Thursday, November 30, 2006

Book Sales & The First Five Pages

Book-Proposals-That-Sell-coI’m one of the almost 48,000 people on Mahesh Grossman’s e-zine list. Like many of the things that come across my desk, often I read it, then delete it. If you don’t get his newsletter, then use the link in his bio to subscribe. Yesterday’s newsletter included a couple of interesting articles from him and his newsletter gave permission to reuse them—as long as you included his bio (and I added his byline). It’s another reality check for writers in several areas—the number of book sales—and the type of effort you have to pour into your book proposals and submissions to get any place in this process. I was discussing this very topic yesterday with someone I’m working with on one of my own book proposals in the process. He said to me, “Terry, if it was easy, then everyone would do it.” It’s true. It’s not easy and takes hard work and solid storytelling skills to pull off a successful book.

I hope you will enjoy and benefit from these articles.


by Mahesh Grossman

I get a lot of calls and e-mails from the subscribers to this newsletter that start off with a comment like 'My book is a guaranteed bestseller.'

If you say that to me on the phone, my response is likely to be curmudgeonly. If you write that to me in an e-mail, it decreases the chance I will respond to you.

Nobody actually knows that a book will make the bestseller list, especially by an author who isn't well-known.

Here are some sobering statistics from Nielsen Bookscan, a company that in 2004 tracked the sales of 1.2 million books in the United States:

  • Of those 1.2 million books, 950,000 sold fewer than 99 copies.
  • Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies.
  • Only 25,000 books sold more than 5,000 copies.
  • Fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000 copies.
  • Only 10 books sold more than a million copies each.
  • The average book in the United States sells about 500 copies.

(The above info is reprinted from the Levine Breaking News, one of my favorite e-zines. To subscribe, send your email address to: Join-elert@pr2.netatlantic.com.)

In other words, almost 80% of the books tracked sold less than 99 copies. And more than 95% sold less than 1,000 copies.

Now you know why The Authors Team doesn't work on a book for part of the profits. 99% of the time we'd starve.

Here are the two main lessons you can take from this:

1) Agents and editors know these statistics. Because of that, you look like an amateur if you say your book will be a bestseller in your query letter or when you meet with them. They will then look for reasons to turn you down when they read your manuscript or proposal, rather than keeping an open mind.

2) Writing a book just to make money doesn't usually work, unless you're already famous. If you're writing non-fiction, particularly as a way to promote your business, a book needs to be part of an overall strategy that includes publicity, developing a mailing list, and creating other products (paid newsletters, teleseminars, CDs, DVDs, boot camps, coaching and training programs, etc.) for which you can charge higher prices.



By Mahesh Grossman

Here's the truth about how it works when you submit your novel or a book proposal to an agent: Typically, yours is one of about two hundred submissions the agent gets in a week.

With that kind of volume, the agent or his assistant is not reading carefully. Though they have a goal of finding new properties to sell, at this stage of the process agents have a different mission: rule out as many manuscripts as possible so they can spend more time reading the best stuff.

In real terms, unless your manuscript is one of the top few in a given week, you'll get a polite rejection letter.

Most agents will take five pages along with a query letter. And one of my agent friends says she skips the query altogether until she reads the sample five pages.

But--and this is really important--since an agent is looking to rule out manuscripts that aren't ready, if your first page (and sometimes even your first paragraph) isn't strong enough, you will land in the reject pile.

Literally every unpublished manuscript I have seen in the last few years has suffered from this problem. Even the best, which recently landed an agent, needed a complete re-do of the first two pages.

Maybe it's because most people start their novels at the beginning, and they don't know their story or characters well enough until later in the book. Maybe new writers write better as they get further into the story.

Whatever the case, you can't afford to wait until page three (or seven or fifty) for your best writing. It has to start with page one, sentence one, and continue with sentence two, sentence three, etc. Otherwise your manuscript is bound for the reject pile.

What's the biggest reason agents get turned off by a writer's first page? Instead of starting where the real story begins, with the juicy stuff, writers fill their first pages with either dull, unnecessary scenes or background information that can be skipped. I've seen manuscripts that begin with the equivalent to the words that appear on the screen before a movie begins--the stuff that's too boring to waste money filming. Obviously, this is not the kind of writing that will make a great first impression on an agent.

One of my favorite examples of a great beginning is from Jennifer Weiner's novel, 'Good In Bed'. It starts with a big event that propels the story. The first four words of this novel push you right into the story--the main character's best friend simply asks, 'Have you seen it?'

The 'it' in question is an article by the protagonist's somewhat ex-boyfriend (they're taking a break), in a national magazine, titled 'Loving a Larger Woman.'

Her reaction to this article is entertaining and keeps you reading for a long time to come. Eventually Weiner fills you in on the story between the ex and the main character on a need to know basis, but she doesn't let it get in the way of the important material that's happening right now.

This novel starts with the event that changes the main character's life--which is where most stories should begin. (There are other ways to start a novel, but this is a very good one.)

Where does your novel start? And what can you cut from your beginning without hurting your story?

My advice? Be ruthless.

Here's to your bestseller!

MaheshgrossmanMahesh Grossman is the author of Write a Book Without Lifting a Finger (www.writeabooktoday.com) and President of The Authors Team (www.AuthorsTeam.com), a company that helps credible experts become Incredible Authors, through ghostwriting, editing, coaching, and publishing. He can be reached via e-mail at: GetPublished@AuthorsTeam.com. For a free list of more than 400 agents as well as a newsletter with tips on how to find an agent, get published, publish your own book and get publicity for it, go to www.findagreatliteraryagent.com or www.AuthorsTeam.com. ©2006

This link to the agent list is a way to get the list of the Association of Author Representatives. Many other agents follow the ethical standards of the AAR but don’t belong to the organization. The list can be a resource—but it can also be overwhelming. If you are going to use this list, understand that just like approaching any publisher requires research, it also requires research to approach an agent and make sure you are pitching something of interest for that agent. If you don’t use this list of agents with wisdom, then you are simply throwing more material into the system, clogging it and going to reap a lot of rejections. Information is power but how you use that information is critical.


Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Test Your Book Knowledge

BlankbookLast Sunday’s New York Times book review section included a fascinating essay by Henry Alford called Name That Book.  It’s not really an essay but a multiple choice quiz about books. You may or may not recognize all of the authors and the titles in this exercise but I’d encourage you to read through it.  Why?

Embedded in the questions and the answers are some insights into how the publishing business works. The business is constantly in motion and changing as circumstances and authors change. Just look for a minute at question #8 about Donald Trump. “By the time Donald Trump’s “Surviving at the Top” came out in paperback in 1991, Trump had declared bankruptcy and was $2 billion in debt, so the book was renamed:

a. “The Art of Survival”

b.”How to Survive”

c. “Trump: La Lucha Continua”

d. “Do I Owe You Money?”

The answer is a. The Art of Survival. See how the publisher made an adjustment so the paperback edition reflected the reality of Trump’s situation—yet still attracted readers? It reveals the type of decisions which are being made daily in the publishing world.  It also returns to a theme which I’ve hit several times in these entries about the writing life: a show stopping title is critical to finding your audience. Follow this link to get Mahesh Grossman’s report Strategies for a Six-Figure Advance. Then do more than download it. Study it and apply it to your book proposal writing.


Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Until The Fat Lady Sings

Maybe you’ve heard the expression, it’s not over until the fat lady sings. It’s rarely discussed in publishing (at least from what I’ve read) but it’s true in book publishing as well.  A book isn’t a book until it’s actually published. Yes, you want to celebrate if you are offered a book contract from a traditional publishing house.  But if you carefully read the contract, there are benchmarks for the publisher and for the author. If something isn’t met along the way, then the book can be cancelled and not published. It’s why I’ve encouraged authors to celebrate when they actually hold the book in their hand. Yes, work hard to get exposure and market your book but also realize you’ve achieved a real milestone when your book appears in print. As an editor and as the author, I’ve been involved in some of these challenges and it’s not easy but it does happen. I’ll not be detailing them in these entries but I have had some unpleasant experiences in this area of publishing.

PumpkinsWhy am I introducing this topic? I was fascinated to see the detail in this article in the November 20th issue of Publishers Weekly titled, “Witch Scares Off S & S.”  It gives you a taste of this dynamic process of publishing and some of the discussions that authors and publishers have before a book releases into the marketplace. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers originally contracted to publish  Ken Robbins’ book, Pumpkins. The author/ illustrator of over 25 children’s books, Robbins had a disagreement with the publisher about an illustration in the book with a witch.  The Publishers Weekly article includes the illustration but I could not located it online to show you. The publisher was concerned the religious right would object to the witch illustration and asked for it to be removed. Robbins decided not to change the image and got his rights back from S & S, then took the book to another publisher, Roaring Brook Press, a part of Holzbrinck Publishers. If you carefully read this article, you will see some of the negotiations and the decisions made for this particular title. It’s not an isolated story but happens throughout publishing.

I call this article to your attention for several reasons. First, some authors are pretty combative with their editor in the editing process. I mean they almost fight every single part of the process. If you are one of these types of writers, I’d encourage you to loosen your stance in this area. The publisher wants to produce the best possible book product to sell into the marketplace (which they intimately understand). The work between the author and the editor is a cooperative venture with the goal of producing excellence. Just be aware that you have to pick and choose your battles carefully because some of these battles will be a deal breaker (cancel the book which is not a happy situation for anyone). The process isn’t over until it’s over. It’s a valuable call to excellence and cooperation in my view.


Monday, November 27, 2006

Colorado Springs Publisher Overview

With great interest, I read this well-written article from Lynn Garrett and Cindy Crosby titled, “Evangelical Publishers Flourish in ‘The Springs’” which appeared in the November 20th issue of Publisher’s Weekly. I’ve been a subscriber to this publication for years and in recent months, they’ve been improving this educational portion of the magazine. Because I used to live in Colorado Springs and even work for one of the publishers mentioned, I enjoyed their detailed analysis of the various publishers. Like much of publishing, things continue to evolve and change and it was good to get some update. If you read the article carefully, you can note some of these changes. For example, they interviewed the publisher at NavPress Paul Westervelt and last I heard they were still searching for whoever was going to take this position. Without any fanfare, this type of information is inside this article.

CookbuildingHere’s a few words from the article which provide a bit of a bellwether to another publisher, Cook (where I used to work as their acquisitions editor) “The past year has brought new top leadership and reorganization to Cook, which has 336 employees in its four locations, 225 of them in Colorado Springs. Cris Doornbos took the helm as president last fall after 22 years at Zondervan. Senior v-p and publisher Dan Rich came on board in May, and Don Pape took over as publisher of the book division two months ago. In the past year Cook published some 150 titles— “to many,” said Rich, who is rethinking the company’s acquisitions strategy. Echoing many publishers these days, he said, “We’d like to do fewer better.” Its bestselling title last year was Cracking Da Vinci’s Code—which has sold almost 350,000 in the U.S. alone—but that was a unique opportunity that will be hard to duplicate. The plan is to cut down to 80 titles this year and 60 in 2007, and, Rich said, “We’re looking for more marquee authors to do books that will appeal to pastors and other leaders and help shape the future of the church.”

If you don’t know, this paragraph indicates a philosophy change which will take time to execute. Several years ago, the philosophy involved producing many different titles in a single year and consistently selling a certain amount for each title. I understand from some of my publishing colleagues that it is possible to have a successful publishing program with this model. I confess that I don’t understand it in many ways because essentially you overload your editors and run a lot of books through the publishing house. The authors and literary agents aren’t pleased with the results of such a program because most of the books have modest (read small) sales numbers. Many publishers have a different philosophy of publishing fewer titles and selling them deeper into the marketplace. It’s the philosophy that Dan Rich said above as the new philosophy. I understand these changes will not happen overnight but will take time to implement. Why? Notice the quotation above about marquee authors? Many authors who sell in large volume will be hesitant to work with a publisher who has a track record of mostly modest sales. It takes time to change the perception of any publisher.

Some of you might be asking if this change is good for authors. From one view, it’s less opportunity for your book to be published because the publisher is planning on less books. That’s one view. Also it means that writers need to work harder on the ideas they propose to show the publisher the sales potential of that particular idea. I’m undaunted with the reduced list because it means the books which are selected are expected to sell more copies (which is always good for the author in the long run). It means if you are going to succeed at this publisher, you will need to sharpen your book proposal and rejection-proof your submission giving it the absolute best chance of success. It will take hard work and imagination and creativity to succeed. These elements are something that many people aren’t willing to put into their proposals but if you do it, then you will find a publisher for your work.


Sunday, November 26, 2006

When You Can't Finish

Maybe you’ve always been able to finish a book project that you’ve started, if you fall into this camp, you can quit reading this entry and go on to something else since you will not be able to relate to this entry. If you’ve struggled to complete a nonfiction book or a novel, then you are in good company. I’ve had it happen to me often in the writing process. It’s not that I recall these incidents, but my wife certainly recalls them. I will begin the conversation, “I can’t figure out how to finish…” and Christine will cut me off in mid-sentence saying, “Oh, I’ve heard you say that before, go back there and finish.” With this verbal equivalent of a kick in the backside, I return to my chair and finish. It does happen.

StrangerThe writer’s struggle to complete the work is the main premise behind the movie, Stranger Than Fiction. Check out the button characters and the different little fun motions for the gadgets. Author Karen Effiel can’t decide how to finish her novel about Harold Crick, who turns out to be a real person. While I knew this movie was about a writer and several friends encouraged me to see it—I didn’t choose this film. I left it in the capable hands of my wife and her youngest daughter. They looked over the various possibilities and yesterday they selected Stranger Than Fiction and I got to see it too.

It is not a blockbuster sort of film which will top the box office yet to my surprise every seat in theater was filled. The author Karen Effiel (actor Emma Thompson) has some quirky writer habits such as chain smoking cigarettes and extinguishing them with her saliva (or worse) in a piece of paper towel which she holds. Effiel narrates the film and tells her story about Harold Crick, who turns out to be a real person (actor Will Ferrell). Crick begins hearing this narrator’s voice in his head telling me about things as he does them. Increasingly it becomes an annoying experience for Crick and he yells at the unseen voice. He appeals for help from a college literature Professor Jules Hilbert (actor Dustin Hoffman) and eventually he tracks down the mysterious author Karen Effiel (who is a recluse) but Harold Crick is an IRS agent with his own resources for locating people.

