series that doesn’t relate to a new book they might just have read. But in general, new readers want to read all they can. There are probably 200,000 core Macomber readers who we can count on to read everything.”

While I’ve only heard a hint of this project, Debbie has a forthcoming nonfiction book and I’ll be watching for it. I was celebrating this exposure for Debbie’s work. It couldn’t happen to a nicer writer.


Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Worth Watching for Time Alone

The Lake HouseLast weekend, my wife and I caught the movie release of The Lake House. From the reviews, we suspected it would be different.  The Arizona Republic movie reviewer tagged the movie as bad, which doesn’t make you want to run right out and see it (provided you agree with his opinion and in this case I don’t).  This film with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves released on June 16th and not even two weeks later, it’s already fading in the box office. I can tell you right away that we enjoyed the film and it contains something special—especially if you are looking for something different.

The story evolves around an independent-minded medical doctor (Sandra Bullock) who once occupied a lake home. She begins exchanging love notes with a frustrated architect (Keanu Reeves).  Through the exchange, they learn they are both living in the same house and yet separated by two years. Throughout the film, they unravel the mystery of this time separation. For most of the storyline the couple is apart and trying to figure out how this weird time warp has happened and what they can do to resolve it.

I can understand why the reviewer didn’t like it. The time situation alone in this film broke the typical conventions and expectations of the viewer. Yet the time difference also elevated this film out of the ordinary and made it a fascinating romance. It kept my attention. My feelings about the film were confirmed as the closing credits rolled and my wife turned to me and said, “I loved it.” It is a rare film that I will watch repeatedly but I suspect I could see The Lake House several times and learn something from each viewing.

With our own storytelling, we want to do something which will elevate it from the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Admittedly, it is not easy but is part of our task as writers. We need to continue to work at our craft.


Monday, June 26, 2006

The Last Minute Book Title

Each month more than five million people receive National Geographic magazine. If you’ve already read this story, I apologize for the duplication.  The detail was buried in an article by David Doubilet in the July 2006 issue called “Remembering Peter Benchley.”  It related to the title for the best-selling book, Jaws. “The book was still without a title half an hour before it went to press. Jaws was published in the spring of 1974.”Peter Benchley

According to this article, Benchley had been freelancing.  Also note Benchley’s family background to become a writer when Doubilet writes, “The son of the novelist Nathaniel Benchley and the grandson of celebrated humorist Robert Benchley, Peter was raised in a world of words.” Then we learn about the origins of Benchley’s landmark novel. “The idea of a shark story had been rattling around in Peter's mind for a while as he scrabbled for work as a freelance journalist. Tom Congdon, an editor at Doubleday, saw Peter’s June 1970 Geographic article on Nantucket and liked it. He invited Peter for lunch. Later that afternoon, Back at Doubleday, Peter borrowed Tom’s typewriter and wrote a proposal for the book in 15 minutes; an advance for four chapters of a shark story soon followed. This was one time when Peter’s sense of humor didn’t help the situation. The chapters arrived, and Tom had to tell Peter, “Gore and funny don’t mix.” Peter went back to rewrite.” Well-known National Geographic photographer David Doubilet has much more to say about his friend in this well-written article.

I’ll admit there are some unusual elements in this story—the last minute title and the 15 minute book proposal. Writers love these stories and they provide great encouragement and hope. Maybe we an throw a title on our book proposal at the last minute or crank out a super short book proposal and land a book contract. Also notice how the Doubleday editor Tom Congdon sent Peter Benchley back to rewrite his sample chapters.  This developmental coaching often happens along the way for a good result. Some literary agent or some editor or some critique partner spurs the writer to rewrite and retune their material before they send it into the marketplace.

From my perspective, we need to lift up the writers who spend six months crafting a solid book proposal in their late evening hours.  As an editor who reads a lot of these submissions, I guarantee such craft will not go unnoticed. It will garner additional serious consideration from the editor and the publisher. Be encouraged from these stories yet also be realistic with the expectations for your own journey to publication.  From my experience, there are few short-cuts to doing the hard work.


Saturday, June 24, 2006

Value of Amazon Reviews

Write A Book Without Lifting A Finger coverWhen the phone rings, you never know who will be on the other end. Yes, you may have caller ID and be able to sneak a preview but someone has to make that initial step to call. To my surprise, Mahesh Grossman, who has been called the ghostwriting guru, was on the other end of the line.  Several years ago I learned about Mahesh through a tele-seminar on Annie Jennings PR (another great resource). I was fascinated with his information about ghostwriting. Many writers are reluctant to become involved in this aspect of the work because they want their name to appear on the book or get “credit.”  From my perspective, it is much more important to have the writing work than to receive the credit. If you do excellent work, the credit will come.  Also many writers are reluctant to ghostwrite because of the difficulty of working with another person in the writing process—which admittedly is a challenge but I believe a good stretching challenge. Anyway, I want to return to the unexpected phone call.

Mahesh Grossman was calling to thank me for my Amazon review of his book, Write A Book Without Lifting a Finger. This book is targeted to people who have a book idea or a book manuscript and don’t know how to get it published.  Mahesh teaches the reader how to find a ghostwriter and gives practical examples about book publishing. Why would a writer want to read this book? Because it contains statistics and information that I’ve not seen in any other place about books.  Now this book has a 2004 copyright but here’s one interesting quote, “According to estimates by the Times of London, there are 120,000 new books published annually in the United States. That number is growing every year. Of these, roughly 102,000, or 85%, are non-fiction.” Now whether you agree with this statistic or not, nonfiction regularly outsells fiction—as I’ve pointed out in other entries. There many types of resources and tips in this book which are excellent for writers. 

If you notice the customer reviews of this book, there are only a few—and not many of them are very recent. Originally I wrote this review in mid-May. This morning, I adjusted something grammatical that I noticed so the date of my review changed on it.  Yes, Amazon gives you the ability to adjust your review (or even delete it) on my profile page.  Mahesh was calling to ask permission to use a quotation from my review. He tracked down my phone number (there are many ways to get this information online). My simple review of his book on Amazon gave me an unusual connection and the beginnings of another relationship.

Over the last several weeks, I have been pulling books off my shelf which I have read and adding short reviews on Amazon. If you begin to look, you will be surprised how many times a bestselling book has no customer review. Or in some cases, it has negative customer feedback (maybe a single bad review). Your positive review can bring some sense of balance. It doesn’t take long to write a few sentences of review and help the book.  I have written a number of these reviews over the last couple of months. I’m not spending days of time writing these reviews but only a matter of minutes. It’s like many other things related to writing—if you do it a bit at a time, after a while, you will end up with a lot of material. It is not rocket science but easy to accomplish. I’d encourage you to set a reasonable goal for yourself—such as one review a week, then fit it into your schedule. 

