Monday, July 31, 2006

The Economy of Handouts


It’s been several years since I’ve been to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference.  I’m looking forward to this opportunity to give back to writers and meet new people.  Also I look forward to spending a few minutes with various faculty members on an informal basis and as I can fit it into the schedule (always a challenge). Each one of these writers conferences has it’s own mood or ambiance and I have great memories about this particular conference and the people I met last time.  This morning I learned this conference has joined the blogging world.

In the past, I’ve taught a few workshops and met with individual writers about their projects.  This time, I’ll be meeting individually with writers but I’m also teaching a continuing workshop called Book Proposals That Sell.  Typically I’m invited to these conferences months before the actual event. Then they can coordinate the mix of workshops and the various faculty.  Behind the scenes for each event, there is a great deal of effort—which no one thinks about until they decide to put on or teach at one of these events. The schedule for each conference is different.  It was only a few weeks ago that I realized my continuing class has five sessions and about 6 1/2 hours of total teaching time. Often I’ve taught these on-going classes in the mornings of a conference.  For the Philadelphia conference, the first two days I will teach twice (once in the morning and once in the evening), then on the third day a block of time in the afternoon.

Also months in advance, you work with the conference director to shape a little promotional information about my specific sessions.  They only have so many words for each class so it’s a challenge to cram the scope of your class into the required space.  OK, now we’re down to a few days until I head to Philadelphia and I’m working on the specifics for each session. Sure I have some idea of what I’ll say and do for each one but I’m constantly changing and improving the information for each session. Also I understand each person in my workshop has chosen to be there. It’s always my intention to provide the greatest value for the entire conference through my sessions. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly—but I have to incorporate into the other activities crowding my schedule before the event.

I’ve been to conferences where the workshop leader is using a power-point and the computer connection fails so they are forced to improvise on the spot.  Normally it turns out to be very awkward for everyone. Other speakers love an overhead projector or a blackboard. I’ll not be using either one. My handwriting is borderline unreadable—yes, even my printing. Instead, I’ve gone the direction of low technology. I use handouts in my workshops.  For some handouts, I go through them in-depth while others I simply reference during the session. My intention with these handouts is to provide a lasting resource which will go way behind the conference. At a conference earlier this year, one person explained they had taken my continuing workshop several years ago.  When they went home, this person organized my handouts, poured through them and has repeatedly referenced them for various parts of her writing life. It was remarkable to me—especially since I have no idea what I used during those sessions since it was several years ago. I am delighted that my teaching had ongoing impact in the life of this writer.

Some conferences provide no limitations on the number of handouts.  At one conference earlier this year, I had four large boxes of handouts with an array for each class.  For the Philadelphia conference, each of us have been given a limitation. I understand the budgetary concern and the limit—but I’ve had to rework several of my handouts to cram as much information into a tight space as possible.  Yesterday I sorted through these handouts and I’m almost ready to send them for duplication. It will probably happen today for this conference.

Here’s the question for each of us: in some area of the writing life, you are facing a limitation. Maybe it’s the number of words for your particular book. You have a 160,000 words story and you are only able to send 100,000 words or 50,000 words. Or you have a 1,500 word magazine article to submit and have way too much material—in fact double the required amount. Do you whittle it down to the required limit or do you send in the extra for the editor to cut? My recommendation is to send the required amount and learn the value behind the limitation. Admittedly I’m not going to be able to give all of my information to my class in Philadelphia. But they will receive right to the limitation from this presenter.


Saturday, July 29, 2006

A Lifetime Process

If I have any theme to these musings about my life as an editor and writer, it’s the necessity to continue growing and learning about the craft and the business of writing. In my view, there is no season of the journey without this trait. We never arrive and simply crank out wonderful prose. Every sentence can be improved and writers profit, learn and grow from the input of others.

In my time of interacting with authors, I’ve met a few who act like they have arrived. They add clauses to their contracts where the manuscript has to be printed as it’s turned in (seriously I’ve heard about these arrangements). I find this attitude contrary to what I’ve experienced in the journey and what I continue to experience in this business. My belief in this key ingredient was affirmed a couple of times this week in some things which crossed my desk with a couple of well-known authors.

Nora RobertsThis week I was reading the Romance Writers Report (August 2006) and it includes an interview with mega-selling author Nora Roberts. The word “best-selling” just doesn’t seem to be enough for someone who has more than 280 million books in print (not a typo). The well-crafted interview from Eileen Putnam begins asking her for the secret to her success. She says, “Sorry, no secret. Unless it’s believing storytelling is magic, in addition to hard work. Regular, habitual do-it-every-day work, and the discipline it takes to keep the butt in the chair. Loving what I do certainly helps.”   I know many people looking for a quick fix but according to Roberts (who has done had huge success) there isn’t one.

I’m only giving a short quote from the actual interview but the second question related to the six unsuccessful manuscripts she wrote before she was first published in 1981 and the lessons for aspiring authors.  In part, Roberts answered, “The lesson is not to quit. How much do you want it? How hard are you willing to try? How many of your glorious words are you willing to kill to make it really sing? I unearthed the story in five out of six of the early manuscripts (one was just DOA) and sold them…And 25 years or so later, I’m still learning my craft. You should never stop learning.” (My bold on the quote to make it stand out for you.)

I’ll confess that I’ve not read a single Nora Roberts book (or J.D. Robbs which is the other name she uses). I admire her commitment to the craft and her encouragement for us to continue learning.

Dean-koontzThe second bestselling author to come across my desk this week was Dean Koontz. According to the Random House site, Koontz has sold more than 175 million copies and this figure increases each year by a rate of 17 million. He’s also in the mega-selling category from my view. I’ve met Dean Koontz on a couple of different occasions.  I’m certain that Koontz will not recall meeting me but it was in the mid-80s at a one day writer’s conference at Chapman College. Koontz was one of the featured speakers. During the coffee break, I spotted him standing alone and looking awkward. I walked over and struck up a brief conversation with him. 

Koontz came into my mind when I wrote a few words of review on Amazon about his long out-of-print book for novelists, How To Write Best Selling Fiction.  At age 20, Koontz won an Atlantic Monthly fiction award and sold his first short story that same year.  Here’s a bit of irony for you. This how-to book was published in 1981 and marked Koontz second how-to write book with his first one Writing Popular Fiction released in 1972. He hasn’t written another how-to book since my 1981 book. 

In the introduction, Koontz writes about why he’s putting out a second how-to book saying, “My knowledge of both the art and the craft of fiction is greater than it was in 1972. That doesn’t mean I’m terrifically bright and clever. Any greater understanding that I’ve acquired has come about because I’ve remained open-minded and self-critical about my work and because I’ve labored hard since 1972–-an average of seventy hours a week, year after year. I’ve written, rewritten, and re-written, polished, sanded, buffed, and repolished quite a few books in a variety of categories and styles. I’d have to be exceptionally thick-headed not to have learned something from all those hours at the typewriter.” Koontz is likely using a computer now and the emphasis in this last sentence was in the book—not me. Over the years I’ve read a number of Koontz books and I love his commitment to storytelling and the craft of writing. It shows in each of his books.  Many books pass through my office but How To Write Best Selling Fiction is definitely a keeper and much loved book.

My learning process about this business and the craft of writing continues. It’s a journey and not a destination.


Friday, July 28, 2006

The Interactive Encyclopedia

Wikipedia globeSome members of the younger generation believe they can find almost anything on Wikipedia.  You can’t but the interactive online encyclopedia is an amazing story to burst on the cultural scene. 

