Saturday, July 30, 2005

Feel Guilty About Used Books?

I fully expect some of my author friends to write me about this admission. From time to time, I purchase used books on Amazon.com.  Also I purchase books on the bargain table or “remainder” location in the big box bookstores (like Barnes & Noble or Borders). Why is that such a big deal? Some people have told me that they always buy their books in a traditional bookstore (to support that particular store). Others contend they never purchase used books.

In 2002, the Author’s Guild and several other organizations sent an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos objecting to how the Amazon.com system allows (and even promotes) the sale of used books.  It is true that authors and publishers lose some sales from the used book market. An article in the New York Times suggests that the actual costs to the publisher isn’t that great and the gains are far greater than any loss. (If you are not registered on the New York Times website, it’s free but you have to be registered to read this article—and it’s simple.) I’d encourage you to read this article and see if it doesn’t lessen your feelings of guilt about used books.

For me, I don’t consistently purchase used books. My book buying habits include a mixture of new books and used books. Because I work in publishing and review books, I regularly receive books from publishers. It’s a continual battle in my office to keep the books on my bookshelves. Otherwise they spill on to the top of the shelf or the floor of my office.  Most people in publishing understand the market is geared toward women since they purchase the majority of the books. Years ago I read the average man reads two books a year.  Because I understand writers are readers, I’m off the charts in terms of the number of books which I read each year. Hopefully from reading these articles, you can feel a tad bit less guilt for purchasing used books. 


Friday, July 29, 2005

A Bit of Book News

Throughout my week, I’m constantly reading different print magazines as well as online newsletters. As I read, I’m gathering information about the market. My news comes from a variety of sources.  As you are aware of these different outlets, you can increase the amount of publishing news you gather.  For many years, I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Weekly which is about the size of a news magazine yet specialized in publishing.  If you haven’t seen one, go to any public library in the country and ask the reference librarian about it. It’s usually a heavily guarded publication in the sense that librarians don’t like to get it much out of their immediate line of sight.  Librarians use Publisher’s Weekly to advance order bestselling author’s books and other books. In the last few years, Publisher’s Weekly has added email newsletters and a lot of information online. Unfortunately most of this information is limited to subscribers. I understand the costly subscription to this magazine but it’s a huge publishing education for anyone who gets the magazine and faithfully reads it—even if your way of getting it is to go to the library once a week or once a month.

This week more than 2,000 writers are gathering in Reno, Nevada for the 25th annual Romance Writers of America Convention.  Yesterday I read this piece in the Reno Gazette-Journal by Siobhan McAndrew who interviewed Nicole Kennedy, publicist for the RWA. In case you don’t know, a novel is classified as a romance when a love story is the central theme and it has a happy ending. Here’s the statistic that jumped off the page from Kennedy who said “romance novels comprise 50 percent of all paperback book sales, and sales this year are expected to top $1.4 million.”

To write any type of novel takes craft and tremendous work. You can learn a great deal from organizations such as the Romance Writers of America or the American Christian Fiction Writers (which started as the American Christian Romance Writers and includes a lot of romance writing members).  I recommend writers constantly be monitoring various bits of book news—and use it as a bellwether for your own writing. What types of books do you like to read? What types of writing do you enjoy? Then take some active steps to consistently increase your wealth of information about the market and this area of the business while constantly looking to improve your craft. In the long run, it will pay off for you—not instantly but over the long haul.


Thursday, July 28, 2005

Words That Count

For almost twenty years, I’ve been writing for different magazines. Each experience is different and involves working with a editor to make sure I meet their expectations. Particularly in the magazine area (but also in books), the article length is key. As a former magazine editor, I understand the space requirements and the need to write to a specific word count.

In the early days, I had to physically count the words. Thankfully computer programs handle this function. As an editor, I understand you can’t turn in something that is way over the limit or way under the limit. It will make a difference to your editor and their expectations and requirements.

I’ve reviewed thousands of books and written short reviews about these books. The rule of thumb says the shorter the article, then the importance of word count increases. Imagine my surprise to hear from one of my editor’s this week that my word count was a bit short.

At first I was a bit indignant since they specified a range of words—and my review fell within that range of word count. Then I read the email again—and understood they were using a different method to count those words. Typically in a book review, I will quote something from the book. The quotation is simply a part of the word count—under my other review writing. I learned this particular editor counted my quotation and subtracted that amount of words from my overall word count. In my eyes, I was right on the money in terms of the word count—but in their eyes (the only eyes that count), I was short.  When I learned how they were counting the words, I quickly apologized and offered to immediately lengthen the short review. Since it had not been published yet, I added more words and sent it back to the editor. This editor appreciated my quick work and I learned how this publication counts words. I will never be “short” again for this particular magazine.

