Thursday, August 31, 2006

A Tool For Amazon.Com

Over the years, I’ve talked with a number of writers about their Amazon ranking. If you don’t know, Amazon.com ranks all of their books depending on sales. The bestselling books have low numbers and the books which rarely sell have very high numbers (in the millions). The trap with this information for writers is to fixate on your particular sales number. It’s like many other things in life, you check your number just out of curiosity and interest of what’s happening in the largest online bookstore on the planet—not so you add to your worry or concern.  Particularly for the top books, these numbers change every hour so you can waste a lot of unnecessary energy on it.


OK, with this caveat in mind, I’m going to tell you about a new tool that’s in beta format called TitleZ. (Thanks to Jerome Teel for pointing out this site to me. Make sure you read his book, The Election.) The registration for TitleZ is free and easy. The site revolves around these sales rankings on Amazon but TitleZ provides an easy method to track these sales numbers over a period of time—and also to compare the rankings to other books.

The developers have some interesting articles on their website such as What’s A Good Sales Rank for a Book? Also they have some detailed information about how to use the tool for research.

Here’s a couple of ideas about how you can use TitleZ:

First, you can see how your book is performing on Amazon compared to your competition. Every book competes with something so what is the competition for your book? Which books appear in the same section of a brick and mortar store? When you look at your book on Amazon which titles does Amazon suggest as additional titles to purchase (these titles are potentially your competition—Amazon isn’t 100% here so I say potentially). With a few clicks, you can set up this matrix and check it once a week or whatever schedule is convenient for you.

Second, when you are creating a book proposal or thinking about creating a book proposal, you can use TitleZ to learn about the sales potential for your competitive titles. Often sales numbers for books are difficult to obtain. Many publishers keep this information tightly controlled—unless they have a bestseller to trumpet then they tell the world about your book sales. If your competitive title has a very high sales rank (like in the millions), then you can guess there are not many sales for this book but if you discover a low sales number, then you can guess the other extreme—that the title is continuing to sell (even if it has been in print for several years).

Like most of these tools, they have to work for your situation or you shouldn’t bother. I have found some value to it and thought I’d pass it along to you—especially since for now it’s free (they plan to charge for it later according to the registration information). Just use the tool and don’t fixate on the numbers.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

In For the Long Haul

The Jungle coverWhile in high school, I read a series of “classics” as part of my preparation for college. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair was one of those books and I “almost” became a vegetarian after reading it. If you’ve never read The Jungle, Sinclair exposes the unsavory working conditions in the Chicago meat-packing industry during the early 1900s. Like any new subject, the author has to hook the reader (which happens) and in a few pages, you are plunged into this horrible business. The book stirred lots of controversy and laws were passed to change and improve this industry. Sinclair was a writer who understood that he was in the business for the long haul.

From time to time, The New Yorker magazine will feature an author. Last week, in his excellent article, Uppie Redux?, David Denby turned to Upton Sinclair and I knew little about this author. Consider his prolific output: “In 1906, Upton Sinclair was twenty-seven years old; he continued publishing for more than sixty years, a clattering typewriter that would not stop. No two scholars seem to agree on exactly how many books he wrote, but the number is above ninety, and his output, in addition to social-protest and historical novels, includes plays, screenplays, tracts, journalistic expos�s, didactic dialogues, instructional manuals, and autobiographies. Sinclair spoke at rallies, joined strikes and protests, and repeatedly ran for political office; he sponsored Sergei Eisenstein’s epic unfinished documentary about Mexican Indians, “Que Viva M�xico.” Ezra Pound, who knew a thing or two about obsession, said that Sinclair was not a maniac but a “polymaniac.” During many periods of his life, Sinclair’s activities were widely discussed in the press, and in the eyes of some prominent contemporaries, including Albert Einstein, Thomas Mann, and Bernard Shaw, he was an invaluable guide to twentieth-century politics. To many people, however, he now seems remote and musty—the author of flaking volumes encountered in country book barns. Apart from “The Jungle,” Sinclair’s works have been largely forgotten, or perhaps simply mislaid, his name confused with that of Sinclair Lewis, the author of “Main Street,” “Babbitt,” and “Dodsworth.””

Yes, it’s amazing the volume and variety of Sinclair’s work for more than 60 years. But look at what he did in his early days: “Sinclair didn’t waste much time at home; he entered City College at the age of thirteen and then transferred, as an eighteen-year-old graduate student, to Columbia, where he was generally bored in the classroom and spent his time writing stories and jokes for the pulp magazines published downtown. By the time he was nineteen, he was composing pseudonymous hack novels about the debonair adventures of West Point and Annapolis cadets. With the help of two stenographers, he churned out eight thousand words a day.”

Now eight thousand words a day in the pre-computer era was remarkable. I love reading about these authors and their consistent commitment to publishing—and in different areas of the work. Many writers seem to get stuck in a particular area. Maybe they have a novel which they insist needs to appear into print. Now it’s certainly OK to be working on a novel but is that novel moving toward publication or just in a continual loop experience where it doesn’t go anywhere? At conferences in particular, I meet writers who are dreaming about publication but aren’t publishing.

I’d encourage you not to be mired in one area of the writing world. Because of the diversity of writing, one day I can write a magazine article and the next day a short book review. Or I can keep making progress on my book proposal then yet another day, I can write some words for a chapter of a novel. I’m in for the long haul and maybe you can gain something from the role model of Upton Sinclair.


Monday, August 28, 2006

Knocked Down, Not Out

No one likes rejection—at least I don’t. But it’s part of the publishing world. One of the keys from my view is how you handle such rejection. When you get knocked down, are you out for the count? Or do you get back up and try again?

