Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Why Watch the Repeats

The summer schedule has finally arrived. For the most part, the television networks are airing repeats of their shows. Usually it’s a good time to rent that DVD or pull out a book (novel idea) and read in the evenings.  A couple of nights ago I watched a repeat show—the first episode of Grey’s Anatomy. After watching the show, I considered what drew me to watch the repeat.

I’ve been fascinated with the characters, their dialogue and interaction and plot. If you boil it down to a key ingredient, it’s the writing which is crisp and fast-paced. Also the characters grow and learn from their experiences—plus they are flawed and imperfect. When I’ve seen some actors from hit television showed interviewed (particularly the cast of Friends), they were asked what makes their show such a success.  Their top of the head first answer was to say something like, “We have great writers.”

As a writer and editor, I wonder what you are doing to improve your craft. Here’s some ideas:

  • Read some excellent fiction. Always a good idea and something that too few writers seem to do. But when I talk with some of the top fiction authors, they are always reading something.
  • Read some how-to-write books. I particularly like the work that Penelope Stokes built into her book, The Complete Guide to Writing & Selling the Christian Novel. It’s an excellent book on craft and many novelists and would-be novelists can learn a great deal from this seasoned editor and novelist.
  • Devote some time to learning about the publishing business. In other entries, I’ve mentioned this audio resource, Become A Bestselling Author. If you are making a driving trip across country. It might be one of your wisest investments in your career—the education you will receive from these audios.
  • Return often to this page and read the various articles. I regularly add new ones where you can learn about the craft of writing a novel. Note it is going through some reorganization and expansion to help you get around on this valuable resource.

I believe I understand a bit better why my wife will watch the sit-coms over and over.  The writing is key.


Sunday, May 29, 2005

Worth Remembering

Many people are taking this weekend to escape the heat in the desert. It’s been over 100 almost every day during the past week. They are headed to the mountains or to a cool lake where they can float on inner tubes and enjoy time away from work. Others are traveling to see family and spending time together. For some people, this weekend marks the beginnings of summer. While each of these activities are OK, I started to wonder about the origins for Memorial Day.

The closing images of the NBC Nightly News on Friday night were a group of soldiers going through Arlington National Cemetery who were placing flags on the tombstones in preparation for the weekend. This morning I used Google and typed in the words, “Memorial Day” and origin. Quickly I found the beginnings of this holiday.

Memorial Day began after the War Between the States or the Civil War and is a time to remember those men and women who died in the sacrifice for freedom. In 1971, an act of Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday and placed it on the last Monday in May. Over the years, this holiday has become a time to recall more than just the Civil War but includes other national wars and is the most important day of recognition for our armed forces.

If you pause to think about it, many people can think of a relative or friend who died in a national war. For me, it happened before I was born. My mother’s oldest brother, James Douglas Estill, was part of the U.S. Army in Germany during the Second World War. While out on patrol, an enemy sniper killed James. I’ve often heard the family stories about the day the news arrived of his death. It’s the uncle I never met yet I’m grateful for his sacrifice for our country and so we can enjoy our freedom.

Hopefully at some point during this holiday, you will take the time to remember—and pray for our troops in harms way. From my perspective, it’s something worth remembering.


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Where Are the Sparks?

While reading the May 30th issue of The New Yorker, one article caught my eye called “The Stories Behind the Best-selllers” by Meakin Armstrong.  It’s a topic that I’ve addressed several times in these entries about The Writing Life.  The article actually turned to be an advertising section but contains some valuable insight from some mainstream publishing people about books.

New York is gearing up for the Book Expo America or the premier event in the U.S. serving the publishing community which will take place from June 3 to 5th. I’ve been to these events in the past but will not be attending this year. BEA is a closed trade show and not open to the general public. You have to be a retailer, associated with a publishing house, or an author or member of the media to enter the event. Guards stand at each entrance and monitor whether you can get inside or not.

Every publisher is looking for that illusive bestseller in a variety of different genres of books. Chip Gibson, the president and publisher of Random House Children’s Books said in this article, “Publishing companies are engines of enthusiasm. We’re always looking for the little sparks around a projects; those physical manifestations of that overused but perfect word, ‘buzz.’” While the search is constant, publishers are careful not to overpromise because of the fickle public. As Doubleday Broadway president and publisher Stephen Rubin explained in the same article, “Because publishing is such an intuitive business, I never say that a book will be a best-seller. I say it has the potential of becoming one.” Notice the little dance in semantics?

While these major publishing houses are looking for their next big seller, the same search is going on in countless other places—submission piles for large and small publishers and at literary agencies. It’s actually happening in each aspect of the business. Magazine editors are looking at their submissions for the sparks that capture their imagination and fit their particular audience. Children’s book editor are searching for the manuscript which will touch children in a new way.

Our challenge as writers is to learn our craft and learn it well. Not to simply glut the market with our latest unpolished brainstorm. Instead to work day in and day out at producing excellence. Then maybe our submission will set off those sparks.


Friday, May 27, 2005

Beach Reading Yet Educational

Some people are planning to escape for the beach this summer. You may be one of them. Or maybe you are traveling to see family. If you are looking for a “different” type of beach book (something light yet educational), I recommend you pick up a copy of Ten Percent of Nothing, The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell by Jim Fisher.  I understand Jim has an attention-getting title.

The book reads like a novel—but it’s a nonfiction story about one of the biggest cases of literary fraud from Dorothy Deering, who presented herself as a literary agent, then bilked thousands of writers from their precious money.  The book shows how anxious writers are to get published—and like a man in the desert looking for water—these would-be writers will gravitate toward anyone who gives them encouragement. If they aren’t careful, they will be taken for a ride, spend a lot of money and have nothing to show for that expense. Fisher is a former FBI agent and now a professor in the Department of Political Science and Criminal Justice at Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I wanted to highlight this book because it came out last year and I’ve seen little about it—probably because the publisher is the Southern Illinois University Press.

And if you are looking for an agent, make sure you follow the terrific advice in Victoria Strauss’ article, The Safest Way to Find an Agent. Move with care and caution to make sure you are represented by a solid person in the industry. I find many writers want to get an agent—before they have published anything. It’s premature for most of them to get an agent.  And we are so insecure about our work that if anyone (read even a scam artist) comes along and expresses interest, then it’s natural to gravitate toward that person.

Track down a copy of Jim Fisher’s book. It might be educational besides a good read.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

It's An Unsolvable Mystery

Don’t you love to curl up with a good mystery? You turn the pages, jump in the footsteps of a detective and follow the clues.   There is also some mysteries in publishing that may be unsolvable. Why do some books sell and some books fade out of print?

It happens (and has happened) to many authors—you would instantly recognize their names. Their books are out of print.  As the Acquisitions Editor at a publisher, I had access to the list of books which had been put out of print (over a several year period). The decision to take a book out of print was made on the basis of the sales—and seemingly little else such as the author and their rise in the market. This particular list included names like Bill Myers, Luis Palau, Ross Campbell and other best-selling authors. While maybe these particular titles had been in print for some time, the sales were not in enough volume to maintain the book in print. As some people tried to point out in some comments about my post from yesterday. Whether you go the traditional route or the self-publishing route on the books, it will take hard work for your books to be sold, in demand and in print.

As I’ve mentioned in some past posts, an interesting book for writers to read and study is Making the List, A Cultural History of the American Bestseller 1900–1999 (Barnes & Noble Books, 2001). Korda is the Editor-in-Chief at Simon and Schuster and studies the bestseller lists for the last century. When you read the book, you learn the complete unpredictable nature of what makes the list and what doesn’t make it.