If you’ve invested the time to read the book, then take a few more minutes and crank out a review. You never know what can come from one of these reviews but it will never happen if you haven’t written a review.


Friday, June 23, 2006

Interview Marathon

Two Men InterviewingThis week I spent a full day interviewing a well-known leader in a Christian ministry.  Our time together marked the beginning stages of a book project which I will be writing over the next few weeks.  Through the years, I’ve conducted a number of these types of intense sessions. It’s like an interview marathon where instead of a 30–minute interview or an hour long interview, you spend the entire day with the person.

At the end of the session, this man said, “I’m all talked out.” I could completely understand. At that point, we had been talking for over nine hours together.  I walked out of that session with a legal pad full of notes and a series of recorded tapes with the stories.  I was weary of the intense listening that comes with these sessions for stories yet I was glad to have a high volume of material.

You may wonder, Why do you have to interview in such an intense manner?

These sessions happen more often than you might think because the author doesn’t have time to write a book. Or possibly the person has no experience shaping his story material into a full-length book project which will work for his particular audience.  Instead of devoting a set amount of time each week (for example an hour or two), this individual will block his schedule for the day and spend it with a writer in interviewing. 

How did I prepare? I had several short phone conversations with this person and had some general ideas about possible stories and content for the day.  I created a list of questions, story topics and key points to cover during our time together. Also the individual had prepared for our time together. He pulled some confidential memos, reports of various trips and background books with related materials to hand to me during our session.  Also I came with a number of cassette tapes and a tape recorder along with plenty of paper.

One of the keys from my perspective is to continually think about the eventual reader for the book. This reader will be different for each book but as the author, you have to keep your eye on that reader. What will this reader take away from the story content? Each story must have a key point or principle to be included in the eventual chapter for the book.  If you don’t continually focus the stories and the interview on the results for the reader, then you can end up with a bunch of disconnected stories which ramble and don’t help you gather content for the book.  It’s easy for the writer to get focused on fascinating stories which are not used in the book, if you don’t keep that focus for the entire session.  Continually at different points throughout the day, I recapped and looked for the guiding principle or the point to a particular story. Maybe I wasn’t able to see it initially but my subject was able to verbalize and summarize the point for the reader—but only if I prodded him during the session. 

Walking away from my session this week, the story isn’t over but still in process. I believe I have enough content to write a full-length book.  My experience from writing these books tells me that have enough material.  I feel good about the overall shape of these stories and how they will eventually be woven into a book.   During the writing process, I will know if I’ve gathered enough material or not. If not, this leader and I have a contingency plan to get together again for another interview marathon.  I’m hopeful for this person’s schedule and mine, such a session will not be necessary. Time will tell.


Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Maturing Chick Lit

I’ve been traveling and returned home a few hours ago. When I travel, I usually read USA Today and there was a good overview of Chick Lit the Life section. Carol Memmott wrote an article called Chick Lit Matures. The article gives an overview of this genre in the general market. There are a growing number of Christian Chick Lit titles as well from a variety of publishers. Language is the general caution with the general market titles.  I read one of these books several years ago. The author is a friend of mine and when she autographed it, she said, “Now, Terry, remember all of the sex in this book is fiction.” I thought it was a funny comment since the book was a novel or the entire book was fiction. As I read it, I began to understand what she was talking about.  This author knew I was a Christian author and the four-letter words and the sexual actions would stand out. It was a key part of the entire plot and I found the reading experience eye-opening.

You can follow the link and read the article but one paragraph in particular stood out to me from Carol Memmott, “The bottom line is the quality of the writing. “The genre is all about voice, and if you have a really fresh, really arresting voice, you can still tell a story about a single girl in the city,” [Jennifer] Weiner [bestselling author of In Her Shoes] says. “It’s such an interesting time in a woman’s life. There will always be interest in that moment when every decision is still right in front of you.”

Like many other types of publishing, the quality of the writing is going to be key. It’s something that many people forget when they send in their query or their manuscript. Here’s another enlightening few sentences from the article. If you don’t have a good definition of this genre, it was defined in a small sidebar:

“What puts the chick in chick lit?

* The heroine is either looking for Mr. Right or getting over Mr. Wrong.
* She's in a dead-end job or is looking to climb the corporate latter.
* She often works in public relations, advertising or for a women’s magazine.
* The tone is often light and funny.
* The story usually is told in the first person.
* By novel's end, the heroine usually has worked out all her problems and has learned important lessons about life.”


Monday, June 19, 2006

If You Need A Book

Each month I read Fast Company as one of the magazines that comes into my home.  In the May issue, I was intrigued with this column from Stirling Kelso called My Book, by Me. He describes the easy-to-use online service called Blurb which offers free software to make your own book.

For an experiment, Kelso took his journal entries from a year in Spain and mixed it with his photos. With a day of effort, Kelso created his own commercial-quality book for under $30 that he called Espa�a (follow the above link and you can see the book).  Of course, the cynical question in this article, who will read it? Is it another way to create more poor-produced books? I hope not.  Here’s an important detail buried in this article, “It’s not as if there aren’t enough books out there already: Nielsen BookScan reports that 1.2 million titles were sold in the United States in 2004, and just 2% sold more than 5,000 copies.”  You can certainly make as many books as you’d like to make but who will read them? How will they be sold and to which market?

This weekend, I received a pitch from a would-be author who has teamed with another author/ illustrator.  In a generic email, she pitched her children’s books. The irony is that I don’t acquire children’s books.  While the email was sent to my personal publisher email address, it  had nothing addressed specifically to me in the body of the email. I could have been the only person who received it—or it could have been massively submitted to many editors at the same time. I suspect the majority of that type of submission will be deleted without any response.  As an editor, I sent a response to this author at least explaining her futility of such a blasted email and encouraging her to read the publisher guidelines and follow it for a better response rate.  I may or may not receive any response from this submission but in a small way I’m trying to help the author—and also do something to stem the tide of these unnecessary submissions.

While almost no one wants to hear it, traditional publishing takes time. It takes effort to shape a book proposal so it will capture the interest of publishers. This book proposal can help you capture the attention of a literary agent. Then the literary agent can market your proposal to different publishing houses. Even after you get a book contract, it will take time for that title to get on the publisher’s schedule and get sold into the bookstores and available to the general public. 