Crusader's CrossIn the August 21st issue of Publisher’s Weekly, the editors include little pithy comments about various bestselling authors. This note caught my attention, “A rare winner of two Edgar Awards for Best Crime Novel of the Year, James Lee Burke has come a long way since his novel The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times over a period of nine years (and upon publication in 1986 was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize). Crusader’s Cross is the 14th novel in his bestselling Dave Robicheaux series. Burke’s most recent hardcover, Pegasus Descending, is #10 on hour hardcover list. Crusader’s Cross currently has 275,000 copies in print.” Crusader’s Cross was a new entry on the mass market paperback bestseller list at #14.

Did you spot the little detail that caught my attention in this quotation? How do you keep going if you’ve been rejected over 100 times for the same manuscript and over a period of nine years? It is an unusual amount of persistence and belief in the face of incredible odds. I went to find more information so I googled and found an interview with Burke which Christianity Today published in 2004. This article has some great quotes and insight about writing so I recommend you look at the entire piece—but here’s what I found about Burke’s attitude and persistence:

The Lost Get-Back Boogie was rejected 111 times, and that’s when I met my current agent, Philip Spitzer. He was driving a cab in Hell's Kitchen [New York City], and he took my account. He was my cousin Andre Debusse's agent and Andre, at that time, did not have the recognition that he has today. But Philip kept the work under submission all those years and Louisiana State University Press published it.”

“I really learned an old lesson that I had learned as a young man: You do it a day at a time. You write as well as you can, you put it in the mail, you leave it under submission, you never leave it at home. I had a rule for myself, I’d never leave a manuscript at home longer than 36 hours. It would be back under submission in a day-and-a-half. But I realized that an artist will never have any serenity unless he accepts the following premise: You write as well as you can, or you create a song or a sculpture or a painting, and then you turn it loose, you turn it over to some power outside of yourself and you don’t worry about its fate. If you do that, success and money and fame, all that stuff, will find you of their own accord, not because you seek them.”

Each us have today—to write as well as we can, then put it into the mail (or email). We turn our work loose “to some power outside of ourselves and don’t worry about its fate.”


Friday, August 25, 2006

A Valuable Resource--Free

Recently on my way back home from the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writer’s Conference, I picked up a Sunday copy of the New York Times and poured through it while waiting in the airport. It’s always a personal treat to read this newspaper because it generally leads me to some idea or something valuable for my writing and editing life. The back of the book review section contained a full-page ad for a how-to book, Get Published! by Susan Driscoll and Diane Gedymin. Driscoll is the president and CEO of iUniverse and over the last 20 years has held a variety of positions at HarperCollins and Holzbrinck including publisher, editorial director and marketing director. Gedymin is the editorial director at iUniverse but has more than 30 years of experience as a literary agent and publisher of HarperSanFrancisco and senior editor at the Putnam Berkley Group. This ad clearly promoted the fact Barnes & Noble owns iUniverse. The fact that two seasoned publishing professionals had a new book was what caught my attention. I’m familiar with iUniverse as a company to self-publish a book or produce a print on demand (POD) book. Some of my colleagues at the American Society of Journalists and Authors have used iUniverse to get some of their out of print books back into the marketplace. The ASJA has a contractual relationship with iUniverse as a service to our members.

Get Published! coverFrom this ad in the Times, I decided to ask for a review copy of this book and read it. From the beginning, I understood it would likely have an agenda or pushing authors toward self-publishing. Looking around the iUniverse website, I figured out their company formula for email addresses and wrote a brief letter of introduction to Diane Gedymin, the editorial director, requesting a review copy. My email worked and shortly I received an email from Gedymin saying they were sending the book.

I’ve been reading this book and discovered it contains a great deal of publishing insight for any author. Whether you are a novelist or a nonfiction writer or whether you are unpublished or much published, this book contains a realistic look at the marketplace backed with statistics. Also the authors include great thoughtful questions for any author as they think through how to get their idea into the publishing community.

Admittedly the book includes their agenda or the promotion of iUniverse and even includes the iUniverse editorial guide. My printed copy of Get Published! was produced using print-on-demand technology. Here’s a couple of the statistics tucked (and documented) in this book:

* Fourteen million adult Americans engaged in some form of creative writing last year.

* Finished manuscripts for an estimated 8 million novels and 17 million how-to books are lying in desk drawers all over the country, waiting to be published. (page 64)

Or here’s another one that leaped out at me:

“Most authors don't have a realistic basis of just how serious the competition for publicity is,” remarked the publicity director of a major literary imprint, who asked to remain anonymous. “Most reviewers at major media get, on average, 300 books a week. The amount of books produced has increased while the amount of book coverage (not to mention sales) has decreased. Most authors desperately want their books to sell and would like to make livings by writing and publishing, but the sad reality is that probably 5% of authors in print are able to do that.”” (I’d encourage you to read this full article—the link was in Get Published!)

Beyond the dose of realism, Driscoll and Gedymin teach would-be writer about the traditional publishing market and the self-publishing market plus they walk any author through the necessary steps to set realistic writing goals and also do good research about the competition for their idea in the bookstore. The insides of this book are attractive with some cartoons and interesting graphics. It’s an excellent how-to book and I’m glad to have a copy.

In addition, the authors include a number of well-crafted worksheets along with a link to find them online. It’s through these worksheets that I discovered how each of you can get this book without cost in an electronic format or the printed version. Go to this link and fill out the request for either the electronic PDF book (you get it immediately) or you can receive the printed version through the mail (a better option from my view). Admittedly you have to provide some information to receive this book—your name, email address, physical mailing address and phone number.

When you ask for this book, understand that iUniverse is using this book as a tool to generate additional business. You will probably receive some follow-up via email or on the telephone or through the mail (since you furnish all of these options with the form). Even with this caveat, I believe it’s an excellent resource for anyone and the price is right—free.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Teach Them To Fish

When it comes down to it, which would you rather do: actually do the task for someone else or teach them to do it? There is an old legend about someone coming to a friend and asking for a fish. This person could have given the fish or taught the friend to fish. I’d much rather teach you to fish. Then we can leave the elementary things behind and press on to a deeper relationship. It’s part of my underlying philosophy of why I write these entries on the Writing Life.