Overall it’s an interesting story about the creative process, writer’s block, the difficulty of finishing a long book and some of the ups and downs of the writing life. It’s a bit slow in a couple of places and there is an unnecessary (but startling) scene where Frick and Hilbert walk through a men’s locker room shower. You can close your eyes if you don’t want to see some old guy’s back side. One balancing figure for Karen Effiel is Penny Escher (actor Queen Latifah), who has been sent from the author’s publisher to help her finish the novel (which is late). Escher plays part psychologist and part assistant but encourages Effiel to complete the book. It’s a role that I’ve often played in the lives of writers.

I recommend this film but make sure you take your family members and watch it with them. It may help them understand a bit of where you are coming from in life and how you approach the different parts of your own writing life.


Saturday, November 25, 2006

Dan Poynter on YouTube

For many years, I've heard about Dan Poynter and his self publishing efforts. I've yet to read one of his books or attend one of his seminars. Today I located this short ten-minute clip on YouTube and enjoyed watching it. I've never embedded any YouTube clips in my entries about the Writing Life but this one is relevant and I learned something else in the process. I'm intrigued about how Poynter is using this clip as another viral marketing effort for his work and his business. Maybe it will spark an idea for one of you and how you could use it for your own writing efforts.


Friday, November 24, 2006

Money, Books and Other Statistics

During the last few days, I read through my blogroll, checked some links and made a few modifications. I don’t get to this task as often as I would like but I learned a great deal from the exercise.  Several months ago, I exchanged links with Big Bad Book Blog from the Greenleaf Book Group. They have some interesting articles if you haven’t checked this one in some time.

MoneyI stumbled across this article from Justin Branch called, “How Much Money Do Most Authors Make? And Other Provocative Industry Stats.” Occasionally authors will ask me about how to find sales numbers and other information for their book proposal creation. Sales numbers are good to include, if you can get them.  You will quickly discover that some publishers are more liberal with this information than others.  I’ve found most of the time, it’s a challenge to find such information.

What I found attractive from this article was not only the information from Branch but that he included the basic website links where he located the data.  Notice his opening paragraph begins with a large caveat about the statistical information in the article?  I was interested to see the quotation from the Authors Guild: “A successful nonfiction book sells 7,500 copies.” The figure that I’ve heard is often less and that anything over 5,000 is good. The last time I mentioned this figure during my teaching at a writer’s conference several large gasps came from the audience since they figured the number would be much higher. Naturally every author and publisher want to sell much more than 7,500 books. At the same time, you want to feel good about how your book compares to other titles and it’s a number to keep in mind. One of the keys from my view is to find different ways to bring the book in front of your audience.

I appreciated Branch’s key takeaway from these numbers: “The most important thing to take away from this is that the book industry is a competitive one. To have a shot, a book must be well written, well packaged, well distributed, and well marketed. Above all, the book needs an audience and that audience must want the book.”

Speaking of competition, for several days this week my Straight Talk from the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission (the Amazon Short) was in the number one spot for best-selling Shorts. It’s an instant download in a PDF file. If you haven’t picked it up, I’d encourage you to do it—and whether you write fiction or nonfiction

One writer picked up Straight Talk, read it and commented she felt it only applied to nonfiction writers. She wondered why I posted about it on the American Christian Fiction Writers forum.  The majority of my personal examples in the Short were from my nonfiction writing. I’ve not published any novels—yet I feel that every writer can profit from learning more about how the editor thinks and processes submissions. Also whether you write fiction or nonfiction, every writer who applies the last six keys to their submission will differentiate their submission from anything else under consideration and increase the attractiveness of their submission.  If you are reading Straight Talk expecting some guarantee, you will not find it. It is impossible for anyone to guarantee anything since the process is as much art as science. It’s a matter of giving each submission your best possible effort. Then maybe you can beat some of these statistics.


Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Bridge the Chasm with Grace

Bret-LottLast summer I attended the Christy Awards Banquet in Denver. It’s an annual celebration of the best of Christian fiction and the room was filled with some bestselling authors along with editors and others who just love a good book. Best-selling author Bret Lott gave the keynote address. From his words, I could tell he was a bit out of his element—and even felt the need to give his background and validate why he was speaking to the group.

Why would I return to such an event months after the fact? After the dinner, I asked the Christy Awards Director, Donna Kehoe if the beautiful speech would be available online for others to read. As many writers, Bret wrote exactly what he said to the group, Donna promised to check on it. Yesterday Donna wrote and told me the keynote address had been posted on the Christy Award site for the last month. I’ll admit that I don't go to this site often so without her email, I would not have known about it.

Last night, I printed Bret’s speech and relived the experience of hearing it last summer. It stirred something inside of me and hopefully it will for you as well. One of his challenges to the audience was to be a Christian who writes rather than a Christian writer. It’s a message that resonated with me and some of the circumstances that I find for my writing life. It’s a good theme to revisit occasionally. Here’s one paragraph of a terrific keynote which stood out to me: “Christ’s stories surprised His listeners. They were unexpected, yet the surprise of them was totally logical and clear and, finally, the kind of surprise that makes good literature good literature: the surprise turn in a story—not of plot, but of character—when the reader must come face to face with himself, and his own failures, and the dust of his own life, a dust with which we are each of us fully familiar, but which we forget about or ignore or accommodate ourselves to. The dust of our lives that we have grown accustomed to, and which it takes a piece of art created in the spirit of Christ to remind us of ourselves, and our distance from our Creator—and the chasm that is bridged by Grace.”

Christian-Short-StoriesNo matter what you are writing can you bridge the chasm with grace? It’s worthy of our consideration. Whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction or if you are writing a magazine article or an article for something online, are you devoted to the craft of writing and producing the best possible end result?

One of the gifts each person at the Christy Awards received was a copy of The Best Christian Short Stories edited by Bret Lott. I love the short story but I confess that I haven’t had a chance to read this volume. It looks excellent and is worth knowing about it’s availability.

Let me conclude this entry on the writing life with the words Bret Lott used to wrap his keynote: “Rather, I’d like you to think, he wanted me to think for myself, and to create--and to edit, and to market, and to sell—books that will magnify Christ in the way that only I—you listening to me—can magnify Him. That's all. And it is work enough—and joy enough—to last each of us our own lifetime.”

Yes, it is work enough —and joy enough—for a lifetime.


Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Watch for Fake PR

Maybe you’ve heard about Michael Crichton’s forthcoming book, Next.  Right after Thanksgiving, it will release into the bookstores. HarperCollins is printing two million copies for their first release—which is a large number of books for any publisher.

I’d encourage you to watch for the Internet ads related to this book. I’ve already spotted one of them on Shelf Awareness but when I tried the link I had saved to show you, another ad was appearing. Last week’s Wall Street Journal included an article called “Believe It or Not, Fake Biotech Firm Is Key Marketing Ploy for Crichton Novel.” As the article explains, some of these fake schemes can lead to a backlash. It will be interesting to see what happens with this Crichton book. I’ve read many of his books over the years.

I am not a proponent for this type of marketing campaign but it will definitely catch people’s attention. For my way of thinking, there is something with a switch and bait feel about using a fake biotech company as a lure to get readers to learn about a new novel. It risks potential backlash from the public.  It’s something interesting to watch in the days ahead.