Last night I was fascinated with this article in the current issue of The New Yorker by Stacy Schiff titled, “Know It All.”   I will admit that I don’t turn to Wikipedia as a great source of information but I know people who do use it all of the time as a reference source.  A couple of paragraphs from Schiff’s well-written article stood out to me: “Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than MSNBC.com and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined. The number of visitors has been doubling every four months; the site receives as many as fourteen thousand hits per second. Wikipedia functions as a filter for vast amounts of information online, and it could be said that Google owes the site for tidying up the neighborhood. But the search engine is amply repaying its debt: because Wikipedia pages contain so many links to other entries on the site, and are so frequently updated, they enjoy an enviably high page rank.”

Notice how in a relatively short amount of time (six years), Wikipedia started from nothing to being such a dominate force. Also further in the article notice these statistics: “Wikipedia may be the world’s most ambitious vanity press. There are two hundred thousand registered users on the English-language site, of whom about thirty-three hundred—fewer than two per cent—are responsible for seventy per cent of the work.” While there are many registered users, only a small percentage is actually responsible for the work on the site.”

Isn’t this typical for many types of these efforts? There is a small percentage from the overall number of users which actually work on the site.

Earlier this week, I wrote about finding business in the niches.  Wikipedia allows anyone to create entries in their system—without cost.  I believe it creates an opportunity for writers and authors. Can you be the “expert” in Wikipedia on your topic? Can you take a few minutes to add an entry or two or three to their system which will help you at some point?  I’m writing to myself as much as anyone here since I’ve not done it. I believe it’s worth exploring.


Thursday, July 27, 2006

Help The Amazon Searches

As a book author, I’m constantly on the look out for tools to help people locate my books.  As an editor, I’m encouraging my authors to look for cost effective and simple ways to increase the buzz on their books. The more people talk about a particular book, the more it will get into their minds and hearts and often this talk translates into book sales.


With some of my past entries, I’ve encouraged authors to learn and use Amazon Connect. Why? In the past, the page for your book on Amazon (the largest online bookstore on the planet) only talked about the book. Often this page doesn’t contain much information  — unless the publisher or the author adds to this information.  I’ve talked about how authors can improve this information in other posts. One of the keys is Amazon Connect so I hope you are using it.

Today I want to show you another tool that I learned from one of a Howard Books author, Jerome Teel.  Throughout the Internet, it’s a much trumpeted fact about the importance of search engine optimization. It’s fairly simple to understand—if the search engines can find your site and you’ve created it in the “search engine friendly” manner, then you will gain more traffic or exposure from the search engines.

What can you do to improve the search engine at Amazon? Amazon has a mechanism so anyone can suggest improvements to their search engine. As an author, are you tapping into this resource? The author is more familiar with the content of their book than anyone else. You are the perfect person to take control of this process. It’s not your publisher or anyone else—enough for my soapbox.

Every Amazon page includes this spot:

Help others find this item
The question is are you using this tool? I wasn’t until recently. Amazon makes it easy with a wizard to walk you through the steps. It does take a bit of planning. Recently I suggested Amazon brings up Book Proposals That Sell whenever anyone searches for the words “writing a book”  Your search suggestions aren’t accepted automatically into the system.  They are reviewed then “approved” so it takes a few days for this process to happen.  I received an email that my suggestion was approved. I checked it out and found my book on the first page of the search.  Check this link to see what I’m talking about here.  You may have to scroll down a bit on your browser. Do you see my sentence that I crafted? : “Most people write their book backwards. They create a book manuscript. Almost every nonfiction book and many fiction book are sold from a BOOK PROPOSAL. This book acquisitions editor removes the mystery and shows you how to craft a book proposal. Learn Whalin's 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success.” 
Notice you have no italics or links or bold—so you have to use capitalization for this process. You have a limited number of characters for this sentence. I suggest planning ahead and crafting a few sentences, then playing with the Amazon wizard for this process.  I had to cut out a bit of this post because of how it appeared—but you can walk through the wizard on your own—believe me—it’s easy.  This process is helpful to the person searching and the author who wants the searcher to find their books.

Startling Beauty book coverOK,  here’s one final example—outside of my Book Proposals That Sell. One of my friends, Heather Gemmen, wrote a narrative memoir called Startling Beauty. I was stunned to hear this story because Heather is one of the most joyful people that I know—and you would never know about her personal experience with rape captured in Startling Beauty.  What if she used this Amazon suggested search and added terms like “rape recovery” or simply “rape” plus her own enticing words about why someone needs to read her book? It could help her overall sales on the largest online bookstore on the planet. It certainly doesn’t take a lot of time and it is worth trying.

My hope is to have captured this process for you with clarity. It’s not hard. It’s menu driven but does take a bit of thought and planning to achieve success. To me, it’s like many other things in the publishing world.


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Write in a Genre or not?

At a writer’s conference this spring, I met a science fiction writer. With his bushy hair, thick glasses and flowing beard, he certainly looked the part of what I would imagine a science fiction writer. He was committed to his particular genre of fiction yet at a Christian had written a number of science fiction manuscripts and was trying to find a home for them.  After I completed my stint on an editor’s panel, he was one of the first people to engage me in a conversation. Then he followed it up with one of my one-on-one sessions with various participants.  Each time, I tried to gently tell him about the limitations within the Christian fiction market. Every now and then you can find one of these types of books but it’s admittedly rare. This tenacious author even followed up after the conference and sent me his manuscript.  If you read these entries very often, you know I dislike sending rejection notices—but I sent one to this author.  Since January, I’ve received and logged over 300 queries, proposals and manuscripts for few possible spots. I didn’t see any room on the list for a Christian science fiction book.

A recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly featured a story called A Reality Check for Fantasy. The opening paragraph from Susan Corbett raises an interesting question for fantasy writers, “Magicians-in-training, genies-in-exile, apprentice wizards, belligerent fairies, plucky orphans, kind dragons, kind orphaned dragons—a reader cant enter the children's department of a bookstore these days without tripping on a wand or falling into a portal. Has the saturation point been reached?”  There is interesting information in this article about fantasy and whether there is too much of it or not. I concluded from reading the article that it has not reached the saturation point but publishers and customers are more selective. It’s what you face if you are writing for the fantasy genre. 

You’d be shocked how often at a writers conference various participants pitch a project to me saying their book will be the “next Harry Potter.” When editors hear such a pitch you want to roll your eyes around and say, “Right.” Instead, we sweetly smile and say, “Interesting. Let’s have a look.” Why? Because that eager writer is sitting right across the table from you and you want to be encouraging and not crush their dreams. Maybe they have written the next Harry Potter type of book. I will tell you on the Christian fiction landscape, it’s rare to find much in this area. In recent years, it has opened up a bit—but only a tiny bit.

If you are writing a particular type of genre fiction (romance, horror, suspense, thriller, Gothic, fantasy, science fiction, historical, or any other genre), here’s some ideas for you.  First, make sure you are reading in this genre. It happens far too often when I talk with writers that a particular story has sprung into their mind and heart and fingers—yet they don’t read in the genre. It makes the editor question if you understand the intricate workings of the genre. It’s not the type of impression that you want to make on the editor.

Next, look for a group of writers who emphasize this genre and join the organization. Each of these various groups have different requirements and standards. There are many reasons to join and you will learn a great deal from the experience. Also you will develop friendships with other authors who write in your genre and gain from the interaction.  Also as you grow in your experience in the genre, it will give you a place to give back and help others.

Naturally whatever you write is your own decision. My hope is you will go into the particular area of writing with your eyes wide open to what is happening in it.


Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Book News Abounds

Book news seems to be everywhere I look these days. Almost every magazine highlights some book. Publishers are constantly pouring out news about their books—at least this should be happening. It’s a challenge to sort through it some times—and determine which books to purchase and read—and which books just to read the reviews or the back cover. Each of us make these decisions day by day and overall they are a huge factor in which books sell and which books don’t sell.  As I’ve mentioned many times before in these entries, authors need to be proactive in helping this mystical buzz factor.  It takes pure hard work and a bit of good fortune along the way.