This week I received an email asking if my book, One Bright Shining Path, Faith in the Midst of Terrorism (Crossway Books) was in Spanish and how they could get a copy for their mother who only speaks Spanish. I quickly responded with a key bit of information they didn’t have: the Spanish title for the book, Ayacucho Para Cristo.

Then I anticipated their next question: where can I find this book? I may have a copy or two some place and could have dug it out and arranged to sell it to them. Instead, I decided it was better to teach them how to locate the book. One of the best places to search for books with a wide variety of possibilities is BookFinder3U.com. When I searched for my Spanish title, I found a number of available copies through this site—and in fact through this link. The exchange only took a few minutes but hopefully this reader learned a thing or two.

Here’s my encouragement to you: what are you doing for someone else where you can teach them to handle the task on their own? I’d encourage you to teach them to fish.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Raise Your Voice


Last year marked the first year The Quill Book Awards. It’s a consumer-driven program to select the best books for the year. For many of these book awards, a series of judges select the winners. For The Quill Book Awards, the public votes—between now and September 30th. You have a chance to raise your voice and select these books—but only if you vote. If you don’t know about the books, there is information with each book to help you learn about each title.

As you vote, it will be a learning experience about how books are divided into different categories—something many people outside of publishing don’t generally pause to consider. Let me call several books to your attention on this list:

1. In the Romance category, Beverly Lewis wrote The Preacher’s Daughter from Bethany House. It is one of the few faith-based books on the entire list of books.

2. In the Religion/ Spirituality category, I’m pulling for Mama Made a Difference by T. D. Jakes. I would hope Bishop Jakes will win in this category. Just so you know last year Deepak Chopra won in this category.

No matter who wins, everyone should participate. It will help you learn about some bestselling books and think about some different categories of books than you normally select. I recommend each person vote.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Credibility Matters Even If You Write for Free

The world is quite small when it comes to the Internet and blogging. I’m constantly amazed at how well-known journalists and authors will connect with me because of something I’ve written in these entries about the Writing Life. Over a year ago, I quoted a brief passage from The New Yorker magazine which wasn’t online but related to publishing. Like any news story, I attributed the quotation to the journalist and later that same day I received an email from the author (who I previously had no connection) thanking me for using the material.

78 Reasons book coverOr some time ago, I blogged about some fascinating portions in Pat Walsh’s book, 78 Reasons Why Your Book May Never Be Published and 14 Reasons Why It Just Might (Here’s one of those links from my entries). Walsh is the former founding editor at MacAdam/ Cage, an independent publisher of fiction and nonfiction. Before my entry, I had no previous contact with Walsh yet later that same day as my entry, I received a brief note of thanks from Walsh.

While these experiences are a bit jarring for me, they should come as no surprise—for me or for you. In our fast-paced world, there are many tools to collect this information. You can google to find the information or set up an automated way to feed you this information as the tool finds it.

Last week I was searching for a brief biography of someone. I googled their name and ran across the website called ZoomInfo. Have you ever seen it? I recommend you give it a whirl and you will be surprised. The site stores biographical information. With my friend, the old Internet page with her biographical information had been removed and wasn’t accessible—yet the old data was stored in ZoomInfo. I suggest you type in your own name and see what you learn from it.

About a year and a half ago, I found Jon Bonne’s interesting commentary on MSNBC called, Blog nice, everyone, Why Credibility Matters Even if You Write For Free. Here’s a significant quote from Bonne’s article, “A credible reporter should remain credible no matter where he writes, or who is paying her (or not).”

One of the keys from my view is to be aware of the power of information and the visible forum of anything that is online—including these entries on the Writing Life. As I’ve mentioned in other entries, the active publishing world is a small community (notice how I qualified it). For me, I only want write things which are going to continue to build my reputation and foster new friendships in this business. It’s the best way to operate and maintain a lasting career.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Why Book Titles Are Important?

I’m often surprised when I receive a fiction query and it doesn’t have a book title. Or from what is there, it’s obvious the writer didn’t put much thought or energy into the title.  While ultimately the publisher will select the title, I regularly tell authors if they create an excellent title, it will stick throughout the publishing process. Book-titles

Book titles are one of the key ways you can hook your editor. It’s a topic to pour some considerable thought and creativity because it might pay off for you—with a book contract.

This past week the publicity wheels on television have been turning for the movie, Snakes on a Plane. While I don’t plan to see this film, I understand the draw of the title. Repeatedly I’ve seen Samuel Jackson say, “All I needed to hear was the title and I knew I wanted to be in this film.” It’s the same with books. I’ve been in publication board meetings with a room full of executives. Everyone will get excited about a particular concept and most of the enthusiasm comes from the title.  Inherently they know people will be drawn to the book.

A recent New York Times article, Titles That Didn’t Smell As Sweet by Thomas Vinciguerra was fascinating. [If for some reason this link doesn’t work, google the title to see if you can find it—I did in a matter of seconds. The original place I had stored wanted to charge me $4.99 to access the full article. I hope this link works for you and I purchased the newspaper.] I love the story which opens this article, “In late 1924, a young writer sent his new novel, “Trimalchio in West Egg,” to Charles Scribner’s Sons. The publishers hated the title. “Consider as quickly as you can a change,” wrote the editor, Maxwell Perkins. F. Scott Fitzgerald quickly complied; he substituted “The Great Gatsby.”” Who would have purchased the first title? I certainly read The Great Gatsby

Sometimes a book title will become a phrase that enters the culture. For example, if you say something is a catch-22, you know the quandary of the situation. Yet this best-selling novel from Joseph Heller was almost Catch-18 according to the article. While it’s perfectly OK to have a “working title” with your book, make sure you give it your absolute best before you pitch the title to a book publisher. If you need any more encouragement about titles, go over and sign up for Mahesh Grossman’s free report on Strategies For A Six-Figure Advance. You will get on Grossman’s newsletter list (which I find valuable). One of the keys to getting published is an excellent book title. I can’t overstate the importance of a good title.