Monday, November 20, 2006

Straight Talk For Less than 50 Cents

Every writer struggles to understand rejection.  You have a brilliant idea and craft a query letter or a book proposal.  Then you come up with a list of possible book publishers and submit your material. Then you wait (some times months) for an answer—which comes from the editor. And it’s a form letter with nothing personal and no insight for you to improve on the next submission.

I completely understand the unfair nature of a form rejection letter.  I dislike sending these form letters but as an editor, I have little choice.  It’s not my responsibility to critique the writer’s work or tell them why I returned their work. Also there are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish even a brief specialized note to these authors. Since January, I’ve rejected over 350 submissions with my part-time editor role. You can assume the volume of submissions is even higher many other places. You want to manage your own expectations about receiving any details from the editor about the reason for the rejection letter.  I continue to receive rejection letters for my own submissions—often form letters.  Now many writers will resist seeing the rejection letters.  If they have a literary agent, they feel like they don’t need to see these letters. It’s not true in my view. If I work with a literary agent, I encourage that agent to send me the rejection letters. Why? Then I know my materials are being submitted—and processed through the publishing houses.  It’s frustrating to ask an agent about your book proposal and hear, “I showed it all around and everyone passed.”  Who is “everyone?” The rejection letters give validity that the agent is indeed working for you.  I’ve dissolved my relationship with agents who don’t send rejecStraight-Talk-covertion letters when I’m one of their clients. It’s something else to consider in your own relationship with a literary agent.

Out of my own frustration about not being able to respond to writers and give them reasons, I wrote Straight Talk from the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection Proof-Submission. This new Amazon Short gives six keys why book ideas are rejected, six keys to guarantee rejection and six keys to gain the editor’s attention. Now you know how I came up with 18 keys in this original piece. I could have used this article in many other ways. It could have appeared as a magazine article or as the first chapter of a new book project. Instead, I sent it to Amazon.com for their Amazon Short program. It’s not free but at 49 cents, it’s certainly affordable for every person and you receive it instantly as a PDF download.

It’s part of my ongoing commitment to educate writers and help them understand how to improve their submissions and distinguish their submissions from others.  I hope you will check out Straight Talk from the Editor, give it a Five Star Review on Amazon—and tell all your writer friends about it.  My greatest hope is for you to study these words and apply them to your writing life.  We need more writers who understand the process and can give editors what they need. It’s the editor’s hope for each email and each package. When the rejections pile up, it’s easy to grow discouraged.

Every editor and every literary agent that I know is actively looking. The key is giving them the right project at the right time at the right place.


Sunday, November 19, 2006

Story Substance More Than Fluff

As a young teen, I spent a lot of time curled up with different Ian Fleming books. I was caught in the imaginative twists and turns of James Bond 007. I’ll admit to reading each one of them long before I saw any of the movies. This young reader was impressed with Fleming’s storytelling skills. I also read his Chitty-Chitty Bang Bang book before I ever saw the film.

I read all of the hype about the “new” James Bond, Daniel Craig and the release of the movie, Casino Royale. Bound for a movie yesterday afternoon, the new Bond film looked like about the best choice. My wife sounded a bit skeptical since her preference would usually be a comedy or romantic comedy. The length of the film was also a concern (almost 2 1/2 hours). She looked over the other possibilities and agreed with the choice. We joined moviegoers around the country and saw Casino Royale.

The length of the film wasn’t a concern because from my view there were no slow spots and the time passedCasino Royal in a blink of an eye. The difference was the intricate story and various twists and turns in the plot. Most of these types of movies are filled with special effects and fluff. Now there were plenty of special effects but not as much gadgetry and fluff in Casino Royale from my view. As the photo shows, there is a bit of card playing in this movie. I’ve been playing cards since I was old enough to hold them and especially during the summers at my grandmother’s house (who was a lifelong Baptist).

One of the indicators that I use about the depth and interest for a film is my discussion after the movie with my wife. The twists in this movie are at times subtle. Instead of walking out and saying, “We’ll not be back to that one.” We had the opposite reaction and a stimulating discussion about the various twists and turns of the plot. It showcases the excellent writing in Casino Royale which is always foundational to a good movie.

As you write fiction, can you build enough tension into the plot with subplots and twists and turns to keep the reader engaged? It’s one of the keys to excellent thrillers. It was certainly built into the fiber of Casino Royale. I’m looking for an excuse to see it a second time. It was that good.


Friday, November 17, 2006

A Simple, Customized Bookstore

Astore-logoWhether you have many books in print—or no books in print, it’s easy to create your own customized bookstore.  For several years, I’ve been using links to Amazon as a way to set up my books from my personal website, www.terrywhalin.com. This week I looked into the Amazon.com aStore program. Just use this link to learn more about how you could do it for your blog or your website.  You don’t have to be a computer geek (I’m not very technical even though everyone assumes that I am). The entire program is point and click and or “what you see is what you get.” It involves no programming or computer skill.

The aStore program allows you to create a store with up to 54 different products which you select.  In a short amount of time, I created Terry Whalin’s Bookstore.  I’ve created a store with my own books but I included the box where Amazon will automatically pick similar items.  The bookstore includes a shopping cart and other features.  It’s free. Yes, Amazon.com gets the money from the book purchase and in a matter of minutes, I’ve created something which helps my audience purchase my books. It is worth looking into from my view.

If you look at the bookstore, notice the second item beside Book Proposals That Sell. It’s my Amazon Short called Straight Talk From the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission.  The text is there and available but I’m fine-tuning the cover with Amazon so I’ve not officially launched the product. If you want to get a jump on it—go for it. At 49 cents, it’s the most affordable product that I’ve put together. If you don’t know, the Amazon Short program highlights an original piece of writing.

If you are looking for a way to highlight good books. It’s the easiest system I’ve ever seen to quickly add your own bookstore.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Use The Third Lens

I’ll admit it: I follow the news with an intensity—and I’ve been doing it for years.  Whether it’s my necessity of reading a daily newspaper (and I’ve been known to go to great lengths to find one) or following various news websites throughout my day or watching the national news as I walk on my treadmill, I keep track of the world events.  To show you my long-term interest in the news events, I recall standing in the news room at Indiana University between my college classes.  The Associated Press wire machine spit out news print constantly with the latest news (before the days of the Internet). I was reading those wires when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned.

EpicenterSince his first novel, The Last Jihad, I’ve been an enthused supporter of the writings of Joel C. Rosenberg. If you haven’t read this book, go and find one—with the understanding that it came out before the U.S. invaded Iraq. I’ve read Joel’s other three novels which followed this first one. Each one were pageturners and well-done.  I was a bit amused to see in the back of Joel’s latest book, Epicenter, some reviews for his previous works including The Ezekiel Option. While it doesn’t include my name, I recognized my writing under a review labeled “FaithfulReader.com”: “I was hooked on this book from the first two sentences…The Ezekiel Option stands alone for a tension-filled reading experience. The characters are well-drawn and the dialogue is crisp in this contemporary novel…The tension for the reader grows with each page until you reach a point of no return—where you have to complete the book in that sitting, even if you stay up until the wee hours of the morning.”

