Saturday, April 30, 2005

Race to the Finish Line

Whenever I begin a large project, I can always tell when I’m close to completion. My writing and my work tend to speed up and I finish the project. Well, it is probably not completely finished but at least the rough draft has been completed.

I’ve heard the same story from various novelists. They will labor for the early part of their novel to set their characters and start their plot, then for a long period of time, they pace out a certain number of pages each day. At the end of the novel, their fingers race on the keyboard for the final page. Some novelists have told me they stay up half of the night to complete this first draft while they have their momentum.

It’s where I am on a particular writing project at the moment. The project is consuming most of my attention. I will admit that I’m getting a few other things accomplished—but overall I’m focused on the completion of this single project.  In the early stages, it took a bit of time for me to determine the format and reassure myself that I was properly completing the assignment.  Currently for another day I will be in the plodding stage of the middle and Monday I expect to be racing to the finish line.

Faithful readers about my writing life should know it’s possible I might skip the next two days of blogging. I’m trying hard to keep focused on this project so I meet the nearly impossible deadline. Writers and editors have deadlines. These deadlines are important and keep us on track.

In the meantime, you can read my profile about Frank Peretti that appears on FaithfulReader. Follow the link to learn more. Also in an email, I learned that Right-Writing.com is among the top 1% of websites on the Internet. Look at this link to learn more (under the self-help section).

You will notice I said “might” skip this blog.  Nothing is certain in this world.


Friday, April 29, 2005

Value of Repetition

Last night I was instant messaging with a friend.  There were long pauses between my communication and his responses. I could see that he was typing but it seemed to take forever.  I had to get off line and finally he asked if he could phone me tomorrow and talk about it.  We’ll probably connect today.  Funny thing is I never have this difficulty with my 16–year-old son. He’s an expert typist and I’m certain it’s a skill that he uses repeatedly.

One summer long ago, I was about my son’s age when I took typing in summer school.  It was in the pre-computer days and we learned on electric typewriters. If you hesitated or pushed the wrong keys, the mistakes were instanteanous. Yet these typewriters also had an amazing button to erase the mistakes. After using the old manual typewriters, that correction key was remarkable.  Typing wasn’t my best class in high school. Maybe it was because of summer and school wasn’t high on my priority list but I believe I earned a solid C in that class.

You’d never know it today. If you’ve ever seen me type, it’s pretty quick.  When I work in an office, I get a steady stream of comments about my speed and the clicking on the keys. I’m a hard typist because for many years I used manual typewriters to write stories. Why the speed? Because I’ve done it repeatedly—every day for years. In the early days of my journalism training, we learned to compose at the typewriter. We created sentences in our minds, then put them instantly into the typewriter. It’s the perfect skill for any journalist since there is no time in the newspaper world to rewrite or stew about the syntax of the sentence. You need to spread your notes around you on the desk and spit out the story.  It’s another skill which has served me well over the years.

I don’t know what you are facing today. You may be wondering if you will ever get a magazine article published. You may be struggling to find any children’s book editor to give your work some attention. Or possibly your nonfiction book proposal is getting lots of rejection. Maybe your novel is languishing on some editor’s desk (or worse it’s stuck in your file drawer and has never been sent out—yet). I want to encourage you about the value of repetition.  Select something—then do it repeatedly. If it’s children’s books, then write lots of them. Read lots of them and send them into the market. Try the children’s magazine market and also the children’s book market. Join organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and learn about the current editorial needs and trends in the market. Then get your material out there—over and over—with excellence.

My skill set and learning in this market continues to grow daily. I understand the value of repetition—constantly throwing out new ideas and different types of writing. Then I write over and over. It’s not rocket science. You can do it too.



Thursday, April 28, 2005

The Pain of Rejection

For the last few hours, I’ve been sorting through my mail, folding letters and logging manuscripts.  Some people are surprised to learn I keep a log of the various submissions. It’s not difficult—and if someone asks about my response—or tries to send in something second time after a year or six months, it’s painfully obvious to me.

Manuscripts and proposals and query letters come in all shapes and sizes. I’m looking for the best possible manuscripts to publish for Howard Publishing fiction. It’s a part-time job but I try to consistently work on my stack of submissions so people hear from me. It’s often not the answer they want to hear. Yes, takes time in publishing and involves a lot of consensus building within the publishing house.

No can often be determined quickly. If you send in a query about a 25,000 word novel or a children’s book, then you are headed for rejection. Howard Publishing doesn’t do children’s books and I’m the fiction acquisitions editor. We’re not considering youth books or young adult. Instead the focus is on six to eight adult length novels (generally 80,000 to 100,000 words). So…if your novel is 56,000 words, it’s too short for serious consideration—no matter how well it is written.