Saturday, August 19, 2006

Irresistible Subject Lines

Like most people inside the publishing world, I receive a high volume of email. Unlike some editors, I attempt to answer a high percentage of it each day—even if it’s a very brief response. At least the sender knows someone read it and responded. Yes, I use form response letters to submissions since that is the only practical way to cope with the onslaught of submissions. The majority of these manuscript submissions use the standard subject line which is automatically generated when they click the link from the guidelines website: Fiction Manuscript. I know it’s not specific but I instantly know where the sender found my email address. Other writers are a bit more creative in this process and I appreciate this effort.

First Place coverImagine my surprise yesterday to my permanent email address when I received this subject line: “are you from Raceland, KY?” Everyone would have hit the delete button and thrown away this email but I had to click it. It was irresistible.  Then look at the first paragraph of the email, “I recently purchased the “First Place” book at our local Christian bookstore, thinking of maybe leading a study for our church.  When I saw your name on front, I couldn't help but wonder if I know you.  The Terry Whalin that I know is from Raceland, KY. If you are a different Terry Whalin, please just delete this email and accept my apologies for bothering you.”

See the tone and creativity in this paragraph? It’s short and to the point—yet targeted. For me, it was irresistible. I had to read the entire email, then answer it. The writer tapped something that only a few people would know about me. I spent the first eleven years of my life in Raceland, Kentucky—a small town in northeastern Kentucky.  It is something that I constantly carry with me as a part of my growing up years. While few people remember it, my name is on the cover of every one of the First Place books. It’s work that I finished years ago and have pressed on yet this writer made a connection with me in her thoughtful email.

Far too often, I see emails that have “Hello” in the subject line or something completely unthinking. After all, we are writers and editors who should be able to muster a tiny bit of creative energy—even for the subject lines.


Friday, August 18, 2006

Amazon Tightens Rules for Reviews

In past entries, I’ve mentioned about writing customer reviews for books on Amazon and other places. It’s a practice that I’ve encouraged you to do for books that you love and for your writer friends. Over the last few days, Amazon has changed the procedure for these reviews and greatly limited the opportunity for these reviews. I’ve emailed Amazon a note of protest but I doubt it will change anything.


Copper Scroll cover

I’ve blogged about Joel C. Rosenberg and his new book, The Copper Scroll. My review of the book appears on Faithful Reader.com. I read this book before it’s release and before Amazon allowed customer reviews of the book. Typically the customer review feature isn’t turned on until the publication date for the book. Last night, I went to the Amazon page and was going to post a few words about the book with a five star review. I couldn’t add my review. Why? I did not purchase my book through Amazon and they’ve restricted these customer reviews. The only way you can write a review is to purchase the book through Amazon.


I checked their guidelines and found:


“General Review Writing Guidelines

Amazon.com wants your comments to be heard! The recommended review length is 75 to 300 words.

Authors, publishers, and readers have separate review mechanisms. Please use the appropriate page.

Who can write customer reviews? Customers! Anyone who has purchased items from Amazon.com and is in good standing in the Amazon.com community can write reviews.”


If you look at my Amazon reviews, you will see that I’ve written over 100 customer reviews—yet I purchased very few of these books directly from Amazon. This wide open door of opportunity for authors and publicists has slammed shut. For example, Faithful Reader and Book Reporter.com and other sites associated with this group, go to the particular page on Amazon and paste in the review. It’s been part of their efforts to promote good books yet with this new policy, these reviews will not be appearing on Amazon since the books come directly from the publisher—and are not purchased through Amazon.


Many books have no customer reviews. My Running On Ice by Vonetta Flowers with Whalin has one customer review—from my friend, Crystal Miller—and I suspect it will remain this way. Recently I wrote about Childproofing Your Marriage by Dr. Debbie Cherry. At the time, my review of Debbie’s book was the single customer review on the Amazon page (now there are two customer reviews).

From a policy viewpoint, I understand why Amazon has initiated this change. Over a year ago, a group who disagreed with the viewpoint in a book attacked one of my author friend’s book page on Amazon. This group posted all sorts of derogatory things in their customer reviews and the author worked with Amazon to remove these reviews. The new policy will greatly reduce these problems for Amazon customer service personnel.


While I understand the reasons for this change, it’s bad news for authors. They will not be able to encourage honest feedback about their book on the largest online bookstore on the planet. It’s bad news for publicists and publishers since they will not be able to use this avenue to promote a good book. It’s bad news for customers who read these reviews and make decisions every day about which books to purchase. It’s bad news for the book. I was sorry to see this policy change. I do purchase some books from Amazon but I receive books from many different places—including other authors and publishers. With this change, I will not be able to write a few sentences of review for Amazon.




OK, I stand corrected--things are not as bad as I proclaimed in these previous paragraphs. I had not purchased any books with the email address I was using with my Amazon profile. Thanks to Robin Lee Hatcher’s note to me. I went over to my Amazon account and purchased a book--then my ability to write reviews on any book have been restored. The entries on this blog are a work in progress—and this incident just proves my point.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Radical Faith

It’s cause to do a double-take—at least it was for some people last month at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver.  Some people had not read or heard the story of Stephen Baldwin (yes, click this link and you will get a taste of what’s happening here).  Because of some of his movies, people didn’t expect him to be a Christian—much less someone with radical faith.  As a celebrity, Stephen certainly drew a crowd of booksellers to his book signing.

Several weeks ago, I watched a lengthy segment on the Trinity Broadcasting Network where Stephen Baldwin told the story of his changed life. I could see the transformation and commitment to be genuine.  Because of his connections to the entertainment world, Baldwin (and his new book) is showing up in unexpected places. I found this piece in Esquire (which has a circulation of over 700,000 copies a month). As the article from Sean Gibson begins, “You can learn a lot from Stephen Baldwin. Maybe not about quality acting or the downside of nepotism, but balls-out evangelism? The man will change your life. Since finding Christ after the September 11 attacks, Baldwin's nurtured a unique kind of religious conviction, one that's equal parts scripture and Mountain Dew Code Red. He talks about it, and why you should find it, too, in his new book, The Unusual Suspect: My Calling to the New Hardcore Movement of Faith (Warner Faith, $24). Pull up a pew.”