With this background, you can imagine my excitement to read Joel’s first nonfiction book, Epicenter, Why the Current Rumblings in the Middle East Will Change Your Future. A respected journalist and Christian, I knew this book would contain solid insight into the political situation of world events.  I read it on the plane back from New York City and it was excellent for my almost five hour flight.  Because Rosenberg has traveled many times to the Middle East and interviewed political leaders, his information contains unusual insight and he documents his information in detail with over 20 pages of end notes.

Today I wanted to point out two small sections of this book. I highly recommend you get the entire book and learn from the insights. In Chapter Eight: Future Headline Kremlin Joins “Axis of Evil,” Forms Military Alliance with Iran, Rosenberg tells about a speech Vice President Dick Cheney delivered on May 4, 2006 which infuriated the Kremlin. “Russia’s leaders have a choice to make, Cheney explained. They can choose the path of freedom and democracy or the path of tyranny and aggression. He noted that the future of peace and security in the twenty-first century will be profoundly affected by the decisions Moscow makes in the coming years, and he insisted that Western leaders are optimistic. “None of us believes that Russia is fated to become an enemy,” he said.  It was a thoughtful, well-reasoned, and much needed speech, and I was glad the White House chose to send such a strong message to President Putin and his top advisors. But that last line troubled me, for when one looks at Russia through not only the political and economic lenses but also through the third lens of Scripture, one sees that Russia is, in fact, designed to become an enemy of the East, and particularly of Israel, in part because of its alliance with Iran.” (p. 103–104)  Then Rosenberg explains his reasons using Ezekiel 38. It’s fascinating to use this third lens of Scripture in the consideration of world events.

Finally here’s a story which is not told in the traditional news media but is included in Epicenter. Rosenberg says, “Even today, an exciting and dramatic spiritual revolution that is being completely missed by the mainstream media is under way throughout the Islamic world. The big (untold) story to the Middle East is that more Muslims are turning to Christ today than any other time in human history, and much of it has happened since 9/11…”One night in a Middle Eastern country I cannot name, I had dinner with an Iraqi pastor from Baghdad. I asked him to paint me a picture of what he was seeing God do in his country. He graciously agreed. “You know, Joel, the best way to think about Iraq right now is to think of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,” he said, referring to the famous story found in Daniel 3. “Remember, they were captives in Babylon, and they refused to bow down and worship the idol that King Nebuchadnezzar had built. So the king ordered that the fiery furnace be heated seven times hotter than usual, and then he threw the men in there. But when the king looked into the furnace, he was stunned. He asked his officials, ‘Didn’t I throw three men in there?’ and they said, ‘Certainly, O king.’ And he said, ‘But look! I see four men walking around in there, without chains on their hands, and without being harmed—and the fourth is like a son of the gods!”

“This is what we are facing today. When you look at the news, you see Iraq on fire—seven times hotter than before—and that’s true. Things are very difficult. There is much violence and bloodshed. But that is only part of the story. That was the view from the outside. On the inside, it looked much different for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Yes, they were inside the flames. But they were also free, and they were walking with Jesus. That’s our situation today. For the first time in our lives, we are free, and Jesus is walking with us, guiding us, helping us to be a blessing to our fellow Iraquis who need his love and his salvation so desperately. We couldn’t be more excited about the miracles God is doing here. We just ask the church outside to keep praying that we are brave enough and worthy enough to bear the name of Jesus.” (p. 215–216)

This taste of Epicenter is just that—a small portion.  As you can see, I am someone who follows the news yet I’m also trying to use the third lens of Scripture. This book contains fresh insight.


Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Good News for Bookstores

A recent issue of Publishers Weekly in one of their first articles proclaimed, “Bookstores Remain Top Destination for Readers.” That’s good news for bookstores. I frequent bookstores every chance that I get. Like when I was walking around Manhattan last week, I dropped inside a Borders bookstore for a few minutes and looked at the new books.

While I’ve heard some writers tell me they never buy books online and always support their local bookstore.  While such an attitude is admirable, it’s not always realistic—especially with great tools online such as BookFinder4U.com. The consumer wants choice so the more venues open for book sales, the better in my view. As writers, we need to use every one of the available tools.  Here’s some more detail about this recent survey from Jim Milliot’s PW article, “The growing popularity of alternative outlets for books was also evident in the report, which found that 43% of customers bought a book through a department store or discount store and 23% bought a book online. The move to more online book buying is being driven by convenience and cost savings, said Tom McCartin, president of Spier. While readers may be looking for discounts online, affluent customers are more likely to use the Internet to purchase books than lower-income readers. The survey found that 40% of respondents with incomes of more than $100,000 bought a book online, compared to only 13% of buyers with income below $35,000. People with high incomes are also more likely to be heavy readers, with 43% of respondents with incomes over $100,000 reporting that they read 10 books or more annually, compared to only 23% of people earning $35,000 or less.”

While these statistics are interesting, it marks the first survey from the ad firm Spier New York. Note this survey was based on the responses from a limited sample of 813 readers. It is an interesting trend.  Since I had never heard of Spier New York, I googled the name to see what else I could learn. I found this article from 2002 on Publishing Trends.com which has a hefty annual subscription fee. I did enjoy looking at the articles in their archive. This article in particular from September: Satsafabulosity: Titillating Trivia from the Land of Publishing was interesting to me.

Early on in the process of creating books, writers need to consider all of the possibilities—and incorporate them into their book proposals. It’s good news that people continue to buy from bookstores but more than half of the books sold are purchased outside the bookstore according to Brian Jud in Beyond the Bookstore. My encouragement is for you to use all of the variety of options open to you. You never know which one will be the one which will be the hit—especially if you are focused only on one of those possibilities.


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Author Disappointment

When a book is launched, there are high expectations from every part of the publishing house. Yet the reality is that with 190,000 new titles entering the market every year, some people are going to be disappointed in this process.  At times, it’s been my role to have these discussions with authors about their book sales. It is not anything that gives me pleasure to have these serious conversations about sales for a particular book—yet it is a reality of the publishing world.  Not every book finds it’s audience and sells into the marketplace. There are many reasons along the journey as to why sales have lagged for a particular book. Possibly the publisher is going through huge transition and their marketing or editorial staff is changing and no one has your vision for the book. You’ve lost your internal champion. Or maybe some book came into the publishing house which absorbed the majority of the focus of the publisher and your book was simply “on the list.”

I’ve learned there are many factors outside of the author’s control with a book. My encouragement to you as an author is to look at what you can control. Too many authors have assumed their publisher will market the daylights out of their book and they have to do almost nothing (other than produce an excellent book which is a given) for that book to reach the audience.  Often this assumption will lead to poor sales and disappointment. Not every book immediately finds its audience.  Some times it takes a slow ground swell for a book to get on the bestseller list.  There are many examples of this happening within publishing but here’s one that comes to mind:

Donald Miller’s first book, Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality released in July 2003.  Today more than three years later, the book is on the bestseller list and one of the publisher’s brands.   It has only been on the bestseller list for a few months.  I have no idea but I suspect the sales numbers were modest for the first couple of years. Everyone is looking for the quick fix for their particular book. Often there is no quick fix.