I’ve heard best-selling author Bruce Wilkinson (Prayer of Jabez) talk about how he had decided not to write any more books at one point. He had a successful teaching and seminar ministry and had not found much success (read sales) in the book area.  Then he put together a little book about Jabez and people began to talk about it. Pastors began to buy cases of the book and hand it out to their congregation. It took off. Bruce has been speaking about the prayer of Jabez for many years. I heard him in 1977 speak about it and he had written a manuscript on the topic which was over 200 pages—and never published. It was finally the right time and the right place for that particular book.

Several years ago I acquired a book from the pastor of a mega-church. The publisher worked on a promotional campaign and the author did almost 100 radio interviews when the book released. He also produced a short tract with an excerpt from the book (and the cover of the tract matched the book cover). He and members of his church handed out over 50,000 copies of this tract. Yet when he received his royalty statement with the accounting of the sales, he called me to ask about the numbers. When I investigated I found the numbers were true. A small number of books were sold through the stores and the majority of the books this author had purchased through his ministry. Something broken down somewhere in the sales process. Despite an active and successful publicity campaign, it wasn’t reflected in the book sales.  It is an unsolvable mystery to me.

Within a traditional publishing setting, the decision about keeping a particular book in print will boil down to the sales. There are some solid things that you as a book author can do to help this process:

*Don’t hold back on the author promotion of your book. Jump into it and while you are writing other things, keep marketing your book. Here’s a great article from Lissa Warren about what to do if your book isn’t getting media attention.

*Keep marketing your book even after the first initial months of the release. Some books are slow to take off and become bestsellers. I’ve read that This Present Darkness didn’t sell many copies during the first year but then through word-of-mouth marketing, the book began to take off and gained the best-seller status.

*Understand the importance of the backlist and steady sales to the publisher.  The May 16th issue of Publisher's Weekly includes an article about business books. Seth Godin’s Purple Cow was published by Portfolio two years ago and now has more than 150,000 copies in print after 23 printings.  Or Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point (2000 release) is on the current paperback bestseller (trade) list in Publisher’s Weekly with over a million copies sold.

*Sell through multiple channels. Readers like plenty of choice to purchase their books.  You can see more in this article.

Life is full of unsolvable mysteries. I’ve often heard this quotation about prayer: We are to pray like it depends on us and live like it depends on God.  I believe the same holds true for book marketing. We live with the uncertainty of the market but we continue because we know that books (and magazine articles) change lives. So we keep on even in the midst of something unsolvable.


Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Some Book Facts

Once a year, the book publishing industry learns about their production numbers for the previous year. Bowker, the leading provider of bibliographic information in North America, released these statistics yesterday.  The number of books which were produced broke another record at 195,000 new titles and editions or an increase of 14% from the previous year.

The largest area of growth was fiction which increased by 43.1% to 25,184 new titles and editions or the highest total ever recorded in this category.  You can read the full release and see some other new book numbers.

I’m frankly not surprised to see this increase in fiction. When I attend writer’s conferences, the number of people who are working on novels, seems to only increase. Yet I find much of the fiction needs a great deal of help before it would be successful in the market.

From these production numbers, we learn that it’s never been easier to get a published book. The proliferation of self-publishing, new publishers and Print On Demand publishers make it possible for anyone to get a printed book. Yes, you can write a manuscript, then take it down to one of these places and have a bound book for your shelf or to give your relatives.

One of the hardest things to proofread is something which doesn’t appear on the page. What isn’t said in these production numbers? These facts don’t say anything about books sold or books read or (even rarer) books which make the bestseller list.

iUniverse is one of the major self-publishing operations in the marketplace. The May 16th issue of Publishers Weekly (which I received in the mail yesterday) included an article with these statistics about iUniverse. During 2004, they published a total of 18,108 new books. Fourteen of their books were sold nationally through Barnes & Noble’s bricks-and-mortar stores. It’s a key number. While many people like to rave about their self-published books, where will they be able to sell it? How will they be able to sell it? Then another key statistic from iUniverse in the PW article: Only 83 titles (of the 18,108) sold at least 500 copies.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in writing books which aren’t read and aren’t sold. Certainly I can crank a bunch of words into the computer and go to iUniverse or another self-publisher place and get it bound into a book. If I have no means to sell it, then I only contribute to the problem or the paper proliferation rather than raising the rates of people who are reading. As a July 12, 2004 Publisher’s Weekly article pointed out, “A survey conducted by the National Endowment for the Arts has confirmed a trend that most book publishing industry members are well aware of: the percentage of Americans who read books has steadily declined over the last 20 years.”  Yes, traditional publishing takes time and energy and patience. The marketing effort for a book takes a lot of energy and effort. But if it is read, then it’s worth this effort.

One of the major reasons, I devoted such energy and effort to create Book Proposals That Sell is because I want to help writers be able to get their material in a format which traditional publishers will seriously consider (as opposed to instantly reject).  While I’ve written nonfiction books, I also have spent a lot of time and energy in the fiction area of the market. Currently I’m a part-time Fiction Acquisitions Editor

It’s been very affirming for me to receive these types of comments about Book Proposals That Sell from someone who lives in the fiction world as a best-selling author.

With years of experience as an author and an editor, Terry Whalin has written a book that can help any writer. Book Proposals That Sell offers great advice on building the nonfiction proposal and also explains the inner workings of the editor’s and publication board’s role in acquiring a new book. Novelists, too, will find this background information very helpful. All authors need to understand the uphill battle they face in selling a book before they can be fully prepared to submit their absolute best proposal or manuscript. Whalin’s book lays out what they’ll face--and then shows them how to win the battle.” — Brandilyn Collins, best-selling novelist.

If you are writing a book manuscript today, you have a choice. You can take the self-publishing route or you can go with a traditional publisher. Neither route will be easy but in the majority of cases—one route has readers and sales while the other is a huge question mark. These are some book facts worthy of consideration as you make your choice.


Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Encourage Promising Writing

The incident stands out to me like it was yesterday when it was many years ago. At the end of a high school English class, Mr. David Smith pulled a sophomore aside for a brief conversation.

“Have you ever thought of writing for the high school newspaper? Your writing shows some promise, Terry, and you might really enjoy it. I’m the advisor for the newspaper and we’re having our next meeting tomorrow afternoon? Think about coming.”

I came to the session and with one of my classmates began writing sports stories—about the only need the paper had at that point in time. Throughout that school year, I learned how to cover different sporting events at the school and wrote sports stories. Eventually I took a part-time job on the local newspaper working after school a few hours a week then I went to Indiana and majored in journalism.  The brief encouragement from a high school English teacher set my life on a path into the publishing world.

Each of us can encourage promising writing when we see it. Maybe you participate in an on-line forum and you see someone has a gift for crafting an appropriate response.  You can reach out and give encouragement. Possibly you see some excellence in your child’s writing or the friend of one of your children. Then you can give a few encouraging words. Or maybe you belong to a critique group where you look over each others writing. Always begin with some words of praise before you work on improvement. Those first few kind words will go a long ways.

My greatest opportunity these days comes through email or face-to-face with an individual at a writer’s conference. At times it’s a challenge to say something positive. It’s impossible for me to know how an individual will develop over the days and years in the future. I want to be one of those people who encourage along the journey—as I’ve been encouraged.