Now the writing—that’s another consideration. You would be shocked at the telling manuscripts which don’t jump into the plot. Or they meander around the story line before they jump into it.  Also I’m looking for excellent storytelling and a plot that I can’t put down. I understand it’s a high goal—but I have many manuscripts and only a few manuscripts will be selected and even fewer ultimately contracted.

Because I am someone who also writes and loves writing books and magazine articles, it’s painful to send these rejection letters.  I know people have poured their heart and dreams into these submissions. I’ve also learned the hard way if I add anything personal, I will get it revised and resubmitted to me—and often again rejected. Instead, I’ve resorted to the standard editor response—the dreaded form letter. I don’t like receiving them and I don’t like sending them—but they come with the business.

In one minor way, I do like to process the fiction submissions.  Whether the writer likes my response or not is not the issue. It’s important to me that they have received a response. Often submissions go into a black hole and you never know if the editor received it, processed it or anything. With each submission, I know they have been read, carefully considered and rendered a decision. In some ways, I hope it softens the pain of rejection.


Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What Info Goes On The Card

Yesterday’s entry brought several comments and emails. Today I’m going to continue this topic of business cards for conferences. As I emphasized yesterday, it’s important to have one.

Like many other things in our culture, you choose what information you include on your business cards. You can look at the entry card of your address book to see the various possibilities such as name, occupation, company, address, phone, fax, email, and website. You determine whether you want to include all of this information or not.

On this recent trip, I collected a wide array of responses. One ASJA member has a simple black and white card with her name, several titles which begin with the phrase “Award-winning,” the address for her blog, her phone number and her email address.  This card doesn’t have any physical address to announce her location.

If you are new to the writing world or changing careers from a different world, you don’t have to put an occupation.  For example, if you are an aspiring novelist without any publishing credits, you can still create a business card with your name, address, phone number and email address.  The card gives you something to exchange and a point of contact with the editor or other writers. It will help your networking abilities at such gatherings.

Through the years, I’ve exchanged hundreds of business cards with people.  If it’s someone I will likely want to reconnect with after the conference, then I’ve learned to quickly look at the card and see if it contains everything that I need on the card. Admittedly it’s a bit difficult if I don’t have my glasses on (one of the hazards of aging).  Often if the card is missing an email address, I will ask for it on the spot—and the writer will often add it to the card and hand it back to me.

Last week I met a screenwriter who told fascinating stories at a meal during the conference. We exchanged business cards and I noticed he didn’t include his email address. He told me, “I don’t have email or an Internet connection.” Then he launched into his rationale for it. OK, it told me some additional information about this writers.

Bottom line is that you control the information on the card. If you want to use a post office box instead of your physical mailing address, then you have such a choice. If you don’t want to include your phone number but don’t mind receiving email, you determine the information. For this past set of conferences, I created a color business card to promote my book, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. The book is brand new and barely out, so I included the website for the book and also the ISBN and the price of the paperback. Then someone could take the card into their local bookstore, and order the book.

Every business card has a different purpose. Don’t be overly concerned about the information. The most important aspect is to have a business card to exchange at a conference.


Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Why I Exchange Business Cards

It’s almost a standing joke among my colleagues in the ASJA. When I come to the conferences, they ask where I’m living this year. And in some ways, it’s true. For the last several years, I’ve been moving around from Colorado to Northern California to Colorado to Arizona. When I hear the comment, now I smile and say, “I’m not moving. We’re in Arizona to stay.”

My story isn’t unusual in the publishing community. Change is a constant part of the publishing world. Editors change. Agents change. People change positions. People change locations. The phone numbers and addresses change. Several major publishers have moved to new buildings in the last few years. It’s simply a part of the environment of publishing.

Whenever I travel to a conference (any type of conference), high on my priority list is to pack plenty of business cards. I am constantly surprised when editors don’t have them or ran out or only brought a few to exchange. It’s the currency of this business. At the two conferences I attended in the last few days, I made a point to give out and exchange cards with people. If they took my card and didn’t naturally dig in their bag or pocket for a card, then I actively asked, “Do you have a card?” If they didn’t then they often wrote down the information for me.

Some people asked me for something. I wrote that request on their back of their business card to handle when I returned home. I learned to make these types of notes years ago.

OK, now I’m home from two back to back conferences with a pile of business cards. What next? Bundle them up and stick them in a drawer somewhere? Not hardly. These cards become the keys to my follow-up work. They are reminders of bits of conversations and the necessity to ask additional questions or pitch story ideas to the editors.  Faithfully I have collected this information and added it to my rolodex. If I already have a card from someone, then I check the current card to see if their information has changed (and often I find that it has changed).

Several years ago, I purchased a Targus business card scanner. It scans the business cards and takes the information into fields which I can synch with my Outlook address book. I’ll be the first to tell you that the scanner isn’t perfect.  Some cards it doesn’t read and some times it puts the wrong information in the wrong spots—but it is quicker than typing in all of the information. For me it was an extremely worthwhile investment in the work.