I’m not going to write much today but wanted to highlight a couple of recent reviews. This morning I turned in another batch of reviews for Faithful Reader.com (next month’s material) but today I wanted to make sure you saw my words about a couple of books in the July issue. First Allison Bottke, the God-Allows-U-Turns author, has written an excellent first novel called A Stitch In Time. Here’s where you can read my review. It’s a fun way to pass a few hours.

 A number of times in these entries I have mentioned the Left Behind books. I reviewed the latest addition to this series called The Rapture (follow the link). Today I learned the Left Behind series was one of the top selling series in Amazon’s Hall of Fame—since the online bookstore launched ten years ago.  Also here’s the link with the specific authors who got into this top area of volume sales at Amazon.

The Left Behind website includes a media alert about Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. They are scheduled to appear on Good Morning America on Thursday, July 27th. It was good to see both of these authors (mostly from a distance) at the recent trade show in Denver.  I did get to talk with Jerry Jenkins for a few minutes at the Christy Awards banquet.  It was fun to see this long-term friend.

My encouragement is for you to follow this book information as a writer—and if the book looks interesting read it and support the author’s efforts. Some day the role may be reversed and you will be out on the road telling people about your book.  I’m convinced as you give out the good will that it will come back to you.


Monday, July 24, 2006

Business in the Niches

The Long Tail coverThis weekend I was reading my latest issue of Publisher’s Weekly. It’s a thick one and emphasizes the various children’s books to be released in the fall. In recent months, PW has started a column in the back of the magazine called Soapbox. I’ve referred to several of these articles and I often find something worthwhile and interesting. It happened again with an article from Chris Anderson called A Bookselling Tail. Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired (another publication that I read) and he has a new book from Hyperion, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. This new book is bouncing around toward the top of the bestselling books on Amazon.com. Over the weekend, I added to the hoopla and ordered my copy. I know the book started as a Wired magazine article and I’m interested to see what I can learn from it. I’ve already referred to this area in an article from The New Yorker. I’ve also seen the book mentioned in other publications.

I want to point out a couple of paragraphs from the PW article (and you can read the entire article online): Anderson writes, “Here's the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.”

“So are all the rest of the books simply failed blockbusters? Of course not. As the book industry has known for decades, there's virtue in niches—books that aren't for everyone, but really thrill those they are for. The trick is finding a way to make a business in niches, rejoicing in the rare blockbuster if it comes, but not having to depend on it.”

Some book authors are going to find these statistics startling—then discouraging. Is it a dose of reality? I recommend you take this information but look at it critically. The statistics from Bookscan may be correct but do they present the total bookselling picture? No. Anderson is using the statistic to prove his point and didn’t intend to give you a full picture of where books are sold. It’s true the blockbuster bestseller is rare but not every book sale is recorded or recognized. For example, in a few weeks, I’m headed to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. I’m going to tuck a box or two of Book Proposals That Sell into my suitcase. Yes, I have other books that I could bring but I’ve learned through hard experience that during a writer’s conference, people purchase how-to books about writing—and little else. I’m finding the niche for this book but the sales are outside of the bookstore and will never show up on something like Bookscan. In fact, according to author Brian Jud, more than half of the books sold are sold outside of the bookstore. It’s why Jud put together this excellent book, Beyond the Bookstore.

Not every book takes off in the first few months which it is introduced into the marketplace. In fact, many books don’t take off initially. A book is only “new” for a short period of time. Some publications only want to talk about new books. Also the majority of the publisher promotion work will happen in the first few months, then the publisher will be forced to leave your book and hope it sells on the backlist because they have to move on and promote even newer titles. There are many books which take off after they are published. Recently at the trade show in Denver, I sat beside an author whose book took time to take off. It’s only in the last few months, Joanna Weaver’s book, Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World has started appearing on the bestseller lists. If you check, this book released in hardcover in 2000 and just recently began selling to the volume where it appears on the bestseller list. According to Joanna, it was word of mouth (something every publisher hopes for but doesn’t control). It was the buzz. Authors can continue to stir the buzz months after this initial push to get the book into the market. As authors, we are the ones with the greatest passion for our book and it’s success. Admittedly it takes ongoing effort.

For a minute, celebrate with me this review on Amazon for my Book Proposals That Sell:

SUCCESS!, July 23, 2006

Reviewer:Beth K. Vogt (Colorado Springs, CO USA)
Terry Whalin’s book was my guide when I wrote my first book proposal. My copy of Book Proposals That Sell is dog-eared, underlined and marked with multicolored sticky notes. And--just like the title promises--my book proposal SOLD. My first book will be published by Revell in 2007. I referred to Whalin's book again and again as I polished my proposal. Whalin's expertise helped me write a strong proposal, one that I was confident in submitting to my editor. I'm working on my next book proposal and, once again, Book Proposals That Sell will be my main reference.”

Beth’s story is exactly the result I dreamed about when I wrote this book. I know in a small way this book is helping writer improve the quality of what they are sending into the marketplace. Believe me as an acquisitions editor, I know firsthand authors need this type of help.

My application from this material is two fold: First, every book idea and proposal and book has a particular niche and audience. We need to be aware of this niche. Then second, the author needs to continually stir the waters to help people know about the book and it’s availability—and that effort happens long after the initial release period. So what is your niche and how can you take some concrete steps to reach it today?


Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Front Page Touch

This past week, the national weather and the war between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border have dominated the news.   Five or six times a week, I usually get my update about the news while working out on my treadmill. Normally I’d be watching the news anyway and it lowers my stress and improves my overall health to be working out on a regular basis.  Often the news seems like something “way out there” and remotely connected to my personal work in publishing and writing.  This week I had a connection to both stories.

Let’s first consider the story about the weather. I know it’s been warm across America and it’s not surprising since it is July. Yesterday in the Phoenix area marked the warmest temperatures in a decade. Last month was the warmest on record with the average temperature well over 100.   It felt hot to me yesterday but I was surprised to see it reached 118 or one of 11 days to this temperature since 1895 or when they began to keep records on the weather. You can talk about the dry heat of the desert (a common theme around here) but 118 was plain old hot. Thank goodness for air conditioning and I took the AC less for granted yesterday when our power went out for over 45 minutes.

Martin-AccadMy connection to the battles in the Middle East is much less obvious but equally present. In March, I had the opportunity to attend the Sounds of Hope Conference on the campus of Wheaton College. Each of the speakers lived in the Middle East and the purpose was to listen and learn about the 50 million Christians who live in this part of the world yet are rarely heard.  After attending this conference, I wrote a couple of articles about this event (here’s one and here’s the other). One of the speakers was Dr. Martin Accad, who is the Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beruit, Lebanon.  This Oxford educated Christian brought an articulate message and it was my privilege to talk with him a bit during the conference.  Last week, Dr. Accad was lecturing at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California and because of the bombing of the Beruit airport, he is stranded in the United States and unable to return home. I was surprised to learn this detail and see his fascinating article on the Christianity Today website. For me, it made the news a lot less remote and more personal. I appreciated the prayer advice Leonard Rodgers, the founder of Venture International has about this war situation.  Rodgers spent a number of years living in this portion of the world so has great insight.  Wherever you stand politically about this conflict, I appreciated the perspective of Brother Andrew and his book Light Force, who regularly travels to the Middle East and meets with leaders of Hamas (another part of the story which seems to have disappeared in the media).  For my model, I’d prefer to follow the example of Brother Andrew. No matter whatCopper Scroll cover the background of the person, he is talking with them about Jesus.

If you are looking for an excellent, well-told novel about the Middle East, I recommend you consider Ezekiel Option by Joel Rosenberg. Here’s my review of this book.  It is a page-turner and many of the characters continue into Rosenberg’s next book, The Copper Scroll which releases next week—and is equally well-done.