Or if you write fiction, consider the innovation of John Shors and Beneath a Marble Sky. He had modest book sales but in the paperback version the book sales are taking off. Why? Because the author had passion for his book—and a vision to reach out to the audience.  In the paperback version, he offered to speak to book clubs and included his email address. The sales have taken off and he’s made appearances on different national talk shows and print publications.

In the October 30th issue of Publishers Weekly, John Shors writes the “Soapbox” or final article in the magazine called “Making the Connection.”  In this article, Shors talks about connecting with readers.  He never mentions sales—and he is wise. Yet I know as the author connects with readers then the sales increase—and the author disappointment disappears.  Shors has a goal of reaching 1,000 book groups.  He writes, “As I have witnessed more than 200 times, book clubs are catalysts for meaningful reader-author exchanges. A recent Saturday night call with a 20–member club in Jacksonville, Fla., provides a great example. Throughout the lengthy call, I answered questions about my novel’s genesis, how much of it was fact and why I’d chosen a woman as my narrator. We laughed a lot, and I was delighted to hear that the participants were wearing Indian clothes and eating Indian food. They had even hired a belly dancer and a henna painter, and the next day I received an email from the group, with photos of the members dressed as the characters in my novel. I hope that through experiences like these, I’m cultivating readers who will follow me from book to book.”

“I believe my book club program works for several reasons. First, people are curious about many aspects of my novel. Second, readers are flattered that I am willing to spend time talking with them. Third, and most important, I think readers long for such interaction. They long for it in a similar way to music aficionados’ applause in hopes of an encore. They want more than just the announced performance, and musicians commonly oblige. Why shouldn’t writers?”

Ok, your published novel doesn’t have a reader’s discussion guide. Can you create one after the fact and gain readers in your novel? It’s possible but it will take passion and effort on your part.  If you have a good book and believe in the book, I’d encourage you to take your disappointment and funnel it toward increasing your audience. Your publisher will thank you and your royalty statement will thank you—and you can become a proactive author (which publishers love) rather than someone with disappointment. Another idea is to take these ten tips from Lissa Warren and use it to stir some ideas for your readers.

And if you don’t have a book in print, then build these ideas into your book proposal from the start.

You never know where it can take you if you don’t try it.


Monday, November 13, 2006

Bookmark with a Warning

Last week for a couple of days, I was jostling with others on the crowded streets of New York City.  If you keep your eyes open, you are likely to see almost anything in this huge city.   On numerous corners, individuals are handing out fliers and bits of information.  Often I’ve avoided picking up the information because they are fliers for some bar or another establishment that I have no interest in visiting.

As you can imagine, the New York City crowd is a tough one and it takes some effort to catch their attention with your flier. Outside of Grand Central Station last Friday, I noticed five or six people and each were dressed completely in black with a red baseball cap.  Several of them had red mesh over their faces to hide their faces and on their backs was a working television screen playing a clip from a forthcoming TV program (actually it launches today). Curious about what they were handing out, I took one.  I scanned it so you could see what I receive. Here’s the front:


Now whatever you think of the graphic, it was pretty dramatic. The knife includes a diecut so the knife is removable. It’s a bookmark designed for you to hold your place in the book you are currently reading.  You have to admit the front of the flier caught my attention. 





I wasn’t sure what they were advertising until I turned it over.  I’ve also scanned the back so you can see it. It’s an advertisement for a new program on Court TV which starts tonight where America’s top crime fiction writers reveal their favorite true crime stories. If you follow this link, you will see that they’ve gathered some interesting writers for this series. James Ellroy will begin the first episode tonight.  The website also includesthe transcript of a chat with the author.  I’ve checked my local listings and not located the program yet—hopefully I’ll be able to catch part of it tonight.

Whatever you think about the flier, it’s definitely catchy.  Here’s a bookmark which comes with a warning. It’s pretty small in the above graphic and I’m including the warning in a larger fomat for you to see:












Why have I written about this bookmark? It shows the busy world that we live in today as we rush from one meeting to the next or one online group to another.  This little bit of paper caught my attention enough to look up the website and possibly watch the program tonight—but just look at the marketing energy and effort poured into this effort to generate some buzz for a cable program.

What effort are you putting into your writing today? Are you learning how to craft a query letter or a book proposal? I know I’ve written numrous times about book proposals but are you learning from each one that you put together or simply doing it the same way you’ve been doing it for years? I learn something with each proposal that I write and hopefully improve these proposals for the next one. It is not easy but it’s part of our life in publishing. Continue to grow and continue to reach for the next level in your personal growth.

And keep your eyes open for bookmarks with warnings on them.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Reading Was Her Passion

The-Book-That-Changed--71Several weeks ago, I wrote about a new release, The Book That Changed My Life, 71 Remarkable Writers Celebrate the Books that Matter Most to Them. If you missed this entry, I recommend you follow the link because I show how the book evolved and the cover changed as they were putting it together. I had not read the book until the last few days when I’ve been traveling. I’m always interested to learn how the printed page affects readers—and that is the focus of this particular book. The contributors were each writers who had appeared at R. J. Julia Booksellers in Madison, Connecticut. This book celebrates 15 years of business for this bookseller and Roxanne J. Coady asked these writers to tell a story about a book that changed their lives as a celebration—and reminder about the power of books to change lives.

The introduction explains the royalty for The Book That Changed My Life goes to buy new books for a program Coady began called Read to Grow,which provides books for parents to share with their children. The individual stories are fascinating from many unfamiliar authors to me. The writer’s choice for a book was interesting—such as Senator Joseph Lieberman (remember it’s a Connecticut bookstore) who selected the Bible or another Senator John McCain selected Ernest Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.

The story which I want to highlight in this entry isn’t from one of those writers—but it’s from the editor of the book in her introduction. Bookseller Roxanne J. Coady explains how from a young age reading was her passion. And when she opened R. J. Julia Booksellers, “my dream was that the store would be a place where words mattered, where people would gather, where writer could meet reader, and where our staff would work hard to put the right book in the right hand. Dreams can come true. R. J. Julia has now been welcoming readers and writes for sixteen years. Every day in the store we see how books change lives, in big ways and small, from the simple desire to spend a few quiet hours in a comfy chair, swept away by a story, to the profound realization that the reader is not alone in the world, that there is someone else like him or her, someone who has faced the same fears, the same confusions, the same grief, the same joys. Reading is a way to live more lives, to experience more worlds, to meet people we care about and want to know more about, to understand others and develop a compassion for what they confront and endure. It is a way to learn how to knit or build a house or solve an equation, a way to be moved to laughter and wonder and learn how to live.”

I loved reading this slim volume. I wanted this entry to celebrate the passion of reading. Throughout the majority of today I will be in a board meeting with my colleagues at the American Society of Journalists and Authors as we discuss the society’s business. Then early Sunday morning I take off toward home. It’s been a good week on the road but I’m eager to be back in Arizona.


Friday, November 10, 2006

A Cultural Glimpse at America

Over the last day or two, I’ve been reading a new book from Nancy French, A Red State of Mind, How a Catfish Queen Reject Became a Liberty Belle.  The writing is excellent and entertaining about her personal experiences of living in different places in the United States. One of the areas where Nancy and her husband lived for a while was in Manhattan—New York City. Ironically as I’m reading this book, it’s where I am for a few days of meetings.