Besides follow-up work, I also use the cards to expand my network of people. Some times I’m asked for a referral (for writing or something else). I want to have the information where it is easily accessible. Never forget the power of information.

It will take several more days before I handle this pile of business cards on my desk. They will not be tucked away until they are processed and added to my computer.  If I tuck them away without adding them to my database, then I should not have collected them in the first place.


Monday, April 25, 2005

Walking A Tight Rope

Many years ago (almost thirty), I spent a summer internship on a local newspaper and covered the circus. It was a heritage of the town and I wrote most of the articles and material for the special circus edition in the newspaper.  Each summer, the circus had eight shows with children from the town doing most of the acts.  For the most part, the adults participated as clowns. One regular act in the circus was the high wire act. One young man walked the tight rope with a balancing pole—on stilts. The audience loved to watch this popular and daring feat.

Last week at the writer’s conference, I walked a tight rope of sorts. It’s the constant dance that I do as an editor. I want to be encouraging to writers. It’s easy for me to recall my start in this business and how much I’ve learned (and continue to learn) in the journey.  Some of the writing life is a careful balance between craft (which can be learned) and art (which you have to bring naturally). I’ve learned not to make hard and fast judgments about other people’s writing and work. I’m constantly surprised at books which make a splash in the market and others (where I have high expectations) which do very little. There are many factors in the success or failure of a particular book or author.

Imagine for a moment, how it feels to see someone’s work which has miles to go before anyone will publish it. It happened repeatedly to me last week—and at other conferences. I see a parade of people who have hopes and dreams about their writing and their stories yet they are brand new to the world of publishing. It’s always a careful tight rope to say something kind and encouraging yet honest.  Because I don’t want to give people false hope yet I don’t want to dash their dreams. All I can do is look at the work and honestly evaluate whether it is something that I want to champion within my publishing house or not. It’s what I tried to do when I was meeting face to face with authors or what I do when I interact with them via email or the regular mail.

I’ve poured a lot of energy and effort during this past year into a book called Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Originally I published this book as an ebook then for Write Now Publications, I expanded the contents, made it timeless and also gathered endorsements for it. If you want the book instantly, you can receive the text via my ebook. The trade paperback version released this month. You can either get it from my website or through Amazon.com or through your local bookstore. The book has a unique perspective from any other how-to write book on this topic because I try and help writers walk inside the head of an acquisitions editor.  As a writer, have you answered all of the questions that I need to champion your work to the publishing board and gain permission to issue a book contract? Also I’ve included a couple of excerpts so you can have a taste of the book. If you have an ezine or some other newsletter, I’d love for you to use these excerpts.

It’s not easy for any of us in this business to walk the tight rope between blunt honesty and being encouraging to writers. We need to watch our steps.


Sunday, April 24, 2005

The Follow-Up Rate

Whenever I travel to speak at a conference or attend a conference, it often happens.  The second or third day after I return home, I hit a low-energy slump. This great inertia sweeps over me and I wonder how I can get almost anything done.   I have piles of paper around my desk and on my desk and I wonder which pile to tackle first.  Piles of magazines and correspondence and bills have to be organized and given attention. Instead of giving in to these feelings of inertia, I’ve learned to slow down a bit—but to continue moving forward.

For eight days I was traveling. The first stop was New York City and a series of meetings with old friends and making new friends in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It involved dozens of conversations and exchanging business cards and ideas.  Throughout the process, I attempted to keep track of different promises with notes to myself for follow-up.  Each of these items demand a bit of attention and follow-through. And if I don’t? Then I risk hurting my follow-up rate in a small way. I want to be known as a person who makes a promise—and follows through on that promise. It’s key in this business of publishing where the devil is in the details.

One of my friends, Sandy Lamb, is an example of this type of action. I wanted to attend a workshop from Columbia University new media professor Sree Sreenivasan but was unable to get to it.  This packed session at the conference (follow this link for some of the information and insight) was exactly the same time as the workshop which I moderated on collaboration and ghost writing. In passing, I must have mentioned to Sandy that I wanted to get one of the handouts from this session.  She noted this detail—and imagine my surprise when I opened my mail to find a handout and a little personal note. It was appreciated and made a positive impression.

Or I received a short thank you note from John Rosengren who coordinated some of the American Society of Journalists and Authors workshops. It was much appreciated. When I was in North Carolina, I purchased some thank you notes which I plan to use in my follow-up plans over the next few days.  I never want to forget the little word tucked into the list of sins during the last days in 2 Timothy 3: ingratitude. 

During both of these recent conferences, I exchanged business cards with numerous people.  It’s terrific to have this personal information but what next?  I will be adding this information to my rolodex, sending follow-up notes and keeping in touch. I never want to forget the power of information.