The Unusual Suspect book coverI didn’t wait in the lengthly line for a signed copy of this book—but I did haul home an advance reading copy for this book which releases next month.  I’ve been reading this book and was amused to find this paragraph about the movie Bio-Dome. “The film was brainless and pointless and hilarious and God wanted me to make it. I didn't think that at the time. Making Bio-Dome played right into my usual, let’s have a good time attitude. God had other plans, I just didn’t know it at the time. When I say God wanted me to make this movie, I do not mean to imply that He approved of everything in the film. This film contains stuff that does not reflect the life I now live. I haven’t even allowed my own children to see it…The critics may have hated Bio-Dome, but kids loved it. They loved it when we first made it and they still love it today. Everywhere I go I have some kid in his late teens or early twenties come up to me and tell me that this is their favorite movie…One of the reasons kids will listen to me today is because they recognize me from the movies. But not just any movie. One movie: Bio-Dome. God had me make this film to give me the platform that would later become my life’s work.”

If you read these entries about the writing life, you know my wife and I love to go to movies. Some of the movies that we see are great and others are complete busts. The weekend Bio-Dome released we were pressed to find anything worth watching—yet determined to go to the movies. So we were one of the folks in the audience watching this film and we walked out wondering why we had parted with our cash for this experience.  Isn’t it amazing what can happen from the least expected sources?

Here’s another bit from The Unusual Suspect by Stephen Baldwin with Mark Tabb: “All my life I’ve played different roles in various productions. But when I separated my life on screen from my real life, I see how my life is like a movie. From the time I was born, I’ve played different roles: child, student, musician, athlete, actor, husband, father. It’s as though my life is a production, written, produced and directed by the hand of God. All the roles he’s had me play and all the paths he’s taken me down all worked together to prepare me to receive my greatest role and fulfill his purpose for creating me in the first place. When I read back over the script God wrote of my life, I understand everything that’s happened in this story has all come about to bring me to a place where I could understand who God is and how he wants to use me. That’s the greatest production.The role I’m now playing in the drama God penned that is my life, is the greatest role I will ever play in my life. And it is my life.”

What experiences is God using in your life to eventually create something beautiful? It’s hard to see the potential in the moment of difficulty. I’d encourage you to write down small pieces of those experiences. Maybe the dialogue or something shows up in a private journal or a computer file. It’s something you can use as a resource to write these experiences and be an encouragement for others.  Years later, the pain or the difficulty will be hard to recall unless you capture it in the moment. Then you can use those experiences in a book proposal then a book or a personal experience magazine article. Where will you be able to show your radical faith and the difference it makes in your life?


Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Overzealous Writers

It is good to be enthused about your book project. I admire writers who want to get their proposal or pitch letter into perfect shape. In this business publishing environment, it’s a good idea to follow-up after a period (then be prepared for rejection if you rattle that cage). It’s a fine line between enthusiasm and professionalism vs overzeal and poor first impressions. Writers never cease to amaze me with their originality and I’m going to recount a couple of incidents which have happened in the last two weeks—so they are completely new—at least to me.  Some times you think you’ve seen everything—but I know firsthand that some writer will always come up with some new twist on an old story. Yesterday’s newspaper highlighted the local Phoenix-based company that has a photo system to catch speeding cars. The photo with this article was amazing. It showed a speeding driver who was playing the trumpet while driving.  If I hadn’t seen it myself, I would not believe it. Writers are constantly providing new twists on the submission process.

Here’s a revelation for you: my public mailing address is a post office box. It’s not an office or my home address. It’s simply a mailbox. Last week a writer dropped into my address. He was visiting his son in Scottsdale and decided that he would like to meet me face to face.  On the surface it was an innocent idea.  When he realized my address was a mailbox, he told the owner that he was a “friend” of mine then left his cell phone number.  After he left the shop, the owner called me and gave me the information. Now I have a number of friends and a large Rolodex of names and addresses but this name didn’t register at all. I called the number and it turns out this writer had sent a query letter proposing a novel. He failed to enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope for a response—nor did he include an email address. Either one would work but he didn’t take the professional stance. It was information I didn’t know when I returned his call. I gently explained that I’ve logged over 300 of these types of submissions since January—for six to eight possible spots. Yes, I have a record or log of these submissions. Now I wrote down his name during our call and looked for his query letter. I found it in my stack of unanswered mail. Then I called a second time about his lack of including a response mechanism. He gave me an email address which I added to his letter. It’s still unanswered but I hope you will see that I took extra ordinary action to connect with this writer. Most editors would have shrugged it and rejected his pitch in a heart beat. I hope this writer learned something from our interaction. First, don’t assume you can drop by the editor’s office for a visit. Second, make sure you don’t oversell—like when you say you are a friend and in reality you have no relationship. Finally, give the editor a way to respond—or you will be hard pressed to get any response from the editor.

The reality is editors receive thousands of these submissions. Last weekend at the writer’s conference in Philadelphia, one editor mentioned a website he gives to authors for submissions. It’s not my place to include this particular publisher’s site but here’s the added bit of information this editor orally gave the conference during a panel of book editors—if you don’t hear from someone within four months—then consider your response to be “no.” How’s that for a bit of reality?

Or another author called my home phone number with a simple agenda: to see if I was male or female. This writer had been to the Howard Books guidelines site and was ready to pitch her novel idea to me. She wanted to make sure she didn’t address me as Ms. Terry Whalin (which happens rather frequently). Now this question is an easy one to answer—and it doesn’t require calling the editor’s home phone number. Go to any Google search engine, click on “images” and type my name into the search engine. In a heartbeat, you will locate my photo and know how to answer your question about whether I am male or female. Now what sort of first impression did this writer make with her submission?