Anyone can use a company like Blurb to take the short cut route and make a book. But do you reach the audience with a quality product? It’s highly improbable from my experience.


Sunday, June 18, 2006

For the Skeptics

Letters From A Skeptic CoverI suspect when it comes to our loved ones, you will know a few skeptics about Christianity. Father’s Day seems like a particularly good time to talk about a book for skeptics called Letters From A Skeptic by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd. Greg Boyd wrote a series of letters to his agnostic father, Edward Boyd. Even though you’ve never seen this book on any bestseller list, it is one of the top selling titles at Cook Communications. During the years, I worked at Cook, the elder Boyd passed away and I worked with Greg to add a slight addition to the cover. It’s a flag that you can barely see on this small illustration but it says, “Over 100,000 Copies in Print!”

Also I worked with Greg to add a two-page tribute to his father at the back of this book as a part of the reprinting process. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from this tribute to give you a taste of the book, “While I was overwhelmed with joy by my father's decision to accept Christ, I wasn’t very optimistic about how much transformation would take place in his post-conversion life. At seventy-three years old, my father was much older than most people who come to Christ, plus he had always been very set in his ways. My pessimism couldn't have been more misplaced. Indeed, it's difficult to exaggerate the profundity of the Holy Spirit's transformation of my father during the last eleven years of his life.” “One dramatic change was in my father's emotional tenderness. The pre-Christian Ed Boyd rarely expressed his emotions--certainly not in public. But the Christian Ed Boyd became a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. My father literally wept for joy every time he heard of a person coming to Christ through our correspondence—and over the course of eleven years he heard this hundreds of times!”

This book is another example of the potential impact of our writing. It can be the spark for someone to change their life or change the direction of their life. If you have a skeptic in your life, I recommend this book. Or if you want to wrestle with and discover answers for common questions like Why is the world full of suffering? or Does God know the future?, then I recommend you consider this book. It may be just what the skeptic needs.


Friday, June 16, 2006

Find Inspiration

Light BulbLong ago I learned in general there are two types of writers.  One writer will wait for inspiration to strike. When it hits, this writer will crank out a magazine article or a devotional or a book proposal. Then the writer tries to figure out where to sell this masterpiece.  In general, inspirational writers don’t have a specific magazine or marketplace or reader in mind. They are simply writing from their heart. Now there is nothing wrong with writing from the heart but these writers are floating all sorts of things into the marketplace and not getting published—and mostly frustrated with the submission process.

The other type of writer is much more deliberate. This writer considers the market and writes to a specific audience or magazine. This writer has specific goals—usually a word count. Frank Peretti is the only writer that I’ve interviewed who writes with a timer and writes so long each day (but hey it works for him).  Morning, noon or night, this type of writer sits at the computer and cranks out words. Some times those words are more inspired and better than others but this writer is disciplined and consistent.

If you haven’t been aware, I fall into this second type of writer but I’ve met a number of the first type at various writers conferences.

Yet even this second type of writer needs encouragement and inspiration from time to time. In the middle of my writing, my own inspiration often comes from different places. In April, I was in New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. In one of the sessions, I picked up a new mousepad from the Copyright Clearance Center. Now I have never had the need to contact the CCC but I’ve enjoyed their mousepad. It has a screen-back image of a pair of reading glasses which are laying on a document (possibly the Declaration of Independence but it is unclear). At the bottom of the mousepad is a quotation which I’ve been reading each day and find inspirational: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” Benjamin Franklin.

There are many other ways to find inspiration if you are struggling—such as do something completely different from sitting at the computer such as exercise or read a magazine or a book. The key is not to be mired in doing nothing but to be proactive in the process.


Thursday, June 15, 2006

Subject Lines Count

It’s been interesting to read the comments and reaction from yesterday’s entry.  I didn’t explicitly say another reason writers should be thinking about how their email will be received. It’s like many other elements in publishing, editors have little time to read their email or much less answer it.   Unlike the freelance writer, the editor doesn’t spend their day reading email or reading different websites or blogs. The editor is focused on the business of publishing. A great deal of this business occurs in various types of meetings within the publishing house.  There are a litany of types of these meetings and these sessions occur away from a computer. As I’ve mentioned before in these entries, the bulk of publishing isn’t a matter of a single person’s choice. Yes this person has influence but it is often a matter of consensus building with the various areas of the publishing house such as sales, marketing and editorial. This consensus building takes time and happens at all levels of the book production process—from the mock-up cover designs to sales presentations to title meetings.  Also editors have book editing responsibilities in addition to other things and the books are produced on a detailed schedule with deadlines that have to be meet to keep these products on track.

With this understanding, I come to another area related to yesterday’s topic about snap email—the subject lines of your email.  Yesterday I received an email labeled “chicken scratch.” It was from a literary agent where we had a conversation this week and I could not imagine what would be inside “chicken scratch.” It certainly got my attention in a positive way. In fact, that subject flashed me back twenty years to a critique group in Southern California.  One of our members was an unpublished novelist and each month he brought another portion of his work in progress which he called “Chicken Lips and Speed Bumps.” That contemporary novel was about a man and a woman who were thrown together for a cross country trip which turned into a growing attraction for each other. He called her “chicken lips” while she called him “speed bump.” See how a working title can stick? Eventually Thomas Nelson published this novel with the title Driving Lessons. I believe it is now out of print. Maybe the first title would have had more appeal.  Back to my email with the subject “chicken scratch.” It wasn’t a pitch for a new project with that title but the agent explained after our phone call she couldn’t read her chicken scratch writing and wanted clarification on a few details. I quickly responded to this note.

Instead of just throwing some random words into that subject title spot, make sure you write something meaningful. If you have clicked a link which creates an automatic subject, make sure you modify it to give it a bit more interest for whoever will receive the email.  My email address for Howard Books is online at the publisher’s guidelines. If you click the link, it will automatically open your email program of choice and create an email—with the preconditioned subject line “fiction manuscript.” Over the last several years, I’ve received hundreds of emails with the same subject—and not all of them relate to a fiction submission. Some times a graphic artist will send an email looking for additional work. I’m not the right person to use for such a request since I work remote from the editorial offices—but if your email is online people will use it for their own purposes.

My key point for this entry is to think about how the other person will receive your email. Even the subject lines count and you want to stand out—naturally in a positive way. This type of reader focus is key whether you are crafting an email, a query letter or a book proposal. You want to present your material in the best possible light so you can receive the best possible response.


Wednesday, June 14, 2006

The Snap Back Email

With email, we’ve almost made it too easy for people to follow-up. In the past through these entries, I’ve mentioned the caution which has to be used—but I’ve got a couple of fresh examples to relate in this area.