Ok, now you know how the front page news has touched my life. It’s much more than the images on the television or in print. I’ve got some personal experiences that connect me to these events.


Friday, July 21, 2006

The Importance of Details

I’ll admit it. I’m a reader—newspapers, magazines, books and whatever. You name it and I’ll be reading it. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired as I process a great deal of information, some details begin to come together and stick out.  It’s a practice on a regular basis, I recommend to others. It never fails to amaze me when I meet novelists at a conference who write romance or suspense—but when I ask some questions I learn they don’t read these genres.  I can tell you, it’s not the type of impression that you want to present on your editor.

Publishers-Weekly-logoTrade magazines like Publisher’s Weekly is another area where I regularly read. Now I may not get every single detail in every article but I do pick up on a large portion of this publication and try to carefully evaluate what I’m reading. You never know how these different details will come together into something significant into your daily work. It happens in my writing and editing life all the time. Now I understand the costly nature of a Publisher’s Weekly subscription. At $225 a year, it’s out of the reach of many people.  As I’ve explained in the past, for many years, I went to the public library each week (or every other week) and read PW.  Almost every public library takes this publication. In general, you will not find it in the library magazine section for the public. Librarians understand the value of this publication for their work and circulate this publication to their own staff. Make friends with your reference librarian and politely ask if you can read it.  I suspect you will find great cooperation.  Some times, I’ve had to physically stand right in front of them and read it—but they allow it.  It show you how much librarians prize the information in this publication and guard their copies. For probably the last fifteen years, I’ve been a subscriber. If you’ve never seen it, most issues are about the size of a weekly news magazine like Time or Newsweek except the contents are focused on publishing.

As an example of the details you can learn from Publisher’s Weekly, let me return to a couple of recent entries. First, I wrote about the reason behind the rumor on the sale of Multnomah. In the July 17th issue, this rumor continues when you read this PW article. Notice the lack of denial as reported in this article. We still don’t know who purchased Multnomah but this news will be revealed in the days ahead.  Also in my post about some trade show observations, I noted the lack of green badges or retailers.  These details were verified in the numbers from this article.

I point out this article because it contains some interesting details about the publishing community. I do have one small but significant beef about one detail in the article. For weeks, I’ve been using the words “Howard Books” in my posts. While there is no official company press release about this name change, Howard Books appears on our business cards, the new catalogs and most importantly on each new book. Yet this article still uses the old name. I guess some habits are hard to change.


Thursday, July 20, 2006

Who Gets the Credit

For almost five years, I’ve been a panelist and participant in an online writer’s group. It’s a closed moderated forum with about 650 professional writers and we’ve had some lively discussions on various topics (check the link if you’re interested in joining). Over the last few days, the discussion has been about ghostwriting.  Some topics receive only a few comments but people have opinions and views when it comes to this topic.

An important aspect of any forum (online or a writing workshop or a book) is to check out the credentials of who is speaking. Are they knowledgeable about the topic? Some people are and some people aren’t. Often I read these opinions with a huge grain of salt because of the experience of the speaker.  To some people it’s critical that the writer or craftsperson receive a byline on the cover of the book. To others it is less important. Other people react as readers and feel cheated to learn that some celebrity didn’t actually write their story.

The longer I’m involved in publishing, the credit issue has faded. I understand that someone has to be the “author” for a book. Yet some times as an editor, I have crafted a large portion of the prose inside the pages—and my name isn’t in the book (or it’s a one line thank you on the acknowledgment page that almost no one reads). And that’s OK with me. I’m much more concerned about the content of the book and whether it is excellent than the credit. I’m much more concerned about getting the word out to others about excellent books (the marketing and promotion) than seeing my name on one more magazine article or one more book. Possibly, it’s became my name is already on a bunch of books but I don’t think that is the key element.  As my days have increased in publishing, I’ve learned that it’s not a single person’s effort that creates an excellent book—fiction or nonfiction. Yes, the writer came with the basic idea but others also believed in the idea to make the decision to publish it—I’m talking about in a traditional publishing situation—not self-publishing. If the process is working properly, a number of people have impact on the actual contents along the route to a book’s release into the marketplace. Some times this impact can be very significant—yet is completely uncredited.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me tell a specific story. Several years ago, I contracted a book with a couple. A bestselling author had told me this couple had been teaching on this topic for over 20 years—yet never created a book on it. I met this couple, championed their cause within the publishing house and eventually contracted this book.  In the developmental process of working with them on it, I could see they were not going to complete the manuscript—and especially on the required deadline.  With the backing of my publisher, I flew to the author’s location and spent five days interviewing them and pounding my keyboard. I came home with the completed manuscript which passed to another couple of editors before it was published. When I flip through the pages of this printed book, I can easily point out huge portions which I created. Yet my name doesn’t appear on the book except a single line of appreciation in the acknowledgment page—and I’m perfectly fine with that level of credit. It’s the content of the book which is important to me and I celebrate this couple finally has a book which captures their life message.  I hope you see that my focus is on the work—and not the credit. Ultimately I understand it’s the publisher who makes these decisions during the publication process.

I was intrigued with a recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly which featured a one of a kind literary agency. They specialize in ghost writing. It’s an interesting article if you haven’t read it.  Some people are horrified to learn about such a part of this business. It’s a focus on getting the work out—not getting credit. The debate about this aspect of publishing will not be resolved in this entry but hopefully it gives a bit of insight into my world and the journey.


Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The Long Ambitious Path

It rarely happens. Some author right off the bat writes a fabulous book which jumps on the bestseller list and the person is instantly thrust into the spotlight and has no more financial worries. Yet these few stories are the ones passed around and people continue to hope happens to them.  I know several of these stories, but I’m not going to write it into this entry.  From my view, it’s like telling a story about someone who wins the lottery. Millions of people played the game and one person walked off with the huge prize. It doesn’t stop those other folks from participating in the game the next opportunity.

One of my long-time friends, Jerry B. Jenkins, who wrote the Left Behind series which has sold 63 million copies, has often told people that this series was the chance of a lifetime.  It seems people forget that Jerry had published 100 books before Left Behind. Yet so few people want to apprentice and learn the craft of writing and the business aspects. Instead they want to jump into the fray and land at the top.  It just simply doesn’t happen. And none knew Left Behind was going to take off. Certainly the authors and the publisher believed in the work but who would have predicted the results? I’ve heard Jerry tell the story about how it was a huge deal ten years ago for Tyndale House to publish hardcover fiction. The jacket for the book costs almost as much as the actual printed book. For the first print run of Left Behind, they only printed half of the jackets so they wouldn’t lose as much if the book didn’t sell. These are the stories that people seem to forget—yet are critical to everyone in the journey.

HeatHere’s what initiated my entry about this aspect of the business: In the July 10th issue of Publisher’s Weekly on the hardcover nonfiction page, they pulled a quotation from an online interview with Bill Buford, the author of Heat: An Amateur’s Adventures as Kitchen Slave (which I have not read): “You know I really did see a lot of similarities between chefs and writers. Both professions require people to embark on a long ambitious trajectory, which rests on learning, without being recompensed, all kinds of skills that you’re not going to know for years whether you’re going to be able to make a living from them.”  According to PW, Knopf reports after five printings Heat has 85,000 copies in print.

If you are one of the many writers on the long ambitious path, what do you do? First, you keep growing and working at your craft. If you want to write books, then learn how to write an excellent book proposal. My Book Proposals That Sell has value whether you are trying to write fiction or nonfiction—if you wonder about this book, just check out the endorsements or read some of the customer reviews on Amazon. If you are trying to get an agent or a publisher, learn how to write a great query letter. Every day I see countless, forgettable queries. You want to write one which stands out. Get to a writer’s conference and begin to connect with other writers and editors. In a few weeks, I’m headed to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference (use this link to learn more about my speaking schedule). One of the absolute best things you can do is to work on your craft of writing with shorter forms. Books are long—I know not very profound but true. Magazine articles and newsletters and other forms of writing are much shorter, the publication lead time is less and they are much more achievable.   There are too many writers who are stuck on submitting their long manuscript and never work on magazine articles. It’s a shame.