I’m constantly looking for ways to increase my follow-up rate. It’s important and something to consider in your writing life.


Saturday, April 23, 2005

Lean Into The Wind

The winds of publishing are constantly changing. It’s the nature of this business.  Editors move around to new publishing houses and take new responsibilities. Some times an editor will become a literary agent. Other times an agent will move to inside a publishing house. There are infinite combinations of these types of switches.

Last week when I was traveling, I had many opportunities to talk with writers, editors and agents. I met a number of new editors during the trip.  For example, one benefit from membership in the American Society of Journalists and Authors is the ability to attend our member day meeting. It was held on April 15th or the day before the public session on April 16th—and only open to members of the Society.

One element in the member day has been extremely popular the last two years—called Pitch Sessions. Literary agents, book editors and magazine editors meet with various ASJA members. Each of us in the Society are published and professional writers (see this link for membership requirements). The agents and editors know they are meeting with professional writers who can easily fulfill their needs. The sessions run for ten minutes—and are strictly monitored. It’s basically time to meet, exchange business cards and a tiny bit about what you do—plus hear what the editor or agent needs. It’s a time to establish a connection. Several of the magazine editors brought guidelines and samples of their publication.

For example, I met the editor of the American Lawyer, which is a slick trade magazine for lawyers. It gave her a chance to meet new writers and also the writer a chance to learn about a new publication.  It opens another door of possibilities for my writing and story ideas.  Another editor I met was starting a new publication from Guideposts called Positive Thinking. This publication will launch this summer and they are actively looking for new articles and new writers. These are two ten-minute meetings from a marathon type session of meeting editors and agents.

What happens from these sessions? It’s up to the writer to follow-up, keep the connection alive and pitch some appropriate ideas for these publications.  The sessions were terrific—because they opened up a world of possibilities and initiated a face-to-face relationship. It’s often true in publishing that it is who you know as much as what you know.  These contacts expanded my connections last week.

I’ll be the first person to admit this type of effort (initial contact, then follow-up), takes a lot of effort and work. From my experience and perspective, it is well worth it in the long run. My encouragement to you is to attend a conference and make these types of personal connections. And even if you can’t get to a conference, then keep moving. As the winds of change continue to blow in publishing, my advice is to lean into the wind and keep moving ahead.


Friday, April 22, 2005

Home Again

To make any entries about the Writing Life has been a challenge for me over the last eight days. I’ve been in New York City at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. These sessions were terrific. Then I went to Asheville, North Carolina for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  At Blue Ridge, I taught for over eight hours plus met with many individual writers.

Now I’m back home and able to return to these entries as well as numerous other things. I love to teach at conferences. It gives me an opportunity to give back directly to other writers as well as have some give and take on the various trends and aspects of publishing.  Also it provides an opportunity to talk with other colleagues about the business, to learn more about various aspects as well as potentially gain some other assignments.

If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference, then learn about the benefits. Also plan your strategy to attend one. Select the conference that is right for you. There are a wide variety of possibilities.  I understand it involves an investment—in terms of time away from your writing and family and expense. It’s well worth it from my perspective. There is always something good about coming back home. It was almost 1 a.m. when I returned last night. It will take a few days to recover from the adrenaline which has been pumping constantly through my system as I’m meeting new people and teaching. I’m ready for a few days of calm and more entries on the Writing Life.


Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Stories Are Everywhere

This week, I’ve been traveling and listening to people tell me their stories.  Listening is one of those great skills for a writer and editor.  In general, we live in isolation—working on our offices and at our computers.  Over the last few days at these conferences, I’ve heard numerous stories. Some of them are fascinating. What do you do with the story? Does it become a magazine article or a book? Is it something you write or never write? As writers, we face these basic questions combined with making sure we tell the right story to the right audience.

For example, I told the story that I used about Pamela Anderson in yesterday’s entry in yesterday’s class.  The same story got a huge laugh with my editor friends and at the panel I moderated in NYC—but it fell completely flat during my workshop. Hardly anyone laughed. It depends on the audience.

As a part of the conference, I’m critiquing several manuscripts for individual writers. I’ll be meeting face to face with these individuals during the conference. I want to be honest yet diplomatic and encouraging. It’s a tricky balance. Some of these writers have invested huge amounts of time and energy into their project and they are taking a huge risk.  For the first time, they are showing their work to someone else. I try to receive this information as a gift and applaud their courage. Yet what will happen with this material? Will it be crafted into a query letter to snag a magazine assignment? Will it eventually be reshaped into a terrific book proposal which will eventually become a nonfiction book? Will it be completed as a page-turning novel? Or in some cases, it will return to the file cabinet and not see the light of day again.

I’ve got files and drawers of material which I’ve written and never had printed.  Some of these pages have been in the hands of editors and soundly rejected over and over. I put them away and pressed on to write something else. Other projects have never been shown to the editors. It simply wasn’t the right time and maybe it will never appear in print.