Yesterday I received a follow-up email from an author who attended a writer’s conference. I wasn’t at this particular conference but one of my colleagues attended and recommend the author send her fiction proposal my direction.  I admire the follow-up from this author and her first email was excellent and contained a lot of information.  She neglected to include the length of her manuscript in the proposal and I sent a quick email asking that single question. She responded with the word length and another question. I answered this question and she responded with another question. Ultimately we went five or six rounds of exchanges (I’d have to check my files but it was at least that many times back and forth).  I have yet to see this proposal since it will be coming in a hard copy through the mail but my series of exchanges with this author gives me some pause. If it took five or six emails to answer her questions about submitting a proposal, what will it take if I request revisions to her manuscript before I can take it ahead into the publishing process? What impression will this author make with others in the publishing house? How difficult or easy will she be to work with in future projects? My questions might be completely unfounded in this case yet this author is completely unaware of the type of impression she has made or that the questions have been raised on my part.

Publishers are looking for active authors who care about their work and want to work hard to get it into the marketplace. We’re looking for cooperative, caring authors and those positive impressions are certainly there about this author. Yet there are also concerns with this series of exchanges.  How can you prevent it from happening? First, make sure you submit a complete thoughtful query. It should not be lengthy but as Noah Lukeman contends in his excerpt, it should be great. Next, make sure you ask all of your questions in a single email.  Almost anyone in publishing gets a great deal of email so it has to be used with caution and forethought.  Before you send it back, hold it in the draft section of your email.  Wait an hour or two before you send it to make sure you’ve put together the necessary ingredients. Every editor and every agent is different about how they handle their email. You never know the impression you are making with these exchanges.

Here’s another snap back email in completely different situation but for me, it’s another fresh experience.  As I’ve mentioned in these entries, I review books for different places and regularly write about books in printed articles and other venues. Publicist will pitch books to me in an email or send a press release or they will send these materials in a press kit with a book.  Over the years, I’ve received countless numbers of these pitches. As I’ve mentioned in other entries, it’s rare for the publicist to follow-up these pitches.  It’s wise to follow-up and something the best publicists know how to do with care and attention. Just make sure you are not overly aggressive with this follow-up or you make another impression.

About six weeks ago, I received one of these email pitches from a publicist. The pitch looked enticing so I requested a copy of the book. A few weeks later, I received a follow-up email from the publicist asking what I thought about the book. It turned out I had not received the book. I responded expressing my continued interest and ask again to receive the book. This week I received another email from the publicist asking what I thought about the book.  Again I responded that I had not received it and encouraged the publicist to wait until I had received it. His email was again premature. It turns out the book arrived (finally) in yesterday’s mail and I wrote the publicist saying it had arrived and looked good at first look but it would take me a few weeks to get it into the works—that is if I’m going to do anything at all. See how I’m managing expectations? I hope to do something with this book but I haven’t overpromised. Wisely this publicist has not responded to my email. I suspect I’m on some tickler file in his to-do list for a follow-up note in several weeks.  This publicist understands the necessity of building a relationship and fostering it. He’s not trying to develop an instant message type of email exchange with me.

Here’s my point with this post: Each of us need to take a deep breath with some of this email, make sure we’re asking (and answering) all of the various questions plus that we are focused on the reader and their reaction. If we need to hold it for a bit before we send it, then that would be a step of wisdom instead of making the wrong impression.


Tuesday, June 13, 2006

A Literary Mystery

When I was in high school, we studied Harper Lee’s classic To Kill A Mockingbird. I recall the drama poured on the pages of this novel. Then later in college, I read another book at the recommendation of my journalism professor called In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. This nonfiction title was heralded as part of the wave of “new journalism” which used the storytelling techniques of fiction in a nonfiction book. At the time, it was quite the innovation but now is much more common place and a technique encouraged in most nonfiction books.  While I am familiar with both books, I never connected these two authors and the intersection of their life stories until I read the recent piece in The New Yorker about a new biography of Lee Harper called Mockingbird.

Harper Lee photoHere’s a couple of paragraphs from Thomas Mallon’s well-written article to show the connection of these authors, “Growing up, she had preferred tackle to touch football, and tended to bully her friends, including the young Truman Capote, who, during the late nineteen-twenties and the thirties, was fobbed off by his feckless mother on relatives who lived in Lee’s home town, Monroeville. He put her into his fiction at least twice—as Idabel Tompkins (“I want so much to be a boy”), in “Other Voices, Other Rooms,” and as Ann (Jumbo) Finchburg, in “The Thanksgiving Visitor.” Lee did the same for him in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” turning the boy Truman into Dill, an effeminate schemer with an enormous capacity for lying. One year, Lee’s father gave her and Truman a twenty-pound Underwood typewriter, which the two children managed to shift back and forth between their houses and use in the composition of collaborative fictions about the neighbors.”

“In 1959, when Capote asked Lee to accompany him to Kansas while he looked into the murder of the Clutter family, he was thirty-five and already famous, a sort of self-hatched Faberg� egg—the author of high-gloss magazine journalism, some dankly suggestive Southern-gothic fiction, and the silvery “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Lee was just reaching the end of a decade-long literary struggle. After dropping out of the University of Alabama, in 1948, the year Capote published his first book, she had gone to New York to write one of her own, despite her father’s apparent belief that literary success was unlikely to favor Monroeville twice. In the city, she scrounged for change in parking meters and used an old wooden door for a writing desk. She spent most of the fifties living in Yorkville, on the Upper East Side, working as an airline ticket agent and failing to impress the other artistically ambitious Southerners she ran into. “Here was this dumpy girl from Monroeville,” one of them recalled years later. “We didn’t think she was up to much. She said she was writing a book, and that was that.””

That “book” turned out to be To Kill A Mockingbird which eventually sold over 30 million copies and won the 1961 Pulitzer prize. Mallon says in 1988 “was taught in 74 percent of the nation’s public schools” according to the National Council of Teachers of English.  Now anyone in publishing can tell you that broad teaching about a novel translates into a large number of book sales. Over the years, many people have tried to interview Harper Lee but have not been successful.

The literary mystery related to Harper Lee and it appears in the final paragraph of Mallon’s article, “The greatest mystery, of course, is why Lee never published a second novel, and whether she even got very far in writing one. Absent some late-life efflorescence, “To Kill a Mockingbird” will be it for her, despite a once professed desire to become “the Jane Austen of south Alabama” and a claim, in the years just after the novel’s publication, to be spending between six and twelve hours a day at her desk. As time went on, her editor grew impatient, and her agents became anxious. Eventually, they stopped asking.” The second novel has never been published.  It’s hard to publish something which has never been turned into the publisher.