More than anything else, keep working at the journey.  For most of us, it is long and more like a marathon than a short sprint.


Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The Extra Push

Whether you want to admit it or not, I will. Some writers are pushy about their work to the point of being obnoxious. I'm sure you've seen those folks who push to the front of the sign up sheets at a writer's conference to make sure they snag the editor of their choice. Or they are the ones who overnight their book proposal to you because they are certain they have finished the next bestseller and as an editor you will lunge toward their overnight package, rip it open and fall immediately in love with it.

OK. I'll admit to being a bit cynical in my tone but you get the idea of which type of writer I'm talking about here. They are the ones with the moxie and to some degree it works for them. They get attention but will it be the right type of attention? Several months ago, one of my writer friends approached me with her novel. This particular writer has written a number of successful nonfiction books and now had turned her attention to a fiction series. Internally I groaned and wondered why she had turned to fiction when her nonfiction was going so well but I listened to her pitch. She sent me a proposal and a sample chapter or two.

For many of thUmpire outese submissions, I've been quickly looking at them and sending form rejections. Instead, to this writer, I sent a note of explanation that it would be a while until I could process her submission for a number of reasons and asked for her patience. She responded that she understood and would be patient. Then a few weeks later, I got another nudge from this writer asking about her submission. Again I reminded her of my few possibilities and how her timing was off and I needed her patience. Again she responded apologetically about being a proactive author and would be patient.

Well, I suppose after four or six additional weeks her patience ran out because this week I got another email nudge from this author. I wasn't eager to read her work--because the timing still wasn't right but I opened the file, read a bit, the sent her a form rejection note. Her nudging worked and achieved a response. Just not the response she expected. The experience reminded me once again of the potential result you push for your own work when you push. This author was pushing too hard but she graciously accepted my form rejection and is now pressing on to other places. Whew. Did I need that type of author? In a microcosm I was experiencing how she would interact with others inside our publishing company. It's not the type of author I want to bring to my colleagues. In some respects, the experience reminded me of a baseball game where the umpire calls the player out. 

It’s something else to consider the next time you are going to fire off an email and check on the status of your proposal which the editor has under consideration. Are you giving it the extra push which moves it from consideration into the rejection pile?


Monday, July 17, 2006

The Swirl of Opinions

It’s an aspect of the business that writers seem to rarely remember: the subjective nature of the selection process. One editor loves a writer’s prose and another simply can’t see it and rejects the manuscript.  I’ve simplified the submission process because even  when an editor loves the writing, he has to build consensus within the publishing house and champion the project to the other departments. Eventually every area reads or listens to the discussion about a particular author and their writing.  If the publishing group decides to move ahead and contract a particular book, then the contract is negotiated and signed. The author has a deadline to deliver the manuscript and the project moves through the publishing process.

The publishing team loves the book and made their decision. Yet will the public embrace the book, buy it, tell their friends about it and catch attention? With more than 190,000 new books published each year, some good books never find their place in the market. It’s the explicit risk that every publisher takes with any author. What will the bookstore owners think of the book? Will they read it? What do the reviewers think of the book when they read it? (yes, if they read it)

You, Me & Dupree photoLast Saturday I came face to face with the subjective nature of the business. It wasn’t in the book area but in the area of movies which is another place where people reveal their opinions and make their choices whether to attend a particular film or not. Since I had been traveling, my wife was eager to attend a movie but is there something worth watching? We’ve been to some great movies and other times, the movie falls completely flat.  Because I’ve been to some poor movies, I often read the newspaper movie reviews to see what someone else thinks about the movie. The PR firms have this slick method of showing the most engaging portions of the movie in their trailer but will the film hold up? My wife was determined to see the new release You, Me and Dupree since it looked like some mindless entertainment with some laughs.

The local newspaper reviewer gave You, Me and Dupree one and a half stars—out of a possible five stars.  I began to wonder about the wisdom of going to this one.  Here’s a small portion of the review: Bill Muller writes, “It’s hardly worth spending two hours on this obvious, disjointed story about a spacey, jobless dude (Owen Wilson) who moves in with his newly wed pal (Matt Dillon), disrupting the marriage by often failing to wear Jockey shorts...Although the movie offers a few chuckles here and there, it fails on almost every level.”

Now doesn’t that make you want to run right out and see it? Through experience, we’ve learned that our opinions about a particular film do not always line up with this newspaper movie reviewer. So despite his cautions, we went to the film. Yes, it has a bit of bathroom humor in it, which you can see from the promotional clips.  In this case, the reviewer completely missed the message of the movie. It has several themes including the importance of lasting friendships, the value of marriage and the importance of having your priorities in order.  A positive spin on these themes comes out strongly in the story of this movie. We loved the overall message of this film and felt like it was a good way to spend a few hours on a hot Saturday afternoon.

The-Election-coverFinally I want to return to the subjective nature of books. There is a soon-to-be published novel which I’ve believed in for some time. Early on in the manuscript process, I sent this book to one of my much-read friends.  She loved this book. I championed the book in an editorial meeting at my former publisher and it didn’t go anywhere.  I was disappointed but I did not give up on it.  When I got the opportunity, I championed the book again at Howard Books. The publication board agreed and I negotiated a contract with this lawyer turned author, Jerome Teel. This process happened months ago and The Election has been moving toward it’s September release.

While walking the floor at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, I saw Lin Johnson, the managing editor of Church Libraries. She stopped me with one question, “Did you have anything to do with the acquisition of The Election?”

My face lit up with a smile and I said, “Absolutely. Have you read it?”

Lin told me that she loved it and couldn’t put it down.  What an affirmation! Later in the week, I caught up with Lin and asked for a few more details. It turns out Lin was pre-screening the book to see if it was something she wanted to assign one of her book reviewers for Church Libraries.  Attracted to these types of political thrillers, Lin read The Election. I asked her for a few words and she wrote, “I couldn’t put The Election down. The fast-paced plot and good writing kept me turning pages and robbed me of sleep. I’m already recommending it to everyone I know who likes mystery/suspense fiction. I can’t wait for Teel’s next book.”

OK, click the book link and pre-order your copy from Amazon because it will soon be released—and you want to be one of the first people to read this title from a first-time novelist. In my opinion, it’s a worthwhile way to spend a few hours.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

"Creative" Submission

Over the last several years, I’ve traveled the country teaching at various conferences and meeting with new and experienced writers about their manuscripts or book proposals. I’ve met them face to face and I continually process submissions through the mail or email. When you sit face to face with writers, they are usually surprised at how quickly you can evaluate a project. Am I always right on target? No. Do I miss it some times? Yes. But normally my experienced eye can spot excellence. I’m drawn to it like a moth to a light.

In the search for excellence, I begin to feel like I’ve seen almost every type of submission. Yesterday I was reminded again that in their core, writers are creative and innovative. Something new is always coming into my range of consideration. Here’s an actual submission which I received yesterday (with blanks to hide the specifics):

“Dear Terry Whalin:

I am a Spanish physician who lives in __________. I have written a novel about ____________. The book is in Spanish, contains 130,000 words. I have written articles in the medical field but this is my fist book. I attach a summary and a sample chapter.

Thank you in advance for your attention.”

This note included two attachments. I thought, OK, the book is in Spanish but let’s look at the two attachments and read the English samples. Wrong. The synopsis of the book and the sample chapter were in Spanish.  I doubt this doctor had a clue that I lived in Latin America from 1979 to 1982 and I can read and speak some simple Spanish—but not to the degree necessary to evaluate the editorial viability of a project in English.