Finally, here’s a third story from yesterday.  Last month in Denver as a part of the International Christian Retail Show, I met with a number of new writers as a part of the CLASS Publishing Connections.  One of these writers wrote a short thank you note to me. Her intentions were great and appreciated. Yet she didn’t fully listen to my brief talk to the group—where I mentioned that I work remote from the publishing house in Scottsdale, Arizona. Nor did she process the information on my business card which lists my Scottsdale mailing address. Instead, she sent her thank you note to the editorial offices in West Monroe.  I don’t get much of my physical mail in these offices, so someone had to address an envelope and send me this thank you note.  The note when the long way to reach me—and it required additional energy from the editorial office personnel. I could have read it, appreciated the note and pressed on to other things. Instead, I took the effort and wrote this writer calling it to her attention. She responded and expressed appreciation for my extra effort.

Each of us want to be professional in our presentations and book proposals. It’s key to develop and foster relationships with editors and other writers.  It’s the only way we learn about this business. I’ve made my fair share of goofs along the journey so please don’t take it that I’m perfect in this area. I’m a work in progress but my hope is these stories have helped you in the journey.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Face to Face Help

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Independents Miss Sales

Authors love the independent bookstores. Some of these store are disappearing around the country because of the competition from the big box name brand retailers but whenever I can, I love to shop and support these bookstores. I hope you have a bent of preference toward these stores. Why? The people in the stores generally love books. They handsell a lot of books to customers who walk into the shop and are unsure what they want to read.

I was fascinated to read this article in the current Publisher’s Weekly from Debbie Macomber and her long-time editor Paula Eykelhof called Romancing the Store. It points out the value of romance fiction— the largest selling genre of fiction saying, “There’s a simple reason for this: series romance has provided a way in for unknown female authors other publishers are not willing to take a chance on. Even now, bestselling authors of the future are honing their talent in series romance, publishing book after book, learning their craft, establishing their audience...Unfortunately, they're doing it without the support of many independent booksellers, who refuse to carry series romance. It seems an odd decision, given that series romance is not only wildly popular, but also greatly influential in shaping commercial fiction.”

It’s a shame that the independents are ignoring series romance according to these authors. Here’s another interesting detail in this article, “Many independents ignore some of the most popular books available to them. Stocking series is an opportunity for booksellers to expand their customer base—especially since the evidence shows that more women than men read fiction. In fact, one recent study said the ratio is two-to-one. And romance is fiction written almost exclusively by and for women.”

As I pointed out several weeks ago, Publisher’s Weekly had a cover story about Debbie Macomber called How They Do Debbie. Since the cover story, Debbie has made additional news signing to write her first nonfiction book with Faith Words.

Reading-Between-the-Lines-cRecently I was reading the Romance Writers Report—a publication from the Romance Writers of America. Because I know Debbie, I read the side bar in this magazine labeled, “What is Debbie Macomber reading?” I sat up and took notice when she mentioned writing a quote (her term for endorsement) for Rick Hamlin’s Reading Between The Lines. Why? It’s a book I had acquired for Howard Books and releases next month but I had not seen this endorsement. Rick Hamlin is the executive editor for Guideposts—one of the top 25 circulation magazines in the United States and this book marks the first romance novel in the Howard Books line of fiction. I tracked down this endorsement so you can read it:

“I’ll confess I approached Reading Between The Lines with a bit of hesitation. I wasn’t sure how well a male would do creating romantic fiction yet I thoroughly enjoyed this story. Endearing and touching in turns, Reading Between The Lines will capture the romantic heart. I was captivated and charmed and you will be too.”

--Debbie Macomber, New York Times best-selling romance novelist with over 60 million books in print and author of Susannah’s Garden

Whether you know it or not, this type of endorsement is rare. The bestselling authors are constantly asked from people they know and people they don’t know for these types of endorsements. In this case, you can tell Debbie read the book before she wrote her endorsement—another time consuming issue for these authors. If you enjoy romance books, I highly recommend this novel.

Early tomorrow, I travel to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference so my writing in these entries over the next few days may not happen. I’d encourage you to go to this page at Annie Jennings PR and download these free MP3 teleseminars and listen to them. I’ve not heard them but it’s definitely on my to-do list.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

Some Times You Kickstart

I’ve written a great deal about traditional publishing in these entries on the writing life. Here’s a topic I haven’t tackled—until today. What happens if you’ve tried the regular publishing channels and haven’t been able to publish something you seriously believe should be in print? You’ve learned your writing craft. You’ve been to a few writer’s conferences and made some relationships with editors so your proposed projects gain serious consideration. You’ve learned how to write a solid book proposal locate an editor who believes in you and your project. I understand the effort and energy that you’ve poured into each of these steps. Also I know firsthand that many people don’t pour the right energy and effort into these steps—so they are constantly rejected with almost no understanding of the reasons. But you’ve done your work and hooked an editor on your concept. It’s gone ahead into the publishing process and various executives have read your material—yet it’s never reached the stage where you get a book contract. Now what?

There are many reasons why books get rejected and not contracted. Some of these reasons are things the author can fix and some of them are completely out of your control. I’m going to detail these reasons this coming week in Philadelphia (yes that was a hint to come to this session). When you reach this point in the process, you can do one of two things. You could decide the market isn’t ready for your concept, stick it into a file drawer and move on to another project. This decision is perfectly OK and something I’ve done with a number of my projects over the years. I’ve certainly marketed the daylights out of some proposals which have never found a publishing home. Agents have championed these projects and in some cases, I’ve completely rewritten these proposals yet they haven’t been printed. I assume it wasn’t the right time for that particular effort and I’ve pressed on to other things which do get published.