I’m off to encourage some writers today and listen to their stories. They are everywhere.


Monday, April 18, 2005

Disappeared With Reason

Some people have been wondering where I’ve been on my entries about the Writing Life over the last few days.  I’m still committed to my continual writing in this spot—but I’ve been traveling. I’m still traveling.  Today I begin a four day workshop teaching stint at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (a beautiful spot near Asheville, NC). I’ll be holding four continuing sessions on the nonfiction book plus teaching a couple of one-hour workshops, meeting one on one with writers and lots of other great things—no time for these entries.

I am half way on an eight day road trip. Until yesterday morning I was in New York City participating in the meetings with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve had some terrific learning experiences over the last few days and I’ll be writing about these sessions in the days ahead.

I’m going to write one quick story from Saturday. I moderated a panel on collaboration and ghostwriting. This type of collaborative book has been a regular part of my book writing life for several years. Why? I quickly learned as a writer there are a finite number of topics that I want to write and get published under my own name. There are an infinite number of topics I can write for other people and live vicariously through their experiences—and I can serve them through this process. Many people don’t have the skills or are too busy or don’t have the interest in book writing. I moderated this panel because I’ve written about a dozen of these types of books.

One of my panelists was Brenda Copeland, a senior editor at Atria Books, which is a division of Simon and Schuster. Brenda was the editor for the Pamela Anderson novel, Star, which was released last year. I knew Brenda could speak with great authority to writers about the topoc of ghostwriting. While Pamela Anderson had the idea and story material for the novel, she didn’t write it and needed a ghostwriter. Brenda told about first meeting with Pam to determine the outline, characters and plot of the novel—before they added the writer. Why?

They didn’t want to add the writer then have them claim that they did all of the work and try to take the work elsewhere. See the type of protection the publisher did in this situation before they added the writer? It was wise. Brenda found Pamela Anderson articulate and bright—not her normal celebrity persona. While working together, they determined several qualifications for this writer. First, they had to be a published novelist with a track record. The project couldn’t risk an unknown, unpublished novelist. Then they determined this writer should be either a gay man or a woman. Brenda said they didn’t think a heterosexual man could stand spending eight hours a day in a room with Pam working on this novel.

You can see from this one story that Brenda had my panel shaking with laughter. It was a well-attended and worthwhile session. The tapes are available through the ASJA.

I’m headed off to prepare for my first session. I’ve not had a good Internet connection until late yesterday but I’m hopeful to add another entry before I return home on Thursday. I’ve disappeared with reason.


Monday, April 11, 2005

Need Inspiration? Get A Deadline

Over the last few days, my desk has been loaded with books. I’ve cleared off everything else on my desk (mostly) and have five different Bibles open to the same passage of Scripture.  Actually I’ve been using more than five with two more over my shoulder on a small table. It’s been a remarkable experience for me and I’m enjoying the writing project.

I’m part of a team who are writing some material for a new Bible project targeted for men. I’ve got some specific sections to write and turn into my editor.  I’ve been wondering at times how I can create all of this material. Then I return to the philosophy that I mentioned a few days ago—I’m doing what I can do. I’ll admit I’ve had to pour on the writing the last few days to meet the deadline for this particular project.

I did not procrastinate—a common practice among writers. They sit around and wait until they are near the deadline then get an adrenaline rush which pushes the project to completion.  While at times in the past, I have operated in this mode, it’s not the case with this particular project. It has been on the fast track from the beginning.

I will confess there is some drive that happens from a deadline. Whether you self-impose that deadline on your schedule or an editor imposes the deadline, it’s good for inspiration. There isn’t time to casually answer email, surf the Internet for news or any of a number of other worthwhile distractions. There is only time to get the material written and out the door for the deadline.

Magazine work is excellent in the deadline area. The deadlines are generally short and they push you to use your time efficiently, write tightly and meet the editor’s needs for excellent materials. In general, books involve longer deadlines. You can’t simply crank out 70,000 words over a few days. Well, you can but it would be a challenge for these words to be coherent and have any excellence. I’ve written a few of those types of books over the years—so I know first hand. Book writing is much more of a plodding type of approach to complete the task. Writers select a certain amount of words or pages to complete each day to meet their deadline. This type of system works well in fiction or nonfiction.

Over the last few days, I’m grateful for the time in the Scriptures. I’m going to return to it in a few minutes.  I want to tell one more story about perfect timing that happened over the last few days. My wife and I were in Colorado Springs on Friday and Saturday for some family business. It was a busy but good trip (no time for writing). The weather men were talking about a change in the weather—typical springtime in the Rocky Mountains. It was 65 degrees on Saturday afternoon when we left. That evening, the temperature dramatically dropped and some places in Colorado Springs received almost two feet of snow. I’m delighted to have escaped that experience since last August when we moved to Arizona.