I gave the submission a chance and tried to review it. I hit respond to sender, pasted in my form rejection note with the addition that we were an English language publisher and sent it to him.  At least he received a response from me but there was little I could do. It was a “creative submission.

Once again, this submission shows the simplistic way that writers approach the matter of publishing a book—and the need for education. If you have used Book Proposals That Sell, I’d love to hear from you about the difference it is making in your writing life. I find these notes encouraging and I try to respond to them. During one large dinner last week in Denver, a writer stopped me and introduced herself saying, “Thank you for writing that book. I followed every scrap of advice and I wanted you to know I got a book contract.”  Now that’s the type of information I love to hear. Wow.  I didn’t do it on the spot (not quick enough) but I have been in touch with this writer to get the specifics. It’s why I wrote this book in the first place—to help writers achieve their dreams in the publishing world.

Finally I have always loved to read the comic pages of the newspaper. It’s amazing how truth is woven into the fiber of those pages. Just look at what Lynn Johnston has put into today’s For Better or For Worse about book writing. It may brighten your day as it did mine.


Friday, July 14, 2006

Some Trade Show Observations

After trooping around the exhibit floor of the Christian Booksellers Association trade show for a number of years, it’s easy to grow numb about the event. I’ve been attending this event for at least 15 years. I’ve actually lost track of how many I’ve attended.  Someone told me that Jerry B. Jenkins has attended 31 straight years.  Each year, the meetings seem to pass in a blur and I return home with a stack of business cards from old friends and many new ones. I love the opportunity to meet with people face to face and make a personal connection. It’s one of the huge benefits of attending this closed trade show. The event gives you the opportunity to accomplish some things that can’t be accomplished in any other setting—so it has value.

In this entry about the writing life, I want to note some of the things I picked up from the event.  First, attendance from retailers was down. The bookseller press Cbasideonlywill try to spin this information in a positive way but there were fewer green badges on the floor. The green badges are the retailers or booksellers or the book buyers.  No matter what type of schedule I have to attend the event as an author or editor, these retailers are key.  They are the core audience for the event.  I wore a yellow badge or an exhibitor badge. There were over 400 exhibitors at this event and each exhibitor had authors, sales people, editors and others to bring to the event.  The shuttle buses to the convention center, the hotel elevator and even the convention floor itself was light in volume of people—particularly people with the green badges of a retailer.

On the shuttle, I struck up a conversation with a bookstore owner from central Indiana.  In years past, he used to own two different bookstores but now he’s cut back to one store. We talked about the intense competition in this retail market and the difficulty to keep your business going. He admitted holding his own with his numbers for the first quarter “only down 2%.” I didn’t say anything to this retailer but it didn’t bode well for the future.

Exhibitors can enter the convention floor before the retailers.  As a general practice, I like to arrive at the convention floor just prior to the opening of the floor for retailers.  I’ve found the atmosphere much calmer inside and you can easily reach your booth for the first meeting of the day. Often I’ve had to work hard to reach the entrance to the convention hall.  In years past,  eager retailers jammed the door clutching the show newspaper and prepared to march on the floor right when the floor opened. Yet this year, it was easy to reach the entrance and I didn’t have to struggle to reach this entrance.   The retailers were sparse.

Several years ago, the Christian Booksellers Association changed the name of the event to the International Christian Retail Show.  The new name indicates a different emphasis—and a move away from books. Yes, the CBA folks will deny it but look at the difference in the old name and the new name and it’s pretty obvious. A quick walk through parts of the exhibit floor will also show you the rise of the gift product.  The gift vendors are grouped together and the book publishers are in a different area of the floor. One publishing executive who had never been to this trade show commented on the “stuff” as she walked to our booth (which was in the rear of the hall).  It’s just one more indicator of the event to me.

Another publishing executive told about years ago when their publishing company depended on this trade show for something like 10% of their overall book orders. It is simply not the case at the current event. I saw numerous sales people standing around or sitting at their order desks with no one there.  In years past, I’ve seen these sales people completely booked with a continual string of key meetings.

Does the event have value? Absolutely it has value from my perspective. It gave me an opportunity to meet numerous authors and interact with literary agents. Yet I wonder what the future holds for these types of poorly attended trade shows?


Thursday, July 13, 2006

The Unresolved Rumor & Why

The rumor and buzz was rampant on the floor of the Christian Booksellers trade show—now called International Christian Retail Show.  If you read any of the trade email publications you’ve already seen this news. Multnomah Books has been sold. They produce about 100 titles a year and have over 600 books on their backlist. Ironically on the front of their website the book they are promoting is Communicating for a Change, Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.  No one seemed to know the answer who purchased Multnomah. I’m sure someone knows the answer but most of those people are legally bound not to release the buyer’s name.

How in the world do these things get leaked out into the publishing community without specifics? While at the show, I heard from a literary agent that some journalist in Sisters, Oregon (where Multnomah is located) got wind of the sale and began asking questions.  Prior to the show, several agents were called and told about the pending sale (but not the buyer) because of this leak. It only fueled the speculation and talk. Authors and agents are rightfully concerned when such a sale transpires.  Several years ago I was a part of a company that purchased over 300 titles from another publishing house.  As the de-facto leader of the editorial area at the time, I fielded numerous questions from concerned authors and agents. There were many changes resulting from such an acquisition and I expect many changes and unplanned things to happen with this change as well.

Why don’t we have an answer about the buyer? These types of major publishing transactions happen with a limited number of top executives involved in the negotiations.  Someone did get the nod to become the buyer but the agreement isn’t totally secured.  I’d compare it to a real estate transaction. You’ve made an offer on a house and your offer has been accepted. Yeah! Yet in the real estate agreement, nothing is finalized. There are still various junctures where the transaction can completely fall apart.  In the house example, if I’m the buyer, I get to inspect the house. Maybe it’s got a cracked foundation and the current owner refuses to fix it. Then as the buyer, I’m able to walk away from it and the house returns to the market.  At a variety of points in a real estate deal, the deal isn’t firmly a deal until you go to the closing and sign the final paperwork. It’s the same with a major publishing transaction.  Here’s just one thing that has to be investigated: all of the Multnomah publishing contracts. The new buyer wants to go through each of these contracts and see what is in that legal paperwork. Which books are forthcoming and when are they scheduled? What are the special terms that Multnomah agreed to fulfill and are they terms the new buyer can agree to fulfill? These questions are one of thousands that need to be answered—before the deal is firm and announced to the community. In the meantime, everyone wants to know—and a few people do know the answers—yet the deal needs to proceed with due diligence.

While we wait for the news about Multnomah, last week another publishing transaction happened in the Christian arena—and almost no one was talking about it. For many months, Standard Publishing has been up for sale from their parent company, Standex.   Standard Publishing was sold to The Wick Group. You can follow this link to learn more but it’s not a rumor. It’s a fact.


Sunday, July 09, 2006

The 2006 Christy Award Winners

Christy Award symbolIt was a remarkable evening to celebrate excellence in Christian Fiction through the Christy Awards. The various editors and authors gathered in the room read like a Whos Who of Christian fiction. While I attended the banquet, I don’t want to list a lot of names for fear I will leave someone out.

Here are the nominees and the winners of the 7th annual Christy Awards. They were presented on July 8th at the Denver Marriott City Center. The winner in each category is highlighted in maroon.