As writers, we have to create our own writing space. Maybe you write on a kitchen table (as I did for many years) or in a spare bedroom. In the current issue of The New Yorker, an artists’ collective called Flux Factory commissioned architects to design three writers’ “habitats.” I found the reading experience of this article called Writers At Work a fun and interesting—and maybe you will as well.

Also as writers, from time to time, the media interviews us—for a new book or some area of expertise that you’ve developed. It’s always a bit awkward for me when the interview tables are reversed. I’m much more comfortable interviewing someone rather than being interviewed.  Seasoned author Robin Lee Hatcher has some great advise when you face such a situation in her article, “What Did You Say?”

After that brief aside, I want to return to my theme for this particular entry.  Each of us need to be on the look out for a way to spread encouragement to others about their writing. Maybe you drop a handwritten note to a writer friend. In a business where we hear “no, thank you” a great deal, it’s important to encourage.


Monday, May 23, 2005

Early Love of Books

“Young man,” laughed the farmer, “You’re sort of a fool! You’ll never catch fish in McElligot’s Pool!” It’s the first line of the Dr. Seuss classic, McElligot’s Pool (Random House, 1947) and a book you don’t instantly think about for Dr. Seuss or his full name, Dr. Theodor Seuss Geisel. The book marked a return to his career in children’s books following a stint in the army during the Second World War. The book won an honorable mention in the 1946 Caldecott Award winners (given for illustration).

For me, the book sparked an early love of books. My mom talks about reading the book until she almost couldn’t stand to pick it up again. It was my favorite book as a child for several reasons. First, I loved the length of it—and if I was trying to delay going to sleep for a nap, then it gave me the longest possible reading experience.

The story of McElligot’s Pool stirred my child’s imagination. It’s all fine to fish in a spot but what if the spot could take you to unexpected places—it happens in the context of the rhyme and story from a Dr. Seuss children’s book

Now years later, I fish in a different fashion—within publishing. I’m fishing for the next opportunity—with a book project or a magazine article or some other writing project. Fishing can represent a metaphor for opportunity and lots of it is out there—we only have to find it. As this story concludes:

“Oh, the sea is so full of a number of fish,

If a fellow is patient, he might get his wish!

And that’s why I think

That I’m not such a fool

When I sit here and fish

In McElligot’s Pool!”


Sunday, May 22, 2005

The Old Yellow Book

While there are many different styles of music which I enjoy, in particular, I often like the words to the music of Country songs.  A recent hit song from Ken Chesney is called “I Go Back” where he recalls a lot of memories from his high school and younger years.

For a few entries about the Writing Life, I thought I’d go back to my early love of the printed page and books. It would give you a bit of insight about where I’ve been in relation to publishing.

During the last twenty years, many books have passed through my hands. Because I’ve interviewed and profiled more than 150 best-selling authors, their respective publisher sent me the background books to read and prepare for these interviews. I’ve also reviewed books for more than a dozen different magazines. For several magazines, I wrote a book review column and selected the books for each issue (of course taking my editor’s guidance—which was rarely given).  If you do this type of writing, then publishers will add your name and address to their “review copy” list and you will begin to receive many more books than you could possibly read. Some days I would receive multiple boxes with multiple books in a single day.

My bookshelves quickly filled with these books and it begins to take a bit of time to determine what to read next and why you are reading it. My pleasure reading went to almost zero and I wrote about the book or the author for almost every book that I read during this time.  Many of these books, I donated to a church library in Frankfort, Kentucky.  In fact, so many books were given the church petitioned their mayor to declare a “Terry Whalin Day.” Also this church had an elementary school which used these donated books and became accredited in part because of their extensive library. It’s no exaggeration to say that many books have passed through my hands over the last twenty years.

One book remains on my shelf.  Jesus the Revolutionary by H.S. Vigeveno (Regal Books) contains a simple cover with a drawing of the face of Jesus Christ. The pages are yellow in this old book and the cover says, “With forceful, flowing style, this book unmasks preconceived fantasies and presents the Jesus of the Bible in all His power, humility and love.” I purchased the book at a Logos Bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana which was just off the campus of Indiana University.  These printed pages showed me a different side of Jesus Christ than I’d ever seen before.  The book started my search and my personal relationship with Christ. You can learn more about the details of that experience through the article, “Two Words That Changed My Life.” 

I’ve personally been changed through the printed page. I’ve experienced the power of words to change life. It’s one old yellow book which I’ll be keeping as a constant reminder.


Saturday, May 21, 2005

One Life At A Time

Can your writing make a difference in someone’s life today?

There are many different types of writing. Some magazine articles are known as “service” articles because they highlight a particular service to the reader. Other articles are “how-to” articles and help the reader know how to do a particular task. Personal experience magazine articles are another popular format where you tell your personal experience and the reader gains insight from your own personal journey. Actually there are seven or eight different types of magazine articles (depending on which book you read). Notice how each time I talked about the article I was focused on the reader? It’s a common failure for new writers not to focus on the audience for their article.

The bulk of my writing has been in the spiritual/ religious/ Christian marketplace. It’s my area of expertise and where I’ve found opportunity for my writing. At times I wander out of this arena—with an article in some place like Writer’s Digest or my how-to material in Book Proposals That Sell (which is universal for any type of book writing).  I could write in other areas of the marketplace but I’ve decided to focus on the spiritual aspects and this aspect is where I have the greatest passion for my writing. Passion will often determine where you do your best work.  If you don’t have passion for a particular idea or writing project, it’s difficult to complete it—possible but difficult.

Writing is often a solitary task where we sit with our pen and paper or computer screen and simply pour out our words.  It’s rare that I receive a letter from someone who has read one of my books (at times forwarded from the publisher). It’s even rarer that I receive feedback from a magazine article that I’ve written and how it’s impacted someone’s life.

While the feedback from readers is terrific and appreciated, there is also some joy in the unknown and how that unknown can affect people. Several months ago, I received an email that asked if I was the “Terry Whalin” who went to Indiana University and went into Wycliffe Bible Translators (where I spent 17 years).  I replied to the email because I was that person.  The writer was someone I went to college with over 30 years ago and had lost contact.

Two years ago, this guy was in Rwanda visiting some Wycliffe missionaries and saw a book with my name on it. It stirred him to contact me. Ironically I wrote this book many years ago and is still in print and widely used around the world.  Because of this lost then newfound connection, I met face-to-face with this old friend last month in New York City. We are back in touch from that old writing project.

What’s ahead for you today in your writing life? Whether you write one page or many pages, get it into the market. It affects readers one life at a time.


Friday, May 20, 2005

Rejection Ammunition

I hate (yes hate) to get rejected. I craft an excellent book proposal or magazine article or query letter. I study the market and believe I understand what the editor needs for their organization. Then I still receive the form rejection in the mail.  It’s quite frustrating. Or worse, I send in my material and never hear anything. Yes, it happens even to people who have been often published in the marketplace.

The feelings of rejection come in other ways as well. This week I learned of the sales numbers for one of my books. It hasn’t done too well—even though it is an excellent book and I’ve received kind comments about the writing and contents.  From my years in publishing, I understand there are many chinks in the sales chain to sell a book or product into the marketplace. If the chink is broken in any portion, then the book doesn’t get into the hands of the consumer.  I know the book will sit in the publisher warehouse for a period of time (which varies from place to place) and eventually I’ll receive notice the book is going to be remaindered and put out of print.