Monday, June 12, 2006

A Couple of Resources

From time to time on these entries about the Writing Life, I’m including a number of resources. I don’t believe I’ve mentioned these particular tools in the past and hope they will help your own writing.

To Get Each Update

Last week I added FeedBlitz to these entries. I’m unsure which method you are using to regularly read these entries, FeedBlitz is an easy resource to make sure you get all of the various updates. They will come right to your email box if you subscribe with this form:

Enter your Email Powered by FeedBlitz

To Get the Best Deal on Books

How do you search for books online? Bookfinder4U searches through 130 online bookstores and 70,000 booksellers with a single click. It’s worth investigation.

For Your Agent Search

I’ve often pointed to this article about the safest way to find an agent. The advice from Victoria Strauss is right on track and something to use in this process. Recently I returned to this agent search site. I searched for a number of agents—and did not find them in this system but I was surprised at some of the agents I did find in this site. It’s another place to use as a resource.

Information and General Web Help:

One of my friends, Gary Foster, puts together a fantastic newsletter every two weeks with valuable insight, facts and trends about the marketplace. If you’d like to learn more, just check out his archives for some excerpts. You don’t have to subscribe but can learn a great deal just from checking his archived information. You will be amazed and it might just be the extra statistic that you need for your book proposal or your magazine article query.

Another valuable resource is to check out what Sreenath Sreenivasan has going on his website. Subscribe to his newsletter, look at his various tips and links. You can learn a great deal from this Dean of Students at the Columbia School of Journalism. He has remarkable insight and keeps up on some of the latest technology.


Saturday, June 10, 2006

Touch Our Fears

It might not be the first place you go when you are looking for a good novel—horror. Or maybe it is where you spend your time with your pleasure reading. Fear is a valid emotion to tap with the reader and it’s certainly a mainstay of horror writers. It’s also key for other types of fiction such as suspense, supernatural or thriller writers.

I was fascinated with Terrence Rafferty’s piece on this topic, The Thinking Reader’s Guide to Fear which appeared in last Sunday’s New York Times. Here’s a small snippet of his well-written article which caught my attention, “Enjoying horror stories, as I do, or finding them inherently pointless, silly and unwholesome, as many others do, is largely a matter of taste and temperament and is therefore unarguable. So rather than attempt to convert anybody, I’ll just try to explain, with as little defensiveness as possible, what attracts me to this often indefensible genre. Since I don’t actually believe in the existence of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night, I’m able to read horror fiction with a degree of equanimity, admiring the narrative skills of its best practitioners — whose storytelling, like that of most genre writers, tends to be classical, even old-fashioned — and allowing its bold, defiantly unsubtle metaphors to rattle around in my mind. To get anything out of horror, you have to be willing to surrender to those metaphors. Vampires may not be real, but the voracious, apparently unkillable, only nominally human predators they represent certainly are. (Chances are you’ve worked for at least one of them.) Zombies? Don’t ask.”

“The ability to embody your fears and anxieties and revulsions metaphorically may or may not give you pleasure or contribute in any measurable way to your mental health, but it’s a perfectly legitimate function of the working brain: one of those operations that help you maintain the appropriate respect for the power and weird beauty of unreason, its relentless prankishness, its capacity to prick us with sudden joys and sudden dreads. Horror fiction, even at its direst, frequently betrays an unexpectedly giddy quality, a sense of heedless, headlong freedom that’s the proper effect of a good metaphor, building and rolling and breaking like a wave of the sea.”

While Christian fiction doesn’t use vampires or zombies in their books, many writers do tap into the emotion of fear in their plot twists. Brandilyn Collins writes suspense fiction and I’ve enjoyed a number of her recent books. Ann Byle’s recent book includes a chapter about Collins’ fiction saying, “The lure, she says, is that suspense fiction is realistic. Its power manifests itself in sheer numbers of movies and television shows that have to do with crime or suspense, a trend Collins sees as beneficial to her kind of writing.”

“‘We live in a very evil world and that’s reality; more and more people want fiction to represent that reality. There are a lot of people out there who love suspense, and in the general market it has been very successful. Why not give Christians an alternative? Give them a good, strong suspense novel that has God’s message woven into it,’ says Collins.”

While you may turn away from the word “horror” in fiction, just look at this little fact from the Horror Writer’s Association media page: “Did you know that horror is one of the most pervasive literary types? Elements of horror can be found in almost every genre including mainstream, literary, science fiction, romance, thrillers, and mystery/suspense.” You may be surprised to learn there is a Horror Writer’s Association. You can follow the link to learn about the history and more about this genre. One of my friends Joe Nassise who is an active member at Scottsdale Bible Church, is a recent past president of this writer’s group. If you look around his website, you will see his horror fiction has been endorsed from some instantly recognizable names of bestselling authors.

I have two lessons that I draw about the writing life. First, fear is a valid emotion to touch in your fiction writing and use as an element as you create excellent fiction. Second, as Christians let’s not put unnecessary boundaries on our own potential. You can approach a genre like horror from your own worldview and provided your storytelling is excellent, you can be effective as a writer.


Friday, June 09, 2006

Breathe Life into the Familiar

It’s an age old story and book publishers are constantly looking for the answer. Readers are constantly looking for this answer. How to you take a familiar story and breathe new life into it? For example, take any common story from the Bible and attempt to tell it in a fresh and innovative way. It’s difficult but not out of the realm of possibility.Story by Steven James cover

This week I read a book which helps in this area called Story, Recapture the Mystery by Steven James, who calls himself the story guy (more about that in a minute). I was fascinated with the cover design on this book. It had a fresh feel with the old fashion library card tucked into a pocket.  As a kid, I loved going to the library and checking out books. I spent many summers haunting the local library, carrying out stacks of books, reading them then bringing them back to the library for more books. This cover reminded me of those experiences. Instead of names and dates, the card is filled with key words like harmony, longing, silence, venom, scars and wonder. In the realm of book design, it’s worth taking a look at this cover.

Last month, Steven James and I were on the faculty of the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. Steven gave one of the keynote addresses and I’m always fascinated to hear him speak. Why? Like many people I know, one on one Steven is reserve and what some might even call shy. Yet he springs to life as a speaker and storyteller. In fact, Steven has a Master’s degree in storytelling.