Contemporary (Stand-Alones) GRACE AT LOW TIDE by Beth Webb Hart (WestBow Press) LEVI'S WILL by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers) WRAPPED IN RAIN by Charles Martin (WestBow Press)

Contemporary (Series, Sequels and Novellas) LIVING WITH FRED by Brad Whittington (Broadman & Holman) MOMENT OF TRUTH by Sally John (Harvest House Publishers) THE ROAD HOME by Vanessa Del Fabbro (Steeple Hill)

Historical GLIMPSES OF PARADISE by James Scott Bell (Bethany House Publishers) THE NOBLE FUGITIVE by T. Davis & Isabella Bunn (Bethany House Publishers) WHENCE COME A PRINCE by Liz Curtis Higgs (WaterBrook Press)

Romance A BRIDE MOST BEGRUDGING by Deeanne Gist (Bethany House Publishers) CHATEAU OF ECHOES by Siri L. Mitchell (NavPress) IN SHEEP'S CLOTHING by Susan May Warren (Steeple Hill)

Suspense COMES A HORSEMAN by Robert Liparulo (WestBow Press) LAST LIGHT by Terri Blackstock (Zondervan) RIVER RISING by Athol Dickson (Bethany House Publishers)

Visionary LEGEND OF THE EMERALD ROSE by Linda Wichman (Kregel Publications) THE PRESENCE by Bill Myers (Zondervan) SHADOW OVER KIRIATH by Karen Hancock (Bethany House Publishers)

First Novel LIKE A WATERED GARDEN by Patti Hill (Bethany House Publishers) THE ROAD HOME by Vanessa Del Fabbro (Steeple Hill) THIS HEAVY SILENCE By Nicole Mazzarella (Paraclete Press)


Saturday, July 08, 2006

Blockbuster or Niche or Both?

Yeah, I know, I’m supposedly not going to blog for a few days because I’m headed to the trade show. I was flipping through the latest New Yorker magazine (July 10 & 17) and I ran across a fascinating article by John Cassidy. It turns out the article was online. If you read—and re-read this article you will learn some interesting facts.

Let’s look at a couple of paragraphs from John Cassidy’s well-written article, “Even an industry as old-school as book publishing exhibits long-tail behavior. In 2004, Nielsen BookScan tracked the sales of 1.2 million books and found that nine hundred and fifty thousand of them sold fewer than ninety-nine copies. And yet these scattered individual purchases add up to a surprisingly large market, especially at online booksellers. At Amazon.com, for example, about a quarter of all book sales come from outside the site’s top-one-hundred-thousand best-sellers. “What’s truly amazing about the Long Tail is the sheer size of it,” Anderson writes. “Again, if you combine enough of the non-hits, you’ve actually established a market that rivals the hits.”” For me, those statistics are pretty interesting.

Now look at one of the conclusions that Cassidy draws in the article, “It’s the same for books and popular music: the more copies a thriller or a pop song sells, the more likely you are to pick it up to see what all the fuss is about. Even in the online era, to be human is to follow the herd. Far from undermining this “network effect,” the Internet strengthens it by providing instant communication and feedback. In a recent online study conducted by researchers at Columbia, participants were allowed to download free songs from a list of unsigned bands. When they were informed about the preferences of their peers, the popular songs got more popular—and the unpopular songs got more unpopular. Blockbusters and niche products will continue to coexist, because they’re flip sides of the same phenomenon, something economists call “increasing returns,” whereby the big get bigger and the rest fight for the scraps. A long-tail world doesn’t threaten the whales or the minnows; it threatens those who cater to the neglected middle, such as writers of “mid-list” fiction and producers of adult dramas.”

What will it mean for books in the days ahead? I don’t know but I found the conversation worth calling to your attention. I hope it helps.


Friday, July 07, 2006

The Land of Possibilities

These entries about the Writing Life will be on hold for a few days. Early tomorrow morning I’m headed to the mile-high city, Denver, for the International Christian Retail Show (formerly called the Christian Booksellers Association trade show). For years, most of us have been calling it CBA.  Thousands of retailers from around the world will gather for the largest Christian trade show in the U.S.  If you don’t know, a trade show means that it is closed to the general public and you need a badge or entrance to get inside the exhibit area.  Just to get an idea of the size of the event, you can follow this link.

If you take a seat near the main entrance of the show and keep your eyes open, you can easily see some of the leaders in the industry pass right in front of you. It’s easy to become star-struck with the various bestselling authors or be caught into all of the hoopla and attention making devices that are used to call attention to different products. The show is much more than books but anything that is sold inside a Christian bookstore.  After going to this event for a number of years, I’ve tried to learn to keep focused on the people and the possibilities. The gathering is a remarkable group of people collected into a single location. It many ways it is like attending an annual reunion where you see long-term friends and get to greet many new ones.

If you let yourself, it’s easy to feel quite overwhelmed and small at such an event. Meetings are in full motion throughout the exhibit hall and in meeting rooms around the convention and in different hotels. Some events are invitation only while others are open to anyone attending the show. New products are introduced left and right to retailers.  Some books are shipped into the show directly from the printer and arrive at the last minute. Others are still being created and only a book cover or “mock-up” of the cover will be shown to the retailers. In the middle of thousands of these promotions and new products, it’s easy to feel like your book isn’t getting much attention. And in reality, it might not be getting much attention at this event. Not every book or every author is treated equally in such a setting and the disparity between the bestselling authors and the rising stars and the want-to-be authors is never more clear.

Yet each person is special in the eyes of God. Each person at the show has something to contribute to your life and your learning experience—if you are open to the possible exchange. It may be on a shuttle back to the hotel or it may be simply walking around the trade show.  I hope to get off one entry about the Writing Life when I’m in Denver—but I’ll have to see how it goes.  From my past experience, I know these events are loaded with activity. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll know the reason. I’m off to the land of possibilities.


Thursday, July 06, 2006

Looking for the Silver Bullet

Author 101 Book PublicityI smiled when I read the chapter title, “What’s Your Silver Bullet?” in Bestselling Book Publicity by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman. It’s the perfect analogy when it comes to publicity.  Many writers are looking for that one thing they can do which will break out their book and reach the audience.  The longer I’m involved in publishing, the more I don’t believe it is a single action but more of a series of on-going efforts from the publisher and most importantly from the author.  Now Frishman and Spizman are using the term differently in their book. They are talking about the silver bullet as the key message of your book. Other people call it the hook or the elevator speech or the soundbite. Every author needs to find this key message for their book and this key will stress a benefit for the reader and often be the message you use repeatedly with the media, your website and any other publicity effort. This silver bullet message will cut through the noise of the other ideas and make your idea stick in the hearts of readers.

Frishman and Spizman write, “Think of your silver bullet as the verbal business card for your book. It’s a brief, memorable description that you quickly give people you meet or those who may be interested in your book. Your silver bullet is your core message, the unique selling proposition that you must get across if you hope to successfully promote your book. It must penetrate your target market and be delivered rapidly and powerfully before your small window of media attention slams shut.”

OK, you have your elevator speech (something you can tell in an elevator ride) or silver bullet for your book. Throughout the rest of Bestselling Book Publicity, they detail how to use this key message over and over. These authors write about the primary tools for any campaign such as websites, media lists, media kits, press releases, question and answer sheets, business cards, newsletters and other promotional materials.  The book includes an excellent chapter about working with the media with all sorts of wise advice about developing these key relationships. Why? Because the media can reach large audiences with a magazine article or a feature story or a personality profile. You want to tap into these possibilities to get the word out about your book. But you have to make sure your approach is right or you will only alienate the media (not what you want to do). I loved what Robyn Spizman said, “Instead of focusing on what the media can do for you, think more about what you can do for it. If you can make the media’s job easier by doing research, delivering great soundbites, and telling your media contacts about great people, those contacts will usually consider you when they could use information related to your message.”