I understand rejection as well from the other side of the table—as an editor. Last year, I rejected over 350 fiction submissions from literary agents and individual authors. It was definitely not fun for me but I take some satisfaction in the fact that I faithfully communicated with these individuals. Their submission was carefully considered and then I responded—yet not in the way they expected or hoped.

Where do we get the strength or the fortitude to continue in the face of rejection?

I want to suggest several possibilities for you to use—some of them even today:

1) Be committed to keep on and keep learning about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. You can learn online from various articles or at a writer’s conference or through an audio course or from writing books. I love what James Scott Bell wrote in his article on Rejecting Rejection, “One of my writing heroes, William Saroyan, collected a pile of rejection slips thirty inches high--some seven thousand--before he sold his first short story! Alex Haley, author of Roots, wrote every day, seven days a week for eight years before selling to a small magazine. They stuck it out, and eventually broke through.”

2) Gain strength from the stories of others who have been rejected—yet continued in their writing life.  An excellent article from Catherine Wald, author of The Resilient Writer is in the most recent issue of Right Writing News.  The newsletter is free to every subscriber. When you get the welcome message, it includes the link to the back issues. The 18th issue (May 19th) includes this story.

Catherine Wald is the creator of the Rejection Collection website (fascinating encouragement). I’m still in the process of reading The Resilient Writer (what a great title!) but here’s a quote from the first page of her introduction, “If Author Golden had crumpled when a high-powered agent told him his manuscript was “too dry,” Memoirs of a Geisha would have never seen the light of day.” (a best-selling novel)

There are many reasons for rejection—and we may know that intellectually—but we need to gather all of the rejection ammunition we can collect. Then we will have continued strength for the ongoing work of our writing.



Thursday, May 19, 2005

Measures of Hope

The magazine business changes constantly—as other elements within publishing. Editors change. The focus of a publication changes. The types of articles that they take changes. Themes for a magazine develop over a period of time and even what an editor takes and rejects changes.  If the editors don’t know what they want to achieve or do with the magazine (occasionally true), imagine how it confuses the people who are trying to write for them. At times it feels like a pure shot in the dark—but you have to continue taking the shot if you want to be published.

There are several realities to mention here. Nothing gets published if it’s only in your head or in your computer or in a file folder. It’s only when you send it into the marketplace that you have an opportunity for something to transpire.

Many years ago I was writing query letters about a little article on Listening Through the Bible. I targeted the idea for January issues of the magazine (perfect because people make resolutions and are looking for a new idea, etc.).  I learned if you listen to the Bible 20 minutes a day, you can make it through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation in four months. It’s an amazing—and true fact. The tape recording of the Bible simply keeps on going where you would get stalled—like in 2 Chronicles in the genealogy section.

My query letter on Listening Through the Bible was soundly rejected—all over the place. I crafted the query letter, targeted it to appropriate publications and received rejection after rejection. I didn’t think I was going to be able to write this particular article on assignment (which comes from writing the one-page query letter).

One day I received a phone call from a magazine editor. She was brand new at that magazine and had taken the helm of this publication (editor-in-chief type of role). Her initial words were apologetic about going through old query letters. (In fact, the publication had already rejected my idea and returned my SASE with the form rejection). This editor loved my Listening Through the Bible idea.  Then she asked, “Can you write 500 words on this topic by _____ a specific date a few weeks away?” Instantly I agreed. The article was published and reprinted numerous times. (In fact, I need to pull out that reprint and get it back into the market. As a former magazine editor, I know the editors will soon be looking for content for their January 2006 issues).

Hope springs eternal for writers — who are in the marketplace of ideas. Jump in the water with excellent writing. The water is fine. 


Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Inch By Inch

It’s easy to complain about things which are not happening:

  • editors who don’t respond
  • manuscripts which aren’t finished
  • queries which never get written
  • ideas which never get off the ground
  • projects which never get completed
  • wrong information in print or online
  • ____________ you fill in this one

I’ve got my own list of complaints and problems to wrestle and some times solve. Yet each of us have a choice in these situations—whether we verbalize it or not. We can either focus on these situations or try and be a part of the solution. I’ve chosen to be a part of the solution.

For example, my Book Proposals That Sell is beginning to get into the marketplace and on various online bookstores. This morning I was looking at the top online book sites and searching for my book to see if it was on the sites. In a number of cases, I was pleased to find the book but in the majority of the cases, it didn’t have much additional information about the contents of the book. As a book buyer, I know that reviews, endorsements and other information will help me make a positive decision about my purchase of a particular book. This morning I received an email from a writer who had looked at the book on Amazon.com and the reviews then decided to order the book.

I’m actively working to add additional information about the book on some of the key online bookstore sites. Going into the project, I know I will not be able to “fix” everything or add material in every case. But I will be able to change some of the information. It’s better to try some of it—and make some of it happen—than to do nothing and complain about it. Books-A-Million.com is carrying Book Proposals That Sell but with limited information.  On their help page, I found the right format to submit additional information.  Because I have a lot of this information on my computer, I was quickly able to pull together some additional information and send it to them. I know it will take time for this additional information to be processed and added to the site. In the long-run, I feel it will help the sales of the book and the buyer to make a more informed decision.

I use this same process in my writing. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of things that need to happen.  There are query letters which need to be written. Magazine articles to write and book proposals to complete. I’ve got manuscripts to process for my acquisitions editor task and many other things in the works. It’s key to focus and keep it moving forward—at times inch by inch.  The ideas will never sell if they remain unspoken or in my files.  If I have an aversion to marketing, then I need to learn to get over it. It’s part of the business of publishing. If I have an aversion to writing query letters and pitching ideas, then again I need to get over it because that’s how the system works. If I dislike writing book proposals and pitching my ideas in this fashion…..you get the idea.

Keep moving ahead. Follow the open doors for your writing—and keep learning about the craft of writing. Use some of my links for encouragement along your journey. Each of us need to keep moving—bit by bit.


Tuesday, May 17, 2005

The Conference Alternative

Often in these entries about the Writing Life, I’ve discussed the immense benefits of attending a writer’s conference. It’s a great place to learn about the craft of writing, gain some encouragement from other writers as well as begin to make some solid relationships with different editors and literary agents. I regularly teach at writer’s conferences as well as invest to attend different writer’s conferences. I understand and appreciate the value in each one.

While there are many advantages to a writer’s conference, there is also a cost in terms of time and expense. To attend most of the major writers conferences it’s easy for someone to spend $1,000 when you add the airfare, conference costs and other expenses. Is there another alternative?

One alternative is a product I’ve seen called Everything You Need to Know to Become A Best-selling Author, Lessons from an Anonymous Publishing Giant by Scott Jeffrey with Dr. X.  It’s loaded with information from an experienced New York Times Best-selling author who can’t reveal his identity because of his intimate relationship with a large publishing company.  Follow the link to get the complete information about this package but it has over 7 1/2 hours of recorded conversations with someone who knows the inside scoop about publishing because they have spent over 25 years in the trenches of publishing.