Red State of Mind coverAs I walked the city streets last night, I could feel the energy—and the differences.  The jostling crowd in Times Square is a far contrast from my normal home in the desert. A Red State of Mind celebrates some of these differences and I thought I’d give you a taste of what Nancy has in this interesting book. Nancy grew up in the south and continues to live in this part of the world. Here’s a short paragraph example of her writing:

“Something about the Southern culture—perhaps the way we’re taught to look people in the eye and offer a firm handshake—makes people more congenial, more aware of each other’s presence. For example, the simple tradition of opening doors for ladies causes people to be more cognizant of each other.  women move out of the way slightly, men quickly position themselves to open it unobtrusively, and women say a simple thank you as they pass through the portal—be it the door to the 7–Eleven or the entrance to the church. Because it’s a delicate dance of etiquette that requires the participation of both genders, Southern gentlemen sometimes look awkward in the North—falling all over themselves trying to open doors for urban women who don’t expect the gesture.” (p. 139)

This book in the memoir category shows the diversity that we can have with our writing.  One day I can work on a magazine article and the next day a full length book proposal. Then another day I can be making progress on my current book project. It’s our lives as writers and editors. I’m off to a series of meetings in New York City with great anticipation at what I will learn.


Wednesday, November 08, 2006

A Celebration of Good Writing

Corporate blogging bookI’m traveling most of this week—and still out on the road.  One of the books that I took is Debbie Weil’s excellent new book, The Corporate Blogging Book, Absolutely Everything You Need to Get It Right. While many people have launched a blog, have you launched it with a deliberate plan about what it’s going to do for your corporation? If you are a part of a larger corporation, does your company have a blogging policy? How do you get started on such a policy? This book provides a number of easy-to-understand solutions. I love Debbie’s writing and her approach to this important topic. She encourages bloggers to think about what they are doing and who will be reading the entries. It’s valuable counsel for any type of writing (audience focus).

In her chapter, Should the CEO Blog?, Debbie includes an interesting sub-section called Bottom Line: The Value of Writing. “If you accept the notion that the ability to write clearly and cogently reflects the ability to think clearly, then writing is a crucial skill for an executive. Matt Blumberg, ReturnPath CEO agrees. Writing is a lost art for top executives, he says. “When you get into business, you stop writing. You do emails and PPTs.” His blog at onlyonce.blogs.com gives him a space to work out his ideas. He told me: “To do a good job (as a CEO) you have to be very articulate. You have too be able to think clearly and write clearly. Writing helps me clarify my thinking about things. And writing in the blog particularly does because it’s so short. I don’t have time to write a 10–page white paper but I can refine my message down to two paragraphs for a blog posting. It really helps me to cut to the chase.”

It’s just a taste of what Debbie includes in her book.  A little later in the Chapter called Top Ten Tips to Write an Effective Business Blog, she says, “Basically, you just have to wade in and do it.  And keep at it. As my favorite journalism professor was fond of saying, “It’s not quality…it’s quantity.”  In other words, keep writing. Eventually you’ll improve.”

It’s sound advice and relates to much more than writing entries in a blog—but I see it as relating to any type of writing. There is a quality of persistence that you have to exhibit as a writer. There is value to repeatedly practicing your craft. It’s something I’m practicing—even after a long day of activity on the road. I’m determined to get this entry out about the Writing Life.

Keep at it—and I promise to do the same.


Monday, November 06, 2006

The Little Calendar That Could

Yesterday I mentioned a classic children’s book, Little Engine That Could. I read this story until I almost couldn’t read it again to my small sons. The story is about a little engine who believed himself into action and achieved his goals. He “thought he could do it.” 

Mastermedia-logoToday I want to tell you about a little calendar that could change our world—if people sign up and faithfully pray. For many years, I’ve been using the Media Leader Prayer Calendar from Mastermedia International.   You can join the mailing list and the paper calendar arrives every three months. Each day you pray for a media leader. For example today, November 6th the media leader is Richard M. Smith who is the chairman and Editor-in-Chief for Newsweek. Also you pray for a cultural influencer and today’s date lists The Sopranos (some times the cultural influencer is a particular series program and other times a well-known person).

Also each quarter Mastermedia International sends “Media Associates” a publication called The Median with fascinating behind-the-scenes stories about how God is working in the media. Dr. Larry Poland is the founder of this organization and has worked in a quiet way with leaders in the media for many years.  The calendar is a simple up-to-date tool for prayer.

OK, hopefully I’ve enticed you with these resources. How do you get them? Go to the Mastermedia International website and register as a “Media Associate.” When you reach the area that says, “Media Industry that I work in”, you could put “print media” and when it asks for “Media Industry Title,” you could put “freelance writer” (always a respectable term from my view). After you complete the information, you will receive an email with the username and password to get into the Media Associate area. You can learn more specifics about the prayer calendar and The Median as well as sign up for their mailing list. This group has a number of significant projects in the works and provides some valuable resources.   I love the quotation on their current prayer calendar from Cecil B. DeMille who said, “I have found the greatest power in the world is the power of prayer.”

Just to manage your expectations about these entries on the Writing Life, it’s going to be hard to find the moments to blog for the rest of this week.  Early tomorrow morning, I’m headed to a series of meetings in Chicago, then to New York City.  All day Saturday I will be with my American Society of Journalists and Author board members for our mid-year face to face meeting.  I can tell you there is a packed agenda and I will be with a room full of professionals.  I guarantee the meeting to be lively and fascinating but often not something I can write about for these entries. I know one of the regular features of this meeting is to look at the program arrangements for our annual conference next April. Use this link to sign up for updates about the program for this conference. I have signed up to participate with others in a several-hour seminar on Sunday, April 22, 2007 about nonfiction book proposals.

Now while the information is fresh in your mind, cruise over to Mastermedia, register and begin receiving the Media Leader Prayer Calendar. It’s the little calendar that could change the world one prayer at a time.


Sunday, November 05, 2006

Starbucks and Books

Some of my writer friends are huge Starbucks’ fans.  It’s like their daily (or several times a day) habit.  I don’t get to Starbucks often but about a week ago I landed in one in Tucson, working with one of my co-authors on a book proposal project. (If you are wondering, I have to write book proposals to pitch my book ideas as well.) 

Albom-in-StarbucksIf you drink Starbucks, you’ve probably noticed they are selling an occasional book. I picked up a short reading guide to Mitch Albom’s new novel, For One More Day. Inside this pocket-sized pamphlet is a series of questions “to encourage reflection and conversation about this inspiring book.” It includes a short summary of the book along with 13 questions. The back of the pamphlet gave eight locations and dates where Albom would be signing the book at Starbucks. A recent issue of Publishers Weekly gave some numbers on Starbucks. The decision to sell these books is a corporate one or something that affects every single Starbucks.  Now that is a lot of fresh venues to sell books—and only the selected books.  Among retailers and publishing insiders, this venue has raised some eyebrows.  A number of Starbucks are located inside bookstores—and now the coffee shop is entering the competition. Naturally not everyone is happy with this trend.

How has it worked? According to another Publishers Weekly article, it has worked well: “Starbucks has sold 45,000 copies of Mitch Albom’s novel For One More Day (Hyperion) since it went on sale at the chain October 3, a week after the book reached bookstores. The figure accounts for roughly 12% of a total of 391,000 copies sold, as tabulated by Nielsen BookScan. (BookScan, which added Starbucks to its file the week it began selling For One More Day, represents about 70% of total book sales).”