During the next few days, I’m going to be hitting the keyboard for this deadline. Then I jump on an airplane and head for New York City and the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings. I’m anticipating some excellent learning experiences.  I’m moderating a panel on collaboration and ghost writing next Saturday at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. Then next Sunday I head to Asheville, NC and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference. I’m looking forward to teaching a number of hours and meeting individually with writers. I’ll have my laptop on the road. As I can I anticipate trying to tell you more about the Writing Life. But some times there simply aren’t enough hours in the day.


Sunday, April 10, 2005

Be On The Move

I’ve got a book on my shelf of writing books which I purchased several years ago,  but haven’t read.  Before I tell you about this particular book, you should know that for the last twenty years, I’ve purchased many how-to writing books—and read them.  Usually I read a writing book each month.

When I read these books, I use my yellow hi-lighter for sentences that catch my attention. I make notes of ideas and concepts which I carry into my writing life.  I’m actively reading these types of books. Then I follow the advice in these books. Whenever I teach and speak at conferences (like next week), I recommend these books to other writers and I encourage them to get the books.  Also I’m an advocate for the Writer’s Digest Book Club and have purchased many books from this source.

Whenever I attend a writer’s conference, I make a point to go to their bookstore and look over the various offerings.  Often I will purchase books in this setting, then get these books on my reading schedule. Writers are readers.

Yet one of these books I never read. I’m always trying to figure out why I didn’t read a particular book. Often that choice has to do with the title, the back cover or the general contents.  I purchased Confessions Of Shameless Self Promoters by Debbie Allen because I was intrigued with the content about marketing and networking. The book includes stories from 68 Marketing Gurus (according to the cover).

It was the word “shameless” which put off my reading. Self-promotion is a part of the writing life.  I love what Jenna Glatzer writes in her article, “I’m Not Shameless” saying: “If you're going to be a professional writer, you have to believe that self-promotion is not a controversial, emotional act that you must approach with embarrassment or with egotistical bravado. It's just a simple job requirement. Plumbers learn how to unclog drains. You learn how to get people to read what you write.”

To get published, you have to be out there with your writing.  First, you have to learn your craft (then keep learning your craft) and try different types of writing. If you are stuck writing a long novel (fiction), then I suggest you try some shorter magazine articles. If you are mired in a nonfiction book proposal, then balance with some shorter magazine articles where you can find some success (publication) while you continue to move ahead with your longer project. Or maybe you need to put some of your writing energy toward a children’s book.  Find some people to critique your work before you get it out to editors and agents. Freelance writing can be learned—but you have to work at it.

Often I meet writers who have been writing for years. They have a drawer full of attempts but haven’t put their work out to an agent or a publishing house.  Your material will never be published if it remains in your file drawer. You have to be on the move in this business. It means meeting editors and other writers. Learn in the craft, then faithfully submitting your best possible effort.

Years ago, I heard the late Paul Little speak about finding direction for life—and it applies to writers as well. He said, “God can’t steer a parked car.” We have to be on the move.



Friday, April 08, 2005

Do What You Can

“How do you get it all done?” It’s a common question which writers, editors and others in this business of publishing. The real answer is something rarely discussed. Whether you are new to the business of writing or have been here a long time, you may feel overwhelmed about the possibilities and unsure which way to jump. Welcome to our world.

The possibilities for a writer are endless: fiction, nonfiction, magazine articles, children’s books, thank you letters, resume writing, etc. It’s a matter of selecting which type of writing is best for you. Then you focus on that writing area and produce the best possible material. It will take time, skill and talent along with developing relationships with editors before you work at it long enough and hard enough that you get published. It’s the journey that I’ve taken and many others before me (and after me). You can do it. It’s a matter of keeping at it.

No one gets it all done. At one time, I thought I could get it done working more hours in the editorial offices. I discovered that such effort was rewarded with more responsibility and more work. The long hours cut short my family time and exercise time and anything else that should have been in my life for balance. My weight ballooned 40 pounds and my waist and pants size grew.

Several years ago, I was sitting in the publication board meeting. I was prepared to present a number of book projects for the various members of the board to consider. Several of these projects has been pushed back to later meetings and I was determined to get my shot at the presentations. Yet I didn’t feel good. I was sweating (more than usual) and felt a bit flush. I had tightness in my chest. In general, I ignored everything and managed to present my books.

On the way home, I called my wife and she encouraged me to drive to the doctor’s office—which I did. They wouldn’t let me drive to the hospital but they took me in an ambulance. The doctors believed I was having a heart attack and treated me for one. I spent the night in the intensive care unit and was released the next day.

Thankfully I didn’t have a heart attack but I had an inflammation around the sack of my heart. More than anything I think my immune system had worn down and I was too stressed and pressured. I wasn’t taking care of myself. I made some changes since that experience. I’ve lost those 40 pounds. I’ve continued to watch my diet and regularly devote time to exercise.