I’ve listened to most of this material. For over twenty years, I’ve been reading books and magazine articles about publishing and writing. I learned a great deal on these CDs which I’ve not seen any where else in print. It’s like going to publishing school and an excellent way to be educated on some of the keys to producing an excellent product. It’s not inexpensive at $297.50 but look what these CDs cover:

DISC ONE: The Winning Author’s Mindset
DISC TWO: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part I)
DISC THREE: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part II)
DISC FOUR: Deciphering the Publishing Business
DISC FIVE: Landing a Publishing Contract
DISC SIX: Understanding the Publishing Process
DISC SEVEN: Mastering the Publicity Game
DISC EIGHT: Book Marketing Strategies (Part I)
DISC NINE: Book Marketing Strategies (Part II)
DISC TENBONUS CD: The Psychology of Publishing

Because you purchase the audio CDs, you can repeatedly listen to the information and I believe each time you will pick up a new aspect about this business. It’s not easy for anyone to be published and you have to learn the system. This innovative package teaches you a different means to learn about publishing in the comfort of your own home or car.

It’s a solid alternative to attending a writer’s conference and something worthy of your serious consideration.


Monday, May 16, 2005

Get It Right From The Start

As a book editor--for fiction and nonfiction, I've repeatedly seen the importance of titles to draw the reader to the book.

Titles for the book often happen early in the path to publication or on the publisher’s production schedule. Most nonfiction books are contracted from a book proposal, so often the writer hasn’t completed their manuscript. Yet the title needs to be determined for the catalog and sales copy to be created and the cover to be designed.

I've been involved in hours of title meetings where we have an entire white board filled with titles and are trying to select the right one for the book. What are we working with for this process? Often it's your original proposal. What have you provided the publishing house? A single title or a title and a list of alternative titles? As the author, you know your book better than anyone else--and have the greatest passion for the topic. Make sure that passion shows up in your title and alternative titles. It will be significant.

Publishers work hard at the title--but don't always get it right the first time--and some times they change it in the process. For example, the nonfiction book from Frank Peretti was first released as The Wounded Spirit and now the title is No More Bullies. This book has been repositioned in the market with the new title.

I love the title of the new book (already available) and movie which will release next month about an unusual boxing upset. It's called Cinderella Man (book by Jeremy Schaap from Houghton Mifflin) and the movie will be from Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe. Why this title? It's revealed in the opening lines of the jacket copy on the book:

“Lost in the annals of boxing history is the sport’s true Cinderella story. James L. Braddock, dubbed “Cinderella Man” by Damon Runyon, was once a promising light heavyweight for whom a string of losses in the ring and a broken right hand happened to coincide with the Great Crash. With one good hand, Braddock was forced to labor on the docks of Hoboken. Only his manager, Joe Gould, still believed in him, finding fights for Braddock to help feed his wife and children. The diminutive, loquacious Jew and the burly, quiet Irishman made one of boxing’s oddest couples, but together they staged the greatest comeback in fighting history.”

Titles can make or break a book or magazine piece. Draw the reader or make them pass on to the next possibility. Put lots of energy toward this detail. Your title might just be the tipping point which makes a difference whether your book idea or magazine article is published or whether it catches lots of attention.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Take Notes? Then What?

As a journalist who interviews people then writes their stories for publication, I’ve handwritten thousands of pages of notes. Because my handwriting is poor, I believe I’m the only person who could make any sense from these notes. Normally as a back up for my quotations, I tape these interviews (on the phone as well as in person).  Yet, I’ve had the situation where where my tape did not work during the interview—and I didn’t take any notes. You talk about a panic situation. It’s especially true when you are interviewing someone high profile that you will have great difficulty reaching again.

Often I use a reporter’s notebook or a 8 1/2 x 11 legal pad for my notes. I prefer the reporter’s notebook because it’s easy to fit in my hand and I can even slip it into my back pocket. If I get a chance immediately following the interview, I will review my notes, circle or star different key quotations and some times even make a rough outline of the subsequent story. It will give me a head start for when I finally write the actual magazine article or book chapter.

Some times I will do a series of author interviews with different people. I make sure to write the person’s name and the date and the setting at the top of the page.  Later I will often tear out those pages from my notebook or legal pad, staple them together and put them into a Manila folder with the subject or author’s name.  In the folder, I collect information about their books, their biographical material and other material from the publisher or research that I’ve done with other sources. It helps me keep all of this material in one place. Because of my longevity in publishing, I will interview a person more than once. I can easily tap my earlier research and review that material—even if it’s been years in between these interviews.

While in brief, the above is my system for note-taking related to interview (and works well for me), I have not had a good system for note-taking in meetings. I’ve tried many different things—including the legal pad and reporter notebook system above but my follow-up has been challenged and not systematic.

What about taking notes in other situations such as meetings? Almost everyone in publishing is involved in a series of meetings. In the last few days, I read Mike Hyatt’s  excellent article, Recovering the Lost Art of Note-Taking. Through the years, I’ve only been in a couple of meetings with Mike. I do recall his active note-taking during our time together and until I read this article, I never understood some of his purpose or what he did with the notes after the meeting. His system for review, follow-up and action was fascinating to me.  It seems a bit ironic to me that Mike handwrites his notes. Especially when I’ve read some of his other posts about using a Blackberry and other hi-tech tools. There is something sensory and physical about handwriting notes and it must be part of the reason that Mike actively takes notes.

About four years ago, I participated in several meetings with the CEO of our company.  For each meeting, Dave Jaworski carefully carried a notebook and used it for each session. We no longer work together and I didn’t take advantage of my opportunity to learn his system for those notes and how he used them.

I’m going to try Mike Hyatt’s note-taking system and see what I can learn from it. I ordered a Large Rule Journal Moleskine notebook so I’m prepared for my next series of meetings. I’m always trying to improve my work habits and note-taking looks like a promising step for me.


Saturday, May 14, 2005

Access Your Writing Voice

I continue reading solicited and unsolicited fiction manuscripts for my part-time work at Howard Publishing. I’m constantly amazed at the number of beginning novelists who have almost no dialogue in the opening of their story or they have poorly written dialogue.  A number of things have to be working together for excellent fiction but one of the key elements is dialogue.

One of my long-time friends, Gloria Kempton, is a Writer’s Digest instructor and has coached many writers in their fiction.  Gloria and I met at a writer’s conference and she was an editor at Aglow magazine (which doesn’t exist any longer—one of the hazards of the magazine business.)  I was just beginning to write magazine articles. While Gloria has written nonfiction, she has written a number of novels.

Recently Writer’s Digest Books released her how-to book called, Dialogue, Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue. It’s excellent and a recommended resource. I love what she wrote in the early pages of her book, “I'm here to tell you there is no "right" way--I don't care what you've heard from other writing instructors and read in other writing books. There is only your way. Yours is the "right" way. And your job as writer is to learn to access the voice inside of yourself that you need for a particular piece of dialogue, no matter who's speaking it. Sure, you can do research, read books like this one, watch movies, and listen to how folks on the street talk. But ultimately, our characters come from somewhere inside of us, and if we want to be true to ourselves and our characters, whether fictional or real, we have to start giving them a voice.”

I’ve pulled together a longer excerpt from this book about Writing Natural Dialogue.

As writers we need to access our writing voice then live that voice through our characters—or breathe it into fascinating nonfiction. It’s possible—but demands a lot of work, which too few people seem to want to do in order to produce great writing.


Friday, May 13, 2005

Applause for Innovation

I’m always looking for innovation in the marketplace.  Some times an innovator will fail but other times they will catch the new wave in the market.  As you read in print magazines and Internet publications (such as Publisher’s Lunch which is free) along with books and newspapers, I’d encourage you to look for innovation and study how it came into the market.

An increasing number of magazines and book imprints and other areas of publishing are targeting a particular group or niche of the marketplace.  Publishers will continue to look for broad-based books—but writers make a key mistake when they don’t identify and target a particular group. Of course, you have to make sure you select a large enough group that a publisher will be interested in also going after that target. Otherwise you will face rejection for your idea (another of the many reasons that ideas are rejected).