Or there is another route to try which is often a much harder route—called self-publishing or you could use Print On Demand or POD. There are many of these places for this effort. It’s almost like rabbits—they seem to be multiplying and I learn about new ones all the time. It’s a harder route on many fronts—including the main one—distribution. How will you get your book out into the marketplace so people can located it and purchase it? Will you be able to market it and build enthusiasm from readers? Will it be a quality effort? Many self-published projects have a bad rap because they don’t go through all of the reviews, edits and checking process in traditional publishing. But you can conquer these hurdles—if you really believe in what you have written. Like a stubborn motorcycle, some times you have to kickstart a particular concept before it catches on in the marketplace.

Would-be writers love these stories that I’m going to point out—but let me say upfront—they are the exception rather than the rule. The majority of self-published books sell few copies. As this website points out, “Getting published was no easier for them than it is for anyone else. But instead of sitting around waiting for the magic to happen, they had enough faith in themselves and in their work to take the self-publishing route. Though big publishing companies coined terms like “vanity press” and tried their best to make it difficult for authors to self publish, these writers did it anyway.” On a couple of pages, this site points out some of these stories:

John Grisham self published A Time to Kill. He sold his first work out of the trunk of his car. [OK, I just found another fact on this one--apparently it was not self-published. Look at this rare interview from Grisham for the straight story.]

H. Jackson Brown self published Life’s Little Instruction Book yet eventually it reached the top of the New York Times Bestseller List where it sold over five million copies.

Richard Evans took six weeks to write the 87-page book, The Christmas Box. After getting it published himself, it did so well he sold out to Simon & Schuster for $4.2 million. In my books, I’ve got one of these self-published books which Richard signed for me before it went to Simon and Schuster.

Each of these authors invested a great deal of energy and effort in their writing then in pushing their book into the marketplace of ideas. Eventually these books caught on and the rest of the story is all that anyone remembers.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Realities of Rejection

This week an unpublished writer wrote and asked, “What will it take for me to get published? I’m willing to get rejected 20 times.”  On one hand the attitude is pretty healthy to understand that rejection is a part of the writing life.  Some people think they have a fantastic book idea and present their idea once or twice, then give up.  From my experience, it often takes more than 20 times to find someone to publish your magazine idea or your book idea, what about the next time?

Some people get frustrated with the process of traditional publishing, so they publish and promote their own book.  Many of them are poorly produced and struggle to get these self-published products into the marketplace. Others have the writing skills, know how to get their book edited and properly launched into the marketplace.  For an example of this type of response, here’s part of an email I received yesterday from my friend, Bob Bly: “In 1988, Richard Armstrong was a young freelance copywriter who charged about $2,500 for a direct-mail package. A few years later, he was one of the highest paid copywriters in the business, routinely charging $22,500 per package. What made the difference?  It wasn’t royalties.  It wasn’t inflation.  It wasn’t because Richard suddenly became a better copywriter.  It happened because of one little change Richard made in how he MANAGED his business.  It was a tiny tweak in policy that YOU can make today.  (And by the way, it applies not just to copywriters, but to any kind of consultant or marketing professional.)  To celebrate the publication of his new novel - God Doesn’t Shoot Craps (a novel about a direct-mail Copywriter!) - Richard is giving away an instant PDF download of his special report, “Make More Money By Writing Less.” To download your complimentary copy, please go to: http://www.goddoesntshootcraps.com and click on the navigation bar that says, “GIFT FOR COPYWRITERS.”

I’ve not seen this book but I was intrigued enough to order one. It will be an interesting experiment for me. I’m not the only one who ordered this self-published book—especially if you look at the Amazon ranking (currently below 300). Anyway, some of you might be interested in taking advantage of the free report (which is another reason I included it here).

Kitchen Privileges coverI began thinking about this process of rejection again when several weeks ago I read this quotation in Publisher’s Weekly from bestselling author, Mary Higgins Clark, “I knew I wanted to be a writer as a child. The first thing I wrote was a poem, when I was seven., It’s pretty bad, but my mother thought it was beautiful and made me recite it for everyone who came in. I’m sure the captive audience was ready to shoot me, but that kind of encouragement nurtures a budding talent. From the time I was seven, I also kept diaries. I can read them now and look back at what I was like at different ages. I still keep diaries; they are a great help to my novels. No one has seen them—they are locked in a trunk.” OK—that was interesting about her writing—but here’s the sentence that caught my attention: “It took Clark six years and 40 rejection slips before she sold a short story to Extension magazine in 1956 for $100.”  See the persistence and the time involved—and when it happened. Today Mary Higgins Clark continues as one of the bestselling novelist. It’s something to keep in mind for your own experience in this business. Some time ago, I read Higgins Clark’s memoir, Kitchen Privileges. It’s an interesting glimpse into the life of this bestselling writer.

My stack of submissions for Howard Books fiction has grown rather tall. Over the next day or two I’m hopeful to whittle it back to a more manageable number.  Each day when I receive these submissions, I open them and process each one. I’ve made some initial decisions but I haven’t communicated with the author. These rejection notices need to be logged then mailed. I’m not eager to do it but it’s a necessary part of the process.  While I have no eagerness to do it, I know  in some small way, I’m bringing these writers the realities of rejection. They might not like my response—but at least I respond.


Wednesday, August 02, 2006

In Constant Motion

You have limited resources to attend writer’s conferences. Time and money are the normal constraints for most of us. If you could go to one conference and only one for the year, where would you go? The answer to this question is as individual as what type of books do you like to read? One person prefers nonfiction say history books while another is constantly reading political thrillers or someone else loves a good mystery.

There are a number of outstanding writer’s conferences in the country. Each one have their own emphasis and their own benefits. For many years, the Christian writing community has turned to Mount Hermon’s Christian Writer’s Conference as one of the premiere events each spring. It is an outstanding conference and one that I’ve attended and taught a number of times over the last twenty years.  I’ve watched this particular conference grow and change and constantly improve. For many years, a growing band of novelists gathered at this conference to network with editors and literary agents, grow in their craft and simply enjoy time together.  I continue to hear excellent comments about the fiction track of workshops. In the community of editors and agents, many of these colleagues only attend one or two conferences a year. Most of them have Mount Hermon on their “must do” list of conferences.