There are rules for working with the media and you have to learn these rules in the publicity process. Frishman and Spizman write, “To build strong relationships with the media, be flexible and constantly, remind yourself that your goal is to get the media to publicize you and your book. So stay focused, be patient, persistent, and understanding because the road may be bumpy and long. Since your relationship isn’t equal, the media makes the rules and they differ from industry to industry, outlet to outlet, and person to person. When it wishes, the media can change the rules, and it will change them arbitrarily, when it suits its purposes. Suddenly, all of your hard work, your story or your appearance may be cut, rewritten, or cancelled.” Then they give three key points—good in many different situations beyond the media:

* “Even though you’re fuming inside, be professional, which in this case means act like you understand, because frankly, in most cases, there’s nothing you can do about it.”

* “Salvage something that will benefit you. Instead of wasting time and energy arguing, complaining, and raising your blood pressure, act understanding, be a team player. Ask if he or she can recommend anyone else whom you could contact.”

* “Never show anger or threaten. Instead, immediately focus on finding bargaining chips to position yourself for the future. Don’t say, ‘Okay, you owe me one’; just let it go. During subsequent contacts, plant subtle reminders by asking how the matter turned out.”

This book is loaded with wise counsel on other matters such as how to get bookings and coverage, interviewing tips,  media training, e-mail blasts, campaign timelines and how to hire the best publicist for your campaign. This title is loaded with websites, contact information and other resources for every author.

Let me conclude this entry with some publicity advice from seasoned veteran Rick Frishman. It applies to many other aspects of publishing. “Publicity is a business with lots of rejection and few responses. It can take a dozen phone calls to get an interview with a major-market media outlet. Remember the Rule of Seven—it takes at least seven tries before you make contact. But one response, one yes, may be all you need to get your story told. Look at each no or lack of response not as a defeat or a setback, but as a small victory that puts you closer to the yes that will land you a feature or a booking.”


Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Some Keys to Promotion

Author 101 Book PublicityI’m continuing to give some glimpses into Bestselling Book Publicity by Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman.  Since these authors have worked for years in book promotion, they know firsthand the fears and concerns from authors about this aspect of publishing. Many years ago I visited Rick’s Planned Television Arts office in New York City where they run some high-profile author promotion. In general, I’ve found writers are shy and introverted so the whole concept of getting out in front with your book sounds threatening and contrary to our normal personality. I completely understand and it’s not something that comes natural.

Frishman and Spizman say, “After authoring and promoting many books, we’re here to testify that the writing is the hard part; it’s slow, solitary, exacting work. It’s constant writing, rewriting, checking, rechecking, editing, and re-editing deep into the night until your mind is mush and your fingers feel like linguini as they bounce off all the wrong keys. Writing a book requires intense concentration, dedication, and discipline. Plus, when you reread it in the morning, it often makes no sense. After you’ve written your book, the real fun begins—if you let it…The key to successful book publicity is approaching it positively with excitement—to open up and expand that creativity that you may have suppressed or never even knew you had. Turn the work that lies ahead into an enjoyable, creative experience, to eliminate the drudgery and increase your chances of doing a fabulous job.”  The right attitude in approaching promotion is one key.

Also you have to make your book distinct from others in the market.  Before you wrote the book, remember your book proposal?  I hope as a part of that process, you detailed the competition and distinctions of your book. It’s a great place to turn and recall the distinctions of your book for the overall marketplace.  It’s another key emphasized in Bestselling Book Publicity. These authors say, “Publicity works best when you distinguish yourself and your book and show others why it’s so special and a must read. It’s the perfect opportunity to be creative; your only limits are those you impose on yourself. Unfortunately, many of us have been sold the bill of goods that publicizing our efforts or ourselves is crass, undignified, and not what respectable people do—which is just plain wrong. According to that thinking, we should sit back and wait for the world to recognize and applaud us; do nothing but let nature take its course. However, doing nada doesn’t sell books! So take control! Start by changing your attitude and your approach. Adjust your thinking; become positive, optimistic, and active. Commit to vigorously promoting your book and yourself. If you want to sell books, it’s a must!”

Finally, these authors address something a weakness in authors which I see on a regular basis.  In particular, fiction authors don’t believe they need to promote their books. As a fiction acquisitions editor, you’d be surprised what people answer when I ask how they are going to promote their book. Many of these authors believe they can forget about this process because they’ve simply told a great story (which is always key).  Frishman and Spizman say, “Some authors mistakenly think that it’s unnecessary to promote books of fiction. They believe that once their novels, short stories, and poetry are published, literary acclaim, huge book sales, and big advances for subsequent books will automatically follow. Sorry to say, they’re wrong—very wrong. The market for fiction is densely crowded, and the competition for readers is fierce. Without publicity, first-rate fiction can get lost in the crowd, languish, and not sell; it happens every day. Lack of sales can hurt authors’ careers because when publishers make their acquisition decisions, they consider how the authors’ prior books sold. So, as you read this book, keep in mind that the information will be beneficial to both fiction and nonfiction books.”

I hope you can see some of the truth for any author that rings in the pages of this title.


Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Another Promotion Idea Factory

Not another one, I groaned to myself as I pulled this book out of the envelope. I’ve got a number of how-to books on my shelf (which I’ve read) about publicity and book promotion. I can empathize with M.J. Rose last week who was a panelist last week at ThrillerFest in a workshop called Buzz Your Thriller. She told about reading Jacqueline Deval’s great book, Publicize Your Book. M.J. told the audience, “It’s like a Bible for publicity. After reading that book, I was so depressed.” Why? Because as M.J. said, you can’t let yourself get frustrated reading this information. “You can’t do everything J.A. Konrath says to do in your blog.” J.A. Konrath was also at ThrillerFest (I didn’t connect with him) but he was also at the event. If you don’t know, J.A. Konrath is in the middle of a two-month book tour where he’s determined to reach 500 bookstores this summer. Now that’s a lot of bookstores. I’m afraid I fall into the category like M.J. Rose who admitted she isn’t that outgoing to meet and greet that many bookstore personnel then the people that come for the signing. No matter what it’s an interesting strategy. To some degree you may find these promotion books frustrating but keep in mind this simple fact: you can’t do everything but you can do something.

Author 101 Book PublicityOK, back to my groaning with this new how-to book called Bestselling Book Publicity by Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman which is part of the Author 101 series (don’t get confused because each of these books say “Author 101” in huge letters but the name of the book is something else—and this one has a green cover). I know Rick and Robyn wrote this book to fit into their series of how-to books and Rick is a true expert in this area of promotion because is the president of Planned Television Arts, which is one of the top PR firms in the country. I read this book and it has terrific content. I plan to highlight some of it during the next entry or two on the Writing Life. Here’s a key aspect of book promotion from their introduction, “In order for people to read your book, they must first hear about it, learn that it exists. If they never hear about it, all the amazing information you’ve compiled, all the new ideas you explained, and all of the poetic descriptions you composed will never penetrate their minds. If readers don’t know about your book, your words won’t have a voice.” They continue to talk about the fierce competition for our attention as readers. Then say, “Every author—from the most noted, perennial bestseller to the complete novice—needs to publicize his or her book. Even if your publisher’s in-house team is promoting your title full steam, you also must promote. It can be the difference between its being widely read and not read at all.”

How’s that for a dose or reality?

Here’s the key reason all of us can learn something from this new book, “To publicize your book, you can employ an endless assortment of tactics, the options are virtually unlimited—a bottomless pit. No single formula, guaranteed method, or foolproof recipe can make every book succeed; however, many approaches do work. As professional publicists and authors, we’ve used those approaches. They have succeeded for our clients and us big-time. Now, we want to teach them to you in this book…When we agreed to write this book, we fully understood that we couldn’t cover all of the bases; that it would be impossible to teach you every book-publicity tactic that has ever worked. You see, unlike baseball, publicity doesn’t have just four bases, it has thousands of them, and publicists—a remarkably inventive group—keep devising more every day.”

Welcome to another promotion idea factory. Bestselling Book Publicity contains some great insight and I’ll be back to highlight some of it.