Stephen Strang, the publisher at Strang Communications has a diverse ministry of magazines and books. For many years, I’ve known Stephen and admired his innovation. One area of the market which I haven’t seen targeted is the church bookstore market.  Particularly among the larger churches but in some cases among the smaller churches, they are starting their own bookstores. With the intense competition from “big box” stores like Barnes and Noble or Borders along with Sam’s Club and other places where Christian books are sold (even Target), it is no secret the number of Christian bookstores continues to decline. It’s a competitive tough business.

Now Strang has targeted the church bookstore with a forthcoming magazine plus with a new convention for these church bookstore managers. You can learn more about it at www.churchbookstore.com. From my view it’s an idea that has potential for strong success. Of course, it’s too early to tell in some ways. I applaud the innovation.

How are you reaching out to a new market or new area today for your writing life? Are you crafting a short story to send to a magazine? What about trying to write a nonfiction magazine article or query letter? Are you toying with a nonfiction book proposal? Some of those innovations might be a turning point in your career.


Thursday, May 12, 2005

Why I Change Things Around

If you go to Right-Writing.com and take a look you will notice the overall design for the website has changed—again.  Since it began, I’ve been making a conscious effort to change it about every three or four months. Why?

I’ve been online enough to understand the importance. If the site doesn’t change, then it indicates it is static and not updated or used.  If this lack of change goes on too long, then you lose your audience. When you lose your audience some of those people will never return.

It’s one of the reasons, magazines redesign from time to time. Publisher’s Weekly launched a fresh new look last week. They moved their bestseller list from the back of the magazine to the front—along with hundreds of other changes.  Overall I like the changes that PW made to their publication. Yes, I’m as resistant as the next person to these changes—but they are a reality of our life in publishing and life in general.

I loved the cover story of the May Fast Company called Change or Die. It’s worth reading and some tome for thoughtful reflection.  The opening to this piece is dramatic and says in part, “What if you were given a choice? For real…You wouldn’t change. Don’t believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: none to one. That’s nine to one against you. Do you like those odds?”

I took a small amount of time and reworked the look of my website.  I wrote a friend about the change and she commented that looking around the site, she noticed a number of new articles which she had not read.  It was exactly the reaction that I wanted—and expect that others will have as well. I’m constantly adding material to the novel section or the children’s book section or the nonfiction section or the magazine area or the freelance writing section of other parts of the site. The new design helps the reader see new areas to explore.

To change some websites, it involves a massive amount of time and energy. I’ve worked on those types of sites before—and because of the time factor, it’s the path of least resistance to leave them alone. I’ve been using SitebuildIt for Right-Writing.com. I can change the design of my site in about 30 minutes to an hour. My biggest problem was selecting the right typeface for the navigation buttons. I wanted the words to be clear and not too tiny so I had to change them several times to get the right combination.

While we resist change, what are we doing to change? Admittedly change takes effort, energy and plain old work.  Change might open a new window in your own writing life today. I hope so. 


Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Keep It Moving

I’ve learned the hard way in the writing life about the importance of having a lot of different things in motion—at the same time. You never know which project or which aspect will get attention on a particular day.

Today I received an email that one of my friends, Dr. Ted Baehr, turned my press release on Book Proposals That Sell to Assist News Service (a world-wide news service). My press release suddenly went to news services around the globe. Will something happen from this release? I don’t know but I’m excited about the potential.

Our obligation as writers is to celebrate these events and keep throwing out our material into the marketplace to see where it will have an impact. It’s been a personal encouragement to see the various reviews of my Book Proposals That Sell on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. From my own experience as a book buyer, I know these reviews will help others decide if they want to purchase the book or not.

Each week, I read a great deal of material.  In some publication, I learned it’s more effective to have ten different ways for people to purchase a book than to devote the energy to only one means.  It’s more effective if people can purchase the book at conferences, at various online sources, in the bookstore, directly from the author, and from the publisher—than only one marketing channel. It’s why publishers spend a lot of time talking about various sales channels.  Often in the sales area, a publisher will have a channel manager who is responsible for a particular type of sales (such as to Sam’s Club or Walden Books or book clubs).

As a writer, how are you keeping your writing moving? Are you writing magazine queries and sending them out on a regular basis? If you want to write books, are you learning how to craft your proposal for the editor? Are you meeting those editors at conferences then forming ongoing relationships? To make our dreams about writing happen will involve a combination of faithfully learning our craft and faithfully knocking on doors of opportunity. You never know which door will open.


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Timing Is Key

It’s important in the writing business to simply write. Make a concerted effort to get your words—your magazine article, your children’s book, your novel, your nonfiction book proposal—get it out of your head and on the page. 

It’s also important to have relationships—lots of relationships. You need them with fellow writers. You need them with literary agents. You need them with editors—book editors and magazine editors—all sorts of editors. You can develop these relationships through attending conferences, participating in email forums, and simply actively writing query letters and book proposals and participating in the lifeblood of the business day after day.

It’s also important to follow-up—in a kind but persistent manner.  This morning I had two fresh experiences in this area and it formed what I wanted to write today about the Writing Life. Recently I taught over eight hours at a writer’s conference and sold some copies of Book Proposals That Sell.  Unfortunately I didn’t sell all of my books. Over the weekend, I sent a little follow-up email to inquire about these books which have not been returned. I had not received a response. (Email doesn’t have to be answered and can be ignored). I made a phone call (planning before the call to keep it short and to the point). The person who answered the phone was someone from the bookstore I met during the conference (another key point—I made a relationship). She apologized (they have been swamped) and will try and get the books out as well as my check from the book sales. I made a brief note about the date and who I talked with—just in case it doesn’t show up here in a couple more weeks. You have to keep track of these details—either on a spreadsheet or in your head or some other format. No one else will make this effort and otherwise things slip through the cracks.

After my call to the bookstore, I immediately made a follow-up call to the editor of a book club where I had sent an Advance Review Copy of my book several months ago.  About a month ago, I called once and left a voice mail message (which was ignored). Today this editor answered her phone when I called. Jackpot. I quickly reminded her of my submission and touted an endorsement on the cover from the president of the ninth largest publisher in the world.  I asked if she wanted a finished book (now the book is available).  As we talked, I could hear her digging through some piles for my submission. She found it and pulled it to the top of her stack saying that she needed to be looking for something for their August issue. We had a short cordial call where she promised to be in touch.

Will my book become something this book club will offer to their large audience? It’s unknown at this point. I will tell you that it would have been fairly certain not to happen if I had not made this phone call.  Often one of the keys is timing—and follow-up.


Monday, May 09, 2005

Don't Neglect the Obvious

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been proactively working on some marketing efforts for Book Proposals That $ell. I’ve been sending out some review copies of the book and following-up with various editors on some of these details. I’ve created a special website for the book and added some excerpts which I’d love for people to use in their newsletters or other types of viral marketing.

I’ve even pitched a couple of editors about using my excerpts in their electronic newsletters and other communication tools. When I selected these excerpts, I made a point of choosing short, interesting, how-to articles that could stand alone without any additional editing or explanation.

Some times people will hire a freelance publicist to handle the review copies and getting interviews for the authors. In this case, I’m handling the creation of the press release, the mailing of the review copies and other aspects of the process. 