ACFWlargelogoThat first place choice of a single writer’s conference for Christian fiction writers is in constant motion.  I think there has been a shift in the landscape.

Several years ago a group of Christian novelists banded together to form the American Christian Romance Writers. As their numbers increased so did the composition of the group. It became broader than just the romance genre (which is still a key part of the group). They changed their name (and went through huge work to change their website and resources) to the American Christian Fiction Writers. Membership is simple and inexpensive.  Unlike the American Society of Journalists and Authors (where I’m on their board), they have no prerequisite other than an interest in Christian fiction. Instantly you join this welcoming and knowledgeable group of writers who are striving to improve the quality of Christian fiction and their individual craft—which are all admirable goals from this editor’s perspective.

While ACFW membership has many benefits, one of their key events is their annual conference.  Among some of the discussions I’ve had with other fiction editors and literary agents, they have modified their first choice for a conference. It seems to be shifting toward the Annual Conference for the ACFW.  If you want to get some insight, just check out their buzz page.  While I will not be attending this year’s conference ( it simply didn’t fit my plans this year), if you write or want to write Christian fiction, I’d encourage you to consider attending this Dallas conference.  The array of speakers, editors and agents is impressive—but you will equally learn a great deal from the best-selling authors who attend (members of ACFW).  A couple of years ago, I attended this conference and enjoyed the experience, the caliber of writers that I met and the interaction.

It seems like almost everyone I meet is trying to write a Christian novel. The operative word in the last sentence was “trying.” If you are in this area of the market, one of the ways to boost your own writing, cut off years of hard knocks learning and form some great relationships, then the annual conference may be just what you need to get you to the next level in your journey in the writing life.


Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Living the Dream

I’m sure you’ve heard the story about the best-selling author who told his agent, “It only took me ten years to become an overnight success.”  In fact, if you google the words “years overnight success” you will discover a number of “overnight success” stories which are all amazing—yet each with a different number of years. This story is one of those stories but I wanted to tell you about someone who is living out her dream and some of what it took. I can’t tell you all of what it took because I only know my view of the story.

Four and a half years ago, I stepped into my first book acquisitions editor position. As a part of my role, I contacted a number of bestselling author friends asking them for the opportunity to do their next book (rare because most of these people are tied up) or recommendations of other projects on their radar. Gary Smalley told me about Dr. Debbie Cherry, an unpublished author yet one of the few young female Christian psychologists on Gary’s radar. With Smalley’s encouragement, I got in touch with Debbie. While unpublished, through the mentoring of Smalley, Debbie was already connected to one of the leading Christian literary agents. My publishing house was not on the short list (or any list at that time) to receive Debbie’s first book proposal.  As a proactive acquisitions editor, I tracked down this proposal (asked for it essentially), read it and loved the concept and took it to my publishing board, pitched it and received their approval. I worked up the financial numbers within the publishing house and negotiated a two-book deal for Dr. Cherry—her first. I was thrilled because of her enthusiasm for her topic, her willingness to get out there and try new efforts to raise her visibility—and her great content. The content is always going to be the foundation of a good book.  Yet if you don’t know it, the parenting/ marriage/ family area of the marketplace is one of the most crowded subject areas. It is tough to break into this area of the market with anything new because of the seasoned authors already in this area with their established readers and the large backlist or previously published and still in print books (perennial sellers for the particular publisher).

Debbie and her husband, Jim, came to the publishing house and made a great impression. Debbie’s first book was Discovering the Treasure of Marriage. Several months before the release of her book, she prepared little treasure chests filled with chocolate and some little information about the book. With each visit to various people inside the publisher, Debbie pulled out one of these treasure chests and left it as a gift. It made a great impression and people loved her and recalled her book with the little treasure chests on their desks.

Child-proofing-Your-MarriagWhen the trade show opened for the Christian Booksellers Association, I walked the floor for a brief time with Debbie. It was loads of fun looking at the different products and introducing her to a few people. She worked hard to promote her first book at that convention and other places. The results were OK but nothing smashing. Then Debbie wrote her second book and it released, Child-proofing Your Marriage, Keeping Your Marriage a Priority During the Parenting Years. It’s another solid parenting book with great content—which released in 2004 or two years ago.

Yesterday and today, Debbie has been on the Focus on the Family broadcast talking about Child-proofing Your Marriage. This broadcast is heard on more than 2,000 U.S. radio stations with a listening audience estimated at 1.5 million. I caught part of the broadcast yesterday and it was terrific. I talked with Debbie yesterday afternoon and told her how she seemed like the perfect guest in that she was relaxed and laughing yet gave serious practical advice to parents throughout the entire conversation. It was a great mix of her personal stories, tips from the book combined with her years of practical experience as a counselor working with families on these key issues. We celebrated how years ago, Debbie dreamed of being on the Focus on the Family broadcast and talking about one of her books.  Of course, we were imagining and dreaming before any book was in print.

 I’ve been trying to get this entry posted but other things have been coming into my schedule for the day. It happens. Here’s the lesson for any writer from this story. First, it takes time to become an “overnight success.” Also you have to have an excellent message as the foundation. Dr. Debbie Cherry has the counseling experience and person experience to be guiding people into the truth with her book. It is an excellent message. It also takes persistence to pursue the dream and get the message out to the broadest number of people. I’ve seen too many people give up during the journey. Will you persist? Also look at the preparation and stage presence that Debbie presented on the radio broadcast.  To give an excellent radio interview takes effort—even if she made it look easy. It’s a skill that writers need to develop. Finally to achieve the dream of getting your message out takes faithfulness. I know through the years, Debbie has consistently worked on this dream. It finally happened and hopefully for her this broadcast is the first of many such opportunities. The dream goes on—for Dr. Debbie Cherry and for us.