As I began to read Story, I wondered how he would breathe new life into the familiar Bible stories. From my view, he achieved his purpose and the book was fascinating. Just to give you a taste—and to spur your own writing, I’m going to give you a brief excerpt. Notice what I chose is a commentary about the Christian media. It’s not in the first part of this book but in fact toward the end on page 179 in the chapter on Wonder:

“Frankly, I’m tired of hearing about conferences, seminars, books, and DVDs that will change my life. ‘This (fill in the blank) will change your life! Attend this life-changing (fill in the blank) and you’ll never be the same again! it’ll be life changing!’”

“On the back of one Christian book I recently picked up were three separate quotes by Christian celebrities, all of which promised, ‘This book will change your life!’”

“A hernia will change your life. Swallowing two pounds of Ex-Lax will change your life. Getting bitten by a rabid dog will change your life. So will going bankrupt, joining a cult, or getting a tapeworm. All of these things are very life changing.”

“Change is not always a good thing. What I need isn’t change from one thing to another but transformation from who I am into who I was meant to become. Only when God’s transforming power touches me can I begin to live the simpler, freer, fresher, more creative, more patient, more passionate, more sacrificial, riskier, rawer, more real, more love-driven life God intended for me to have all along.”

“That transformation is what awaits all who will dare to enter the story of God. As Paul wrote, “Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think” (Romans 12:2).”

That’s a taste of why I enjoyed this book. Also it’s a hint of what we want to do with our writing and our storytelling.


Thursday, June 08, 2006

Babies and Books

It’s a common metaphor within publishing to compare babies and books. I believe it’s tied to the creative process. In the creation of a baby, there is something magical which happens with the creation of a new life to nurture and grow. Baby-crawling

In recent months, Publishers Weekly has started a back page column called Soapbox. It’s turned into one of my favorite, must-read areas in the publication. Recently Jenny Minton wrote a column called The Book Mothers and made some interesting comparisons. She is a former book editor and was talking with Katrina Kenison, who was formerly with Houghton Mifflin. She wrote, “While motherhood was all new to me, the publishing process was at least familiar. Editors turned writers—myself included—are at an advantage because we’ve seen the publishing process up close. Talking to Katrina helped clarify for me how it is easier to be a writer if you’ve worked in the business because, as she says, ‘We know what the steps are. We don’t look at it as a mountain that you can never climb. We have seen a three-page proposal turn into a book.’ By signing up my book at Knopf on the basis of just a few chapters, Jordan Pavlin made the task less daunting for me. While writing the book, I didn't think about anyone but her reading it; I wrote a long, long letter to Jordan.”

“Although my publishing experience—and Jordan's motherly guidance—helped me write the book, there were still many things I had to learn as an author. For 10 years I worked in various editorial departments (which are now all owned by Bertelsmann), but until the publication of my book, I was naive as to how involved an author needs to be in her promotional campaign. By the time I turned in my manuscript, I was tired of it and insecure about whether I had done the best job I possibly could. I still am. But somewhere between bound galleys and finished books, I realized that sitting around worrying about readers' responses was not constructive; if I didn’t get behind my book, no one else would.”

Many authors want to go with a traditional publisher so they can turn over all the promotion and marketing responsibilities to the publisher. The publisher cares deeply about the success of your book in the marketplace—but their attention is divided with other books to promote. You have the passion and the nurturing skills for your book. It was another reminder of the necessity for your active involvement in the process. It’s a balancing act. The marketing process can consume your writing life but only if you let it. At the same time, it can’t be ignored.


Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Value of Reader Reviews

The marketing surveys repeatedly confirm this fact.  The greatest influence for someone to purchase a book is the recommendation from another person.  Whatever background you know about the person who is recommending influences the strength of the recommendation. It’s called Word of Mouth and amounts to this mystical matter which publishers are always trying to get going for each book.

Reader recommendations or reader reviews is one method to spread the news about your book.  Amazon and a number of other websites allow readers to add their own reviews of the books—positive or negative. I’m amazed at the number of books which have been out for some time and have no reviews on their Amazon page. These reviews don’t have to be long or complicated. They can be a few simple sentences with your rating (five stars being the highest and one star being the lowest). Book-Proposals-That-Sell-co

Each month, I’ve been reviewing books for Faithful Reader.com.  This site recognizes the value of these reviews and they routinely add the reviews to the appropriate page on Amazon. This review may be the only one on the site or it may be one of many for a particular book.

Here’s a simple way to encourage people to add their reviews for your book: I regularly receive email feedback about Book Proposals That Sell and gracious, positive comments from people who have been helped through the book.  Often I will write back and ask them to go to the page on Amazon and add a sentence or two along with a five-star review (if they can take a minute or two to do it). Many people have never been asked—and they are glad to add their review and five-star rating. To make it easy, I include a link to take them right to the appropriate page on Amazon.  I have over 40 five-star reviews on this page from readers in various parts of the country and from all walks of life. While my book has been in print over a year, the new reviews keep coming to this page and it encourages potential readers that the book is active and something people are using.  Everyone I ask doesn’t add their review and some of them take a number of months until they get it done. That’s OK because at least I tried.

Amazon averages the reviews into an overall rating. If you have one good review and one bad review, the average will not be desirable. You can overcome these bad reviews with continual high ratings and eventually you will average back to the high rating.

I read a large number of books and for many years, I’ve not been adding my reviews to the appropriate page. It does take a few minutes (but not many minutes). In the last few weeks, I’ve been slowly adding some reviews to various book pages on Amazon. Initially my reviewer ranking within Amazon was well over 600,000 (not very high but very typical). As I’ve been adding reviews for various books, my ranking has improved and currently it is slightly over 150,000.

Sadly many terrific books on Amazon.com are without reader recommendation.  For an example, look at my Amazon profile. I list over 20 of my various books—and many of them are without a single review.  Some books only have a single review. 

As a reader, you have influence. Are you using it?


Tuesday, June 06, 2006

More from the Insider's Guide

Over the last few days, I’ve been giving you a glimpse into The Making of A Christian Bestseller by Ann Byle — which should be titled An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing—since there is almost zero about bestseller making. Even with a couple of caveats, the book has unique content from people who rarely write about the craft of writing or their work inside publishing so the book is well worth the time to study the contents and learn from it.Making of Christian Bestseller cover

To help you see that unique content, I’m going to take one last look at some of the contents and include some quotations from specific chapters. While the topics of this entry will jump around, it will show the diversity and excellence of this book.