As I thought about my marketing plan (yes I have a plan and created one weeks ago), I understood I was neglecting an obvious effort. I’ve devoted a great deal of energy and effort to creating Right-Writing.com. I continue to update the site and change various aspects—as well as produce a free newsletter.  The back issues contain a great deal of writing information from various authors. Subscribers receive the link to these back issues in their welcome message plus the link is in every newsletter.

While I had created excerpts and Right-Writing.com, I had not posted my excerpts on Right-Writing.com—a mistake. This morning I added the first excerpt to the site and highlight it on the front page. Check it out and see what you think. It’s a small taste of the contents of my new book and I’ll soon be adding the second excerpt.  As I created these excerpts, I changed the files from MS-Word files to plain text (what I needed for my website). Now I have these files to send to anyone with their own newsletter.

My key point is there are obvious actions you should be making as a writer. Don’t neglect those obvious disciplines.  For example, learn to write query letters. Then write those query letters to editors on a regular basis. Learn to write book proposals, then send your proposals to editors and agents on a regular basis. Each of us only have today so let’s get with it. Tomorrow will soon be here.



Sunday, May 08, 2005

Work Smarter -- Learn New Tricks

Over the last few days, I’ve been sending out a number of books through priority mail. I love the way the United States Post Office provides the labels and the flat rate envelope. I do not like writing the address on the label by hand. Truth be told my handwriting is actually printing. No one on the planet would be able to read my handwriting and it’s a challenge for people to read my printing.

I have used the envelope feature of MS-Word for a long time and it’s a real time saver. You slide an envelope into your printer and the result looks professional. What if I changed the direction of the envelope feed and instead of an envelope, I inserted a Priority Mail label? I began to experiment with the program to see if I could make this change. The program is point and click, so I didn’t have to do any fancy programming or read the manual. It only involved a couple of test printings but I figured out how to do it.

Now my label will look professional (typed instead of handwritten) and it will save time. Over the past few weeks, I’ve handwritten many of these labels and figure over the years ahead I will generate hundreds of them. The little bit of time saved will amount to a lot of time in the long run.

I’m constantly looking for little ways to improve anything that I do on a regular basis. If I can position something in a better place where it’s easier to reach or learn a new trick on the computer, then I can work more efficiently and it leaves more time for other things—like writing.

Take a few moments and consider your own writing life. Are there things you haven’t taken the time to learn about your computer or your wordprocessing program? Would it be worth a few minutes each day or at least once a week to try and learn a new feature? If it helps your effectiveness as a writer, then I suggest you do it. Each of us need to learn to work smarter.


Saturday, May 07, 2005

If It Was Easy...

I’ve decided if publishing and writing were easy, everyone would do it. It’s not—for any of us. Each project has many different twists and turns and wrinkles.

Yesterday I was watching Larry King Live and his guest was the actress Lauren Bacall.  Larry King asked her about the life of an actor.  She said, “Well, it’s a life of rejection. I mean, anyone that goes into the profession of movie actor must know that it's a life of rejection.” Then Larry King followed up, “You hear “no” a lot?” and Lauren Bacall said, “You hear “no” a lot. Yes. And you hear “testing” a lot and “auditioning” a lot. And how great you are and then they cast somebody else. You get that a lot unfortunately.”

The words are almost the same with in publishing where editors want you to write on “speculation” instead of “testing” or “auditioning.” And you receive rave comments about your proposal or manuscript or idea, then someone else’s project gets the book contract or the magazine assignment.

I’ve mentioned in the past, how challenging it is for any writer to get their idea contracted then eventually published in a book. You will need an editor to shepherd your work through the publishing house then guide it as the title is selected and the cover is designed. Then the editor will also champion your work as it goes into the marketing and sales phases. Each book is different in this process and the actual results are different. For a book to become a bestseller, many different factors have to come together including the “buzz” factor where people are recommending the book to others.

For the majority of my books, I’ve only entered into the marketing phase half-heartedly. In many cases the publisher hired an outside publicity firm to set up radio interviews and push the book for review with editors. Or I wrote the book as a collaborator. Then the “author” generally goes off and promotes the book. The majority of my responsibility in this area was over because I carried the weight of the partnership to get the book written, work back and forth with the editor about any final changes, and any other editorial aspects.

For my new Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success, I’ve taken a different approach. Because a small press published the book, there isn’t a lot of marketing energy from the publisher. The majority of this responsibility will be on my shoulders as the author.  I’ve taken a proactive approach to this aspect of the work. I’ve created a website for the book. I created a marketing plan for the book—which the publisher gave to the distributor. He told me the distributor is more likely to do something active with the book if they see an active author is involved with the book. Step by step, I’m working through my plan and adding to it.

For example, I decided to sell books direct to readers through my website. It means that I will personally be fulfilling the orders—more work and more time yet with the benefit that I make more money on each sale.

I’ve also been proactive to get reviews for the book. I created some advance review copies and sent them to specific places—and followed up to see if they were used. I sent a number of review copies in advance to different writers who volunteered to review the book on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com or other places. I appreciate these writers taking the initiative to help this process. These reviews make a difference to people when they look at the book on these sites and determine if they will order it or not. Yet—it takes constant follow-up on my part.  Today I sent a short note to each of these reviewers who haven’t posted a review yet—reminding them of their commitment, giving them the links for each site—and seeing if they needed anything additional. It isn’t easy—and consumes time from other efforts. But like I began this entry, if it was easy many people would do it. It’s not.


Friday, May 06, 2005

Put It Out In the Market

Are you one of the closet writers? You have been studying writing for years and going to conferences. You read tons and you have built personal relationships with a number of editors. Yet you are always polishing your material and never quite finishing it. Why? You show it to critique groups and get feedback, then you rework it some more. It never gets into the marketplace of ideas.

Or maybe you have too much material in the market. You are constantly writing and never getting published. You have compiled a bunch of rejection slips but you don’t have a clue where you will get published. Like some gambler in a casino, you are getting it out there in volume and figure the odds will help you hit it eventually. Wrong. There is a lot of stuff writers are sending out into the market which simply isn’t ready. I see it fairly often in my fiction acquisitions editor role. You would be shocked at what some writers are trying to send out for a query letter or a novel proposal. It’s a sad statement—but true. I don’t have time to do much of anything other than shake my head and send them the form rejection letter.  I’ve learned through hard experience what many editors and literary agents have learned: if you try to add something personal, then you usually regret it—because instead of quickly handling the matter—you’ve opened yourself for a dialogue (and at times argument) with the writer.  There simply isn’t time or energy for such an exchange. It’s unreasonable for the writer to even consider it.

This week I was talking with an editor.  It was an introductory conversation and we were getting to know each other. She told me about her rude awakening to the life of an editor—when she became one. Now she understands why it takes forever for editors to get back to writers. It’s hard to explain but read there is a massive volume of material coming at the editor. Most of the volume comes through the mail (my personal preference). Email hasn’t helped but only added to the expectation. You meet someone at a conference and from that passing nod—the writer figures they have “earned” a quick response—at least within a week. After all, it’s only email. The writer with this attitude doesn’t understand the editor gets literally hundreds of emails—and has meetings and other obligations besides answering such email.

I’ll admit you have to study the marketplace, know some editors, make some relationships, go to conferences and read a lot of books. You have to craft your words. If a nonfiction book proposal, then learn how to write a proposal. If fiction, then learn how to tell a good story and tell it with rich characters and a riveting plot and great dialogue that makes the reader turn the next page.