Most of all, I try to be realistic with myself—and understand that I’m doing all I can do. Each day when I leave my office there is a lot that doesn’t happen. Emails unanswered. Manuscripts unread. Mail unanswered. Phone calls not made. Paperwork unfiled. Manuscripts not written. (You get the idea—lots of things not done).

My focus is moving forward. Am I moving forward? Is my writing growing? Am I continuing to learn more about the business of writing and the craft of writing? Am I taking a bit of time for my wife and family? Am I taking care of myself through diet and exercise and regular spiritual nourishment? Normally I can answer yes to these questions and walk out of my office with that certainty.

Each of us have to do what we can do—and let the rest go until another day.

In his amazing Sermon on the Mount, Jesus captured these thoughts. Matthew 6:34 says, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”


Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Sharpen Your Observation Skills

In a few days, I’m traveling again and I love to take a few quiet moments in the airport and people watch. Do you? It’s always fascinating and I can always learn something from the observation experience.

Throughout my work day as an editor and writer, I’m fairly isolated. I have my computer screen and my office environment. Otherwise it’s my own projects and not a great deal of interaction with others.

What are you writing? Fiction? Then you need to sharpen your observation skills and build those observations into your characters. 

During the last few days on Right-Writing.com, I added an article from Laura Backes, Editor of The Children’s Insider about the Secrets of Great Characters.  Part of her article says, “If you want to write convincing characters, I think it’s essential that you observe children of different ages close up. Make that children who aren’t your own; kids you can look at objectively. See how they interact, how they treat each other, how they treat the adults in their lives. Grown-ups have different purposes to kids at various ages, and the adult characters in your books should fill their appropriate roles. Each year of growth brings dramatic changes, and the division between boys and girls in social situations gets wider by the month. As a writer, you can’t simply increase the age of your characters by a year without reflecting numerous transformations that year brings.”

Laura’s words are true for the children’s writer—but also true for fiction and nonfiction. Whatever type of writing you are doing today—it will usually involve storytelling.  The great magazine writing involves telling a good story and showing a “character” or a person to the reader in your writing. It’s a challenge for each of us in our work as writers and editors. One key is to work at learning more each day and continuing to grow in your writing. 

I’ve got more to say about this aspect of storytelling—but it will have to wait until another day. Soon. 


Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Why I Care About Voice Recognition

As an editor and writer, I know the importance of using my hands. Day after day I pound the keyboard and sometimes I even wear out the keyboard. The letter E on my current keyboard is about to disappear (the most frequent letter in the English alphabet if you follow such trivia—so I’m not surprised).

What would I do if I had something like carpal tunnel or strained my hands so I couldn’t use them? It’s a question I considered since I make my living using my hands on the keyboard.

Several years ago I purchased and tried Dragon’s Naturally Speaking—I believe version five. You have to spend a bit of time “training” the software to your particular voice. I spent a number of hours on the project but it didn’t work well and I spent more time correcting the errors than it seemed worth it.

One of my colleagues in the American Society of Journalists and Authors spent more effort on the program and it’s been a life saver for him and the use of his hands.

During the last few weeks, I interviewed Frank Peretti--in preparation for the April 12th release of Monster--with a release of 400,000 copies from Thomas Nelson (WestBow). You can watch for my full-length piece about Frank on Faithreader.com later this month.  For several years Frank had tendonitis and has taken all sorts of measures to compensate--including using Dragon's Naturally Speaking--Version 8. He told me the latest version (8) is quite accurate for voice recognition software. He has to make little corrections from what he does with it. Frank speaks highly of this particular program and how it’s helped ease the tension on his hands.

Do I have the answer to my questions about voice recognition software and the importance for writers and editors?

Not yet but I’ll keep reading and keep my eyes open. From my writing life, I know one thing for certain—there is always more to learn.  If you grow complacent and figure you’ve “arrived” and learned everything there is to be learned—then be concerned—very concerned. It’s a dangerous path and I’ve watched a number of writers fall into it.


Monday, April 04, 2005

Love Those Editors

Weeks ago, I received permission from Broadman & Holman to use an excerpt on Right-Writing.com of Len and Carolyn Goss’s excellent book, The Little Style Guide to Great Christian Writing and Publishing. If you don’t know Len Goss, he’s the editorial director of trade and academic books at Broadman & Holman. I met Len when he was the Editorial Director at Crossway Books and before that Len was a Zondervan editor. He’s been in publishing for many years and worked with many different authors. The style guide is valuable on a number of fronts and a highly recommended book for any Christian writer.

Flipping through the book, I selected the section on the Editor-Author Relationship. One sentence stood out to me: “Trust is at the core of the editor-author relationship.”