T. Davis Bunn

One of the more prolific and best-selling Christian fiction authors is T. Davis Bunn. Many years ago when his first book, The Presence, released, I was the first journalist to interview Davis and we’ve been in touch ever since that session. While Davis occasionally teaches at writers conferences, he has yet to put into print some of his teaching about fiction. How do I know? I’ve asked for it and come up empty handed. A chapter, The Christian Artist Davis Bunn, appears in Byle’s book. It looks at this topic but I’m going to focus on something unusual tucked into this chapter: “‘So can you have violence or sex without its being graphic or salacious? If yes, then I would say it’s something you can justify, particularly to draw a very clear moral,’ says Bunn. Swearing might be a different story, according to Bunn. Is swearing required from the standpoint of creating good art? Bunn recalls watching Good Will Hunting, a movie filled with swearing but with a strong moral point. Bunn watched the original, then watched a version of the movie with all the swearing removed. Was it still as good a movie? Absolutely.”

“‘Dialogue up until the 1960s never had swear words,’ says Bunn. ‘Yet if you read Hemingway, Dickens, or Faulkner, the evil characters they created speak cleanly yet are dark and live forever as timeless, powerful characters. I think that can be true today. It’s certainly easier to write a bad character if he uses foul words, but bad language doesn’t necessarily make him a stronger bad character.’”

Jerry B. Jenkins

I know Jerry has a writing book which will soon release from Writer’s Digest Books. I saw an advanced review copy from someone else at the Blue Ridge Conference. Byle worked with Jenkins at Moody Press for a season and includes a chapter, Living Real at the Top, which is written in a Q & A format. I’m going to highlight one question:

Question: What goals have you set for yourself regarding your writing?”

Jerry: I don’t sing or dance or preach; this is all I do. I want to be selective about the projects I take on and give them everything I’ve got, continuing to strive for excellence and to learn and grow. I don’t expect lightning to strike twice in my life, so I have to deal with the fact that even great sales will look disappointing when compared to those of Left Behind. I have to remind myself that I am not responsible for that side of it. My job is to produce the most readable copy I can, trusting God to help me make the most of what he’s given me.”

Jack Cavanaugh

Award-winning novelist Jack Cavanaugh is also included with a chapter, Dissecting the Christian Novel. Jack is one of the authors I’ve acquired for Howard Books and this entire chapter is excellent. Here’s one small portion:

“’Our goal as Christian writers should be to have our books still in print several generations from now,’ says Cavanaugh, ‘so we need to read, read, read and write, write, write. Write every day. I mean, write! Researching is not writing. Going to a writers’ conference is not writing. Talking about writing is not writing. There is no substitute for putting words on a page.’”

Jeanette Thomason

I’ve been crossing paths with Jeanette Thomason for many years—since we were both magazine editors with the Evangelical Press Association. Byle talks with Thomason about the process of acquisition for books in a chapter, Searching Out the Best Writers. During the creation of this book, Thomason left her acquisitions role at Revell Books and is currently the Editorial Director at Waterbrook Press. I was interested to see how Thomason talked about the process of locating authors:

“‘Part of what we do in acquisitions is science and part of it is magic,’ she says with a laugh. The science is looking at the craft: point of view, dialogue, active or passive voice, how the story moves, the message. The magic is intuition: talent, what makes a good story, what makes a good storyteller. Thomason guesses the ratio may be half science, half magic.”

“‘There’s also the element of creating a great book and doing all the right marketing, but the book doesn’t sell. Or you can put a book out there with very little marketing but something happens—the magic part—and the book starts spreading like wildfire,’ she says. Understanding the magic: also means understanding trends, where an author fits in culture and history, and what’s important to readers. It’s an iffy business to be sure.”

“‘I have really good days and really bad days,’ she says.”

Doesn’t this last quotation have a solid ring of truth to it? There are many other excellent sections to quote but I’m going to leave the rest to your own reading and imagination. With over 30 different voices, there is something for every type of writer.


Monday, June 05, 2006

A Little Here & A Little There

I enjoy books written on a single topic but I also see the benefits from a book which includes many different topics and voices. You get the latter in The Making of a Christian Bestseller by Ann Byle. In my last post, I told about the packaging but what’s inside this book?

Making of Christian Bestseller coverTo give the book a unified voice, Byle wrote each of the chapters from interviews with the various contributors. Most of the chapters are written like a short magazine interview article with the author while other chapters are in a Question and Answer format. Most chapters include a highlighted tip for the writer in the misnamed Bestseller Tip. I call them misnamed because they are not about how to make a bestseller but more of a highlighted point of interest. Here’s an example from the chapter featuring author Laura Jensen Walker and WestBow Press editor Ami McConnell. The “tip” says, “About WestBow Press. WestBow Press is the publisher of all fiction previously released by Nelson books and W Publishing Group. Launched in 2003, WestBow’s authors include Ted Dekker, Angela Hunt, Frank Peretti and Davis Bunn. WestBow is named after the street in Edinburgh, Scotland, called WestBow, where Thomas Nelson launched his publishing company in 1798.” You can see why I’m a bit unclear about how this bit of information qualifies as a “Bestseller Tip.”

Here’s why you want to read this chapter. I’ve not seen any books with teaching from Ami McConnell who teaches at some writer’s conferences but in general isn’t talking with the broader writing community. This particular chapter is discussing Chick Lit and has her insight and take on this genre of Christian fiction saying, “It’s difficult to predict where reader interest and trends will turn even six months ahead, but McConnell thinks chick lit may not have reached its peak yet. She’s interested in chick lit about women in different stages of life, in different socioeconomic places. This diversity will fuel the chick lit literature. “I think as women we’re intrigued by people who are very different from us, so I think we’ll start seeing more chick lit that involves protagonists who are less like us,” says McConnell.” (p. 143) This type of information appears tucked into the various chapters. Admittedly it is that person’s perspective—but Byle has tapped some knowledgeable resources.

In the chapter with Brandilyn Collins called “The Risky Business of Suspense,” Collins explains her decision to stick with one genre of fiction and some of the reader reaction. “Collins has received some emails suggesting that Christian books shouldn’t include violence, that she’s flirting with the devil in some of her books.” This chapter provides realistic expectations about how hard Collins has worked at her craft and the challenge for any writer who wants to do the same. “I studied and studied and studied. I tell people who are learning to write fiction that it takes years. I know you hear about people who write their first book and sell it. Those stories become news because they’re unusual, not the norm,” says Collins.” (p. 114)

Here’s one last glimpse (for today) from this well-done book. I’ve known Lyn Cryderman for many years—even before he worked at Zondervan where he’s now vice-president and publisher. He is another key individual behind the scenes who is rarely captured in print—yet appears in The Making of a Christian Bestseller with the chapter, “Thinking Beyond Your Book.” This chapter encourages authors to include ideas in their book proposals beyond the traditional book. I liked the fact that this idea included some cautions saying, “There are caveats of course. Some authors can neither generate nor sustain interest in a wide range of products—first-time authors especially, though that’s not always true. And there’s the issue of buyer fatigue and resentment. Too much product is a huge mistake.” (p. 45). I loved this quote from Cryderman, “The book is the horse. If it’s a great book there’s a good chance there will be some opportunities for other products.” The application for me is to not get so caught up in the extra products that you neglect to pour excellence into the actual book.