It’s a delicate balance between persistence in the market and studying the craft. May each of us find it today.


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Some Merits for Volunteers

Some writers never join organizations.  They proudly write alone and never take a class or go to a writer’s conference—unless they are invited to speak to them. This type of writer labors alone and independently to craft their words.  I’ve never been one of those type of writers.

I’ve always tended to join different groups and learn from the experience. In the early days of my writing, I was active with the Orange County Christian Writers (it was surprising to find this beautiful website—thanks Google).  It was about 20 years ago my colleague at Wycliffe Bible Translators, Larry Clark, began this group.  As the founding director, Larry organized a board for the group and one day writer’s conferences in the spring and the fall. He wrote to magazines and book publishers to get sample copies of their publications and writer’s guidelines, located a vendor to provide lunch and almost single-handedly at first put on these events.  At Larry’s request, I served on the board for a couple of years and helped him with the some of details of the conference. I’m pleased to see that the OCCW organization hasn’t died (as many have in other parts of the country) but has carried on to this day (with completely different volunteers and board members). Quickly I can think back to some people I met in those early days who are still active in publishing like Rolf Zettersen (current publisher at Warner Faith and back then worked for Dr. James Dobson at Focus on the Family) or Joseph Farrah (currently editor and CEO of WorldNetDaily who back then was the managing editor at the Sacramento Bee) or Janet Kobobel Grant (current literary agent at Books & Such but back then a book editor at Focus on the Family). My relationships with these individuals began through these one-day writer meetings.

Because I was a magazine editor at In Other Words then Decision, our publications were active in the Evangelical Press Association.  I took an active role in this organization.  I mentioned serving on their board for two years. Each year, the EPA holds their convention in a different part of the U.S. The local members organize the event (again all volunteer work). There are meetings and emails and phone conversations to pull off such an event each year.  I had the opportunity to see some of my other EPA colleagues face to face for these discussions.

Yes, it involves an investment of time and energy for this type of volunteer work but I’ve found the return is so much greater than anything I’ve given. For the last few years, I’ve been active in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It means I’ve served on different committees which mean participating in different phone and email discussions about the business of the Society. I’ve made some amazing friends (and continue to do so) in this group. I’ve learned more than I can express in these few sentences. My involvement has helped my learning experience. Today I learned that I’ve been elected to an at-large board member for the ASJA. I’m exactly unsure what it means other than I’ll be involved in more email discussions and an occasional phone conference. Also I have to attend a mid-year face to face board meeting in New York City in November. It’s a three-year term and I assume I will learn a great deal from this opportunity.

Your level of involvement is a choice but there are literally hundreds of writer’s groups which need volunteers for the organization to run properly. You can make some new writer friends, learn a great deal as well as make a contribution to the lives of others.  There is a great deal of merit (and work) to volunteering but it’s been a great experience in my writing life.


Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Five Star Reviews

I’ll confess in the first sentence that I don’t know a great deal about the review system on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com. I do know that some people make their buying decisions about a particular book based on the reviews—and if they are high or low.  Each site has a five star system where five is excellent and one star is poor.

It’s a common marketing technique to give your new book to some acquaintances then ask them to post reviews on Amazon.com or Barnes & Nobles.com.  Their reviews help raise the level of awareness about the book. For my Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success, I sent about a dozen copies of the book to various people who volunteered to read the book and write a review. I offered the possibility on a couple of email forums where I occasionally participate.  I’ll be following up soon to encourage these writers to carry through with their promised review. Follow-up is always key throughout the publishing world. It’s the persistent follow-up which often makes a difference to the editor or to the writer or any other player in the publishing world.

Imagine my surprise today when I checked my reviews on Amazon.com and found my book at a three star level. What happened? At the time, I had two reviews—one which was five star and another which was one star. The words on the one star review were glowing about the book. I figured this writer must have made a mistake somewhere in the posting process. Amazon.com averages the star reviews—so if you get some high and some low—it comes out average. When I sent a gentle email to the writer and called it to her attention,  she figured out how to delete her first review and post a new one with five stars. Yeah!

As an author, I’m working hard to get the buzz going about this book. There isn’t one formula for the marketing so you have to use many different avenues to promote and encourage people to know about your book. If you have a printed newsletter or an ezine (even occasionally sent), let me encourage you to use the two excerpts from Book Proposals That Sell. If you have a writer’s group or an occasional mass mailing or emailing, I’d love for you to use these excerpts to give people a taste of the contents. It’s another technique that I’m trying for this book.

Publishers are looking for authors who take a proactive role in the marketing of their books. These types of authors understand that publishing is a business and the role of the author goes far beyond simply writing a manuscript, giving it to the publisher and counting on them to sell the book. It takes your effort and the publisher effort to give the book the best possible launch into the marketplace. May all of our books receive five star reviews.


Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Easier With Support

It’s easy to misunderstand anyone who is involved in a creative endeavor like writing or editing. Sure, there is a science to what we do and some how-tos but it is as much art as science. It’s that strange combination which is hard to explain. I can teach the how-to parts of the craft (and many other talented writers can do so as well). But the art part, you have to bring to the table. You never know if you have this art portion or not until you try—so please don’t let it put you off trying to get published and write. Persistence is the name of the game.

It’s easier to be in the writing and publishing business if you have someone to support your efforts. I know this firsthand. Today marks my ten year anniversary to a remarkable presence and support in my life—someone I can’t spend enough time with—and we’ve spent hours together—Christine.  We met in a singles class at the First Presbyterian Church in Colorado Springs. Both of us were divorced and newly single. It was at a Valentine’s Day dance we met for the first time.  During May of the previous year, I had given my final treasurer’s report for the Evangelical Press Association. The next event on the schedule were some drawings related to the next year’s convention in the Washington, D.C. area.  They were raffling a hat and a mug and the grand prize was the presidential suite at the Hyatt Regency.   I never win anything in these drawings but I had dropped my business card into the bowl to be considered.  Three hundred editors were drum rolling on the table for to see who would win this grand prize. To my complete shock, they drew my business card from the bowl. About half of the crowd groaned because they believe the drawing was “rigged” since I had just finished addressing the convention. My face registered pure shock since I was going through a divorce and had no idea what I would do with the presidential suite of a hotel.

Throughout the year, magazine editors were calling me or writing to say they would be partying at my suite during the convention. Little did anyone know what would happen. I married Christine a few days before the convention and we spent our honeymoon in this presidential suite—which was something like 1,800 square feet with a full dining room, living room and a single bedroom.  Editors looked at us a little funny to be honeymooning at the convention—but it was the chance of a lifetime—in a number of ways for me.

My new wife plunged into my writing/ publishing world and learned about magazines and book publishers that had never been a part of her experience. It was a terrific event—and ten years ago today.

I marvel at Christine’s support of my writing and publishing work. We’ve moved several times because of different opportunities. I write all sorts of strange and weird hours but she has been there every step of the way. It’s easier if you have the support—not impossible without it—but much easier.


Monday, May 02, 2005

Who Makes The Book Index

I love a book with a good index--good being the operative word. It's almost always the responsibility of the author contractually to handle the index--at least that's how the first version of your contract will likely read from the publisher. If you can negotiate something different then good. In these days of cost cutting, publishers will look to the author to produce the index or hire someone to create it.

Like most of these specialties, there is an organization for people who index. Their Frequently Asked Question section handles a lot of about this topic and much more. I’m still racing for my deadline but I couldn’t resist adding this information to the Writing Life.