I’ve had good and bad experiences as an editor and as an author. For example, last year I was editing an author’s manuscript which was full of sentence fragments and poorly constructed sentences--that had no flow from my perspective. I spent a ton of effort to make things understandable and clear--but the author accused me of messing with his style, being over 40 (yes) and generally too heavy handed (I was following the publisher’s instructions to me). He screamed loud enough that I was booted off the job (compensated for my work--but not used). The book is now out and I wish it well.

Many other times, the editor has lifted my prose to a new standard through their work. They have clarified sentences, improved verbs and many other functions. As someone who has been in this business a while, whenever you go through it, I’d encourage several actions:

  • Don’t fight every single change. Pick and choose your battles carefully. It’s a sign of wisdom and cooperation and positions you as an author who understands the process.
  • Celebrate and appreciate the editor and their hard work on your prose. In general, it’s a thankless job to be an editor—yet the editor is the person who monitors the quality of the end product—and ultimately stands for the reader. Their work in quality control is critical to the overall successful result of the product.

I know firsthand when the editor/ author relationship works, it’s a beautiful experience. The two people work in harmony for the best possible product. Love your editor. It’s an important connection.

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Sunday, April 03, 2005

A Well-Lived Life

Like much of the world over the last few days, I’ve been watching the television news and focused on Rome. While I’m not Roman Catholic, I’ve deeply admired the life of Pope John Paul II.

This morning I read my local newspaper and the first several sentences struck me, “John Paul II, the voyager pope who helped conquer communism and transformed the papacy with charisma and vigor, died Saturday night after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease that became a lesson to the world in humble suffering. ‘Our most beloved Holy Father has returned to the house of the Father,’ Archbishop Leonardo Sandri, a senior Vatican official, told pilgrims in St. Peter’s Square.”

As I’ve watched the images of the Pope’s life, I’ve reflected on his deep spirituality and his commitment to Christ—yet also to reaching out to people and touching the crowd. He was uniquely the people’s pope.

The experience has made me reflect a bit on my own writing life and what sort of legacy I want to leave behind. Whether we know it or not, each of us are building this legacy one day at a time. Like each of us, I have many different aspects of my life—daily follower of Jesus, husband, father, editor, writer and teacher.

Whether I am reading my Bible and praying or writing a magazine article or a section in a book proposal or a chapter of a book, my personal aim is to create excellence and clear communication. I’ve tried to reflect this quality of excellence in my children’s books or my role as an acquisitions editor. Also I’m attempting to show excellence in my Right Writing News publication. This past week, another issue went out—over 20 pages of great how-to writing material. It’s only available to subscribers.  When you subscribe, the welcome message provides the link to my back issues—and the price is right—free.

No one knows the time of life in their hands. It’s fleeting and can end in an instant.  The actual details of our life is in the hands of God. How do we make our legacy a well-lived life? It’s one day at a time. One of the deepest spiritual men that I’ve had the opportunity to meet is Billy Graham.  About fourteen years ago, I worked several years for Mr. Graham. For many years, his daily focus has been making each action to please Jesus.  When he’s been interviewed on Larry King, Mr. Graham has said his desire is to hear the Lord one day say to him, “Well done good and faithful servant, enter into my rest.”

May each of us leave such a legacy with our writing life.  


Friday, April 01, 2005

Low-Tech Appreciation

It’s rare these days—and it will help you stand out to your editor or fellow writer.  It’s low-tech and only involves a few minutes of your time. I’m talking about sending notes of appreciation or thank-you.

When I speak at a writer’s conference, a few people will take the time and energy to send notes. They are greatly appreciated. Or occasionally I get a note—but it’s pretty rare for someone who sits on the editor side of the desk to feel appreciated.  If you take this stance, it will stand out—in a positive way. You may not get a single response from the editor—but they will remember you and the next time you are in contact, your submission will receive a more careful reading—at least it would from me.

As best-selling author Harvey Mackay writes, “As readers of my first book, "Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," know, I'm big on the short note too. In fact, a lesson in that book details how beneficial the personal note can be. In sales, never underestimate the importance of the personal gesture, and right at the top of the list of effective personal gestures sits the handwritten note.”

If you ever feel stuck on how to express thanks, I recommend Instant Thank You Letters. Use this link to see my review.

I explore this concept in greater depth here. As my friend and best-selling author of great books on this topic, Florence Isaacs, writes in her article, “In this age of impersonal technology, of computers and recorded voices on telephones, the hand-written note makes a human connection. And not just to the recipient, but to the writer as well. It feels good to express your sincere thoughts. When you put pen to paper, very important feelings slip out, feelings that you might ordinarily keep to yourself. This is especially true with sentiments such as, "I love you," or "You're important to me," that may seem embarrassing to actually say.”

It might be just the perfect boost to your writing life today—a simple, handwritten thank you note.