And will it continue? This same article says, “PW has also learned that Starbucks is on the verge of signing a deal to sell a second title in their stores. The next book is expected to be a novel by a first-time novelist. William Morris Agency, which scouts books for Starbucks and negotiates terms on its behalf, is said to be in discussion with a variety of publishers, though Farrar, Straus & Giroux has been mentioned several times as the likely publisher.”  I suspect some first-time novelist is going to climb into a much higher visible situation from this deal—so you can imagine the fierce competition among publishers for this agreement.

Earlier this year, I saw Starbucks selling a children’s book, Little Engine That Could which touted new artwork for this children’s classic.

OK, why should you care about this limited (yet large) place where books are selling? It shows the ongoing diversity in the marketplace.  Smart publishers (and authors) are constantly looking for new ways to forge special arrangements with name brands—whether they are currently selling books or not. Can you dream big? As you put together your book proposal and the marketing plans within that proposal, can you envision something which currently isn’t happening, then boldly take steps to see if you can open that door of opportunity? It’s part of your challenge as an author who wants to partner with your publisher and sell more books.  I admit that I don’t have the answers to these questions but I’m constantly looking for ways to reach more people, partner with other venues and distribute more books.  It’s the stance of a pro-active author—which is an attractive author to publishers.  Find the courage to dream big and at the same time keep your eyes on these types of new venues in the marketplace.


Saturday, November 04, 2006

A Question Worth Asking

Eugene-PetersonWriters spend a lot of time working with words, listening to words and reading words.  This past week, I found a 26–page speech/ article from Dr. Eugene H. Peterson called What Are Writers Good For? I recommend the entire document which Dr. Peterson presented as a part of the International Christian Retail Show last summer in Denver, Colorado at the Tattered Cover Book Store. Alive Communications, a literary agency, hosted the event with authors and industry executives. As the Alive Communications website mentions, Dr. Peterson rarely speaks. Several years ago as an editor, I worked with Dr. Peterson to get a foreword for an amazing book from Harold Fickett called Dancing With the Divine. At that time, Dr. Peterson didn’t use email and all of our communications used the regular postal mail or the telephone.  I have a great appreciation for Dr. Peterson and his work on The Message Bible.

This entire speech is excellent and worth your reading attention.  In particular, I want to emphasize a couple of paragraphs:

 “And that is what writers are good for, to use metaphor and story and poem to bring our friends and neighbors into participation in the Great Conversation where creation and revelation and salvation take place.  Apart from writers, most language between Sundays is used for information, for publicity, for motivation, for entertainment, and diversion, preparing for and passing exams, for selling cars and buying lingerie.  These are all useful and legitimate uses of language for getting on with one another and in the world.  But there is nothing creative or saving in such language.

 “It is the writers’ vocation to use the language in ways that are closer, more congruent, with its core nature.  We do it by writing stories and poems and songs, by writing proverbs and aphorisms, by giving witness.  We do it by treating all words as sacred, capable of bringing readers or listeners into a participating relationship with our children, with cloud formations, with disasters and celebrations, with friends and neighbors, with Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  


“And we have our work cut out for us.  For most of the language that we learn in school and neighborhood, on radio and television is not revelational, is not creative, is not sanctifying, is not personal.”


Do we consider our use of language and treat all words as sacred because of the power of communication?  It’s a question worth considering as we write many different types of communication. It’s better to ask the question and have some sense of an answer (even if it is an answer-in-progress) instead of trooping through life without thinking about it. 


Friday, November 03, 2006

Daily Writing Tip at Your Site

How would you like to have a brief writing tip on your own website—which automatically changes every day? 

If it sounds impossible, it’s not. It’s just as close as cutting and pasting a small amount of computer code. If you can cut and paste, then you can put this tool on your site.  I’ve attempted to create short (one or two sentence) writing tips which will be applicable to all types of writing. The date and the tip automatically update each day.  If you have a website or a blog, it’s easy to paste this code into your blog. If you want to see it, check out The Writing Life—and look in my sidebar (the right-hand column).  The tool has 31 tips but will soon expand to additional tips. I’d love for you to use it and my hope is that it will help many people.

Book-Proposals-That-Sell-coAs I mentioned over a week ago, I chatted for two hours at the Institute of Children’s Literature website about book proposals.  I was typing and teaching as fast as I could go during this session.  Now the transcript is available and it’s eleven pages. I hope you will check it out and find it as useful information for your own writing.

Finally, on National Author’s Day, November 1, I did an early morning radio interview with Scott and Lorri (Mornings with Scott and Lorri on Sirius). We talked about Book Proposals That Sell. This interview is stored in a podcast format and available for you to download.

OK, this entry includes three resources. I’m eager for others to use the Writing Tip of the Day. If you receive this email via feedblitz, then please forward it on to your writing group or your friends.  I hope it will spread like wildfire across the Internet to help many people.


Thursday, November 02, 2006

Booked At Book Clubs

Last night on the CBS Evening News, they carried a story called Book Beau which caught my attention. I was looking for more detail about this story—and read a hint of it several weeks earlier in a Publishers Weekly news brief. It’s a story of innovation and determination with a solid book product—something other authors should be watching and imitating (naturally with their own twist).

Beneath-the-marble-sky-coveAs background, there is a great deal of competition for readers in the book business. There are about 195,000 new books released into the market each year. Two years ago McPherson published Beneath the Marble Sky: A Novel of the Taj Mahal by John Shors. As a first-time author, Shors was pleased with the good reviews from trade journals and other publications. But his sales were modest by any standard and disappointing. In June, NAL Trade released the paperback of his book and the new edition gave Shors an opportunity. He included a letter to readers in the back of the book. He made a commitment to speak at book clubs and gave his email address. In three months, Shors has spoken to over 100 book clubs. In some cases, he “appears” to the book club on a speakerphone but Shors is committed to personally touching his readership. His book sales have taken off. According to the report on the CBS Evening News, Shors is currently booking into 2008. His profile has definitely climbed from being a first-time author to appearing on the CBS Evening News and also an article in the October 9th issue of Newsweek.

I’d call this marketing move from Shors innovative and gutsy. Book clubs are a growing effort across the United States. These clubs are honored to have an author willing to talk with them about the book. Each member of the group has purchased the book and normally read it prior to the meeting. Then they can discuss it—and if they can include the author in this discussion—why wouldn’t they go for it?

With the volume of books, there is a lot of noise in the marketplace. It’s hard to cut through the clutter—even for a good book. Authors can’t abdicate the total marketing effort to their publisher. If they do (and they are a first-time author) I suspect they will be disappointed with the results (read sales of their book). As an acquisitions editor, I’ve had to field some of those conversations with authors. It’s not easy and there are no simple reasons or answers. Yes, publishers want their books to succeed in the marketplace. But they have multiple books releasing at the same time—and limited energy for each one. The author has the greatest passion for their particular book. We need innovative authors who will incorporate some marketing efforts into their book plans. The marketing efforts can be something with very little return—and a lot of personal time and expense. The trick is to find the right balance between writing and marketing—and accomplish each one with creativity.