Saturday, June 03, 2006

Stressing the Wrong Benefit

There is a subtle danger in titles and covers that is rarely explicitly mentioned. Titles and book covers are important because it’s what draws the reader to the book, helps them to pick up the book or look at it online then make a buying decision. Often a book title will stress a benefit as a way of attracting readers. But imagine the disappointment for the reader if you stress the wrong benefit? It’s rare that I notice a book which has the wrong title and the wrong book cover but I found one.  Now before I say more, I want to stress the value of this book and I plan to write a couple of entries to show some of the excellent contents.

Making of Christian Bestseller coverSeveral weeks ago at a Christian online forum, people were listing excellent how-to-write books they had recently read. One title caught my attention—The Making of a Christian Bestseller. What an attractive title! I’d love to read someone’s insight about how to make a Christian bestseller. As I’ve mentioned in the past about this topic, everyone that I know within publishing would love to know how to make a bestseller. Unfortunately there is no single formula to make a Christian bestseller or a general market bestseller. When your title raises the benefit to the reader, you have an obligation to fulfill that benefit.  This book fails to tell the reader how to make a Christian bestseller. In fact, it never addresses the issue and the word “bestseller” doesn’t appear in the index.  As a reader, I was disappointed with the unfulfilled promise.

The other key problem with this book is the cover design.  Because I work inside publishing, I fully understand the author has little control or input regarding the book cover.  The combination of fluorescent orange and white is deadly and unreadable. It’s like printing your Christmas letter on red paper. Yes, some people do it but it’s not the easiest to see or read. One of my publishing friends called this cover, “The worst on the planet.” I can only show you the front cover but the back of this book is also fluorescent orange with white type. It’s almost impossible to read the information.  The back cover contains two great endorsements from Sally E. Stuart (marketing guru and author of the Christian Writers’ Market Guide) and Andy Scheer (Managing Editor of the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild).

The title which matches the contents of this book is captured in the subtitle: An Insider’s Guide to Christian Publishing. The subtitle is reason to purchase this book and learn from the various chapters. Ann Byle has done a masterful job of gathering over 30 voices from inside Christian publishing on different aspects of the business.  Many of these working professionals have never been interviewed in any other book—and have valuable insight about the workings of the industry.  I know a number of these contributors because I’ve served with them on the faculty of a writers conference or worked with them on a magazine article assignment or crossed paths with them in another aspect of publishing. These individuals build tremendous value for the reader into the contents of this book. I’m going to highlight a few of these people in another entry about the Writing Life. It’s simply too bad to discover great contents wrapped in the wrong title and the wrong cover.


Friday, June 02, 2006

It Won't Fly If...

A number of years ago, Multnomah Publishers released a book on creativity called It Won’t Fly, If You Don’t Try. I enjoyed the book but have long forgotten the author or the contents—but not the title. It’s part of what we have to do as writers and editors—keep trying new things.

AirlineLast year, I tried a different airline when I booked my ticket from Phoenix to Denver for the International Christian Retail Show or the largest trade show in the country for Christian publishing.  On the surface, my flight looked easy. It was nonstop and relatively short. I planned to arrive in plenty of time to get checked into my hotel then off to an evening event. It was anything but easy. Some unusual weather with striking lightening closed the Denver International Airport for several hours. Our plane arrived then circled, then diverted to Colorado Springs to refuel. This airline didn’t even have a gate or presence in Colorado Springs but some eager passengers got off the plane (and were never seen again). Eventually three hours late we arrived in Denver and I reached my hotel and arrived late to my event.

Once again I needed to book my flight to Denver for ICRS next month.  Recalling last year’s unexpected delay, this year I’m going to plan extra time (and it will probably go off without any delays). Almost monthly it seems I’m booking a flight so I’m always on the lookout for better techniques. Recently it seemed if I used a large travel site such as Expedia or Travelocity or ????, I could find my initial route and fare, then go to the actual airline site and get a slightly reduced price when I booked the ticket. With the increase in travel expenses, everyone is trying to save in this area.  I heard about a new travel search engine called Mobissimo so I tried it. Then I went to the airline site and expected to find a reduced price. It didn’t happen.  To my surprise, I was able to buy a seat in the exact same airline going the exact same time and route for over $100 less through the links from searching on Mobissimo. I’m realistic and I don’t expect this situation to happen each time—but it’s something else for you to try when you are making travel arrangements. It might be just what you need to find the best deal.

Just like looking for a good deal on travel, we have to keep looking for the best opportunity for our writing. Whatever technique worked for you last time, might not work for this particular project. Publishers are notorious for repeating the same techniques to launch a book or touch an audience—yet they discover once more what worked for one product doesn’t necessarily translate into the same result for the next product. It’s why we have to keep learning, leaning into the wind and trying new things. It’s one of those truths that I learned years ago and continue to practice: It won’t fly if you don’t try.


Thursday, June 01, 2006

John Updike Podcast

I wasn’t at BookExpo in Washington, D.C. I’ve talked with a few people who attended the event. Some of the faculty members at the Blue Ridge conference came from BookExpo. While this trade show event has come—and gone, you can catch part of the excitement and information.

Yesterday I downloaded the podcast from John Updike’s speech from the Saturday Book & Author Breakfast. Usually a large number of booksellers and publishing personnel attend this particular breakfast. Many years ago I heard Maurice Sendak at this same event. I thought it was interesting for John Updike to set aside his planned speech to promote his new novel, Terrorist. Instead, he gave an impassioned talk about the importance of the printed page and booksellers. He calls booksellers, “the citadels of light.”

These podcasts are another resource you can use for your writing life. Even if you were attending BookExpo, it’s possible you missed this particular event. I know when I’m at a trade show, I often miss the general sessions because I’m tied up in another meeting. These events have so much packed into them that you want to divide and conquer—but you are only one person. I recommend you tap into these podcasts and other such tools to collect the information.