For anyone writing books, you also need to count words. This week a much-published author called me to talk about a novel from a colleague—and during the conversation he talked about the length of the novel in terms of number of pages. It’s always hard to tell from the page count.  People use different fonts and different margins. Words don’t vary. It’s the word count to tell the editor (even a book editor) the exact length of your manuscript.

There is a key lesson for anyone reading this entry about the writing life. As writers, we need to learn, then meet the expectations of the editor. Whether they are voiced (hopefully) or not voiced.  To be the writer, our responsibility is to meet the need—with on-target writing (perfect for that particular publication in style, content and format) as well as in a timely fashion (on their deadline). We are in the communications business and need to constantly pick up on any feedback —and if necessary make corrections in our submissions.


Wednesday, July 27, 2005

A Guidebook Worth Reading

I don’t know if anyone is like me but I have a number of market guide books on the shelf with my writing books. Because I’ve been in this business for many years, I don’t tend to purchase one every year—but I do get them from time to time.

Often in the early days of my writing, I used these guidebooks for guidelines and information about different areas of the market. When I want to launch into a new area of writing (for example in the magazine area), these guides are helpful. Or if I want to know the circulation of a particular publication or any number of other valuable details.  Yet I don’t read the majority of these guidebooks cover to cover.  Each one contains articles with different editors and other resources—yet my use seems to be looking for a particular bit of information.

Recently I’ve received a number of emails and submissions from writers who want to get into the children’s market.  These people have small children and have been reading tons of children’s books and figure they should write a few of them. Writing the books—at least that first or third draft—can be fairly fun and easy. The challenge is finding some place to publish your work.

What many writers don’t understand is the volume of poorly-crafted children’s manuscripts out in the publishing world. To really craft an excellent children’s book or magazine article involves a lot of work and energy. Beyond an excellent manuscript (which is a given), every writer has to begin to learn about other aspects of the process such as meeting editors, understanding the markets and how to handle the business aspects of for children’s writers.

The hands-down best resource in this area (in my opinion) is the Children’s Writer’s Guide to 2005. If you go to Amazon.com or another book site, you won’t find this resource. The Institute of Children’s Literature produces this annual book. The 10th edition has articles from more than 250 insiders and covers a wide range of topics. Use the link above to learn more about this resource. Whether you want to learn who is doing what in the children’s area or how to use more fiction techniques in your nonfiction writing or how to be more professional in your presentations, then this resource will help you.

Or maybe you are feeling a little thin on ideas for the children’s market. This book has articles and even information about magazine theme lists (where the editors tell you want they are looking for their publication) and how to get these theme lists.  

If you want to explore the children’s marketplace with your writing, consider taking a look at this annual guide. It might plunge your writing in a new direction.


Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Snip Snip Tool for Writers

Throughout my day as a writer and editor, I use a number of Internet tools. They make my work easier as a writer. I’m continually adding to my list of tools (another key bit of advise).  Today I’m going to highlight one particular tool called Snipurl. There are several of these types of tools online. Another one is tinyurl.com, which works well but does not allow you to save, individualize or recall your shortened URLs—where Snipurl includes this flexibility.

OK, first let’s pinpoint the problem so you can understand the importance of using it. You spot a terrific article on the Christian Post that you want to send to a friend or point out in an online forum. This article is about the Christian Retail Show recently in Denver. Typically, you cut and paste this URL into your email: http://www.christianpost.com/article/ministries/1311/section/thousands.trek.to.colorado.for.intl.christian.retail.show/1.htm

While it worked for your browser, what happened when you sent it? Often, it is split and ends up in at least two parts. Here’s where you use Snipurl. Before you use it, go over to the section labeled, Mysnipurl and register. Registration is simple. You pick a username, password, confirm your password and include your email address. Why register? So you can take full advantage of the features plus be able to individualize your various URLs store them and search for them.

Because you have logged on to the Mysnipurl portion of the site, now cut and paste your URL into the program. You will see your long URL posted into the right place—but also notice the “optional” Nickname. Because you have registered, you can select a memorable nickname with between 5 and 20 characters. I selected “ttrek” for the first few words of the headline, “Thousands Trek.”

Suddenly my 124 character URL has been shortened to 23 letters or 19% of the original. It has become: http://snipurl.com/ttrek or http://snipurl.com/gifm. Great—but you aren’t finished yet. Take one more step.

In the last few months, I have snipped over 300 various long URLs into Mysnip URL section. It is impossible to remember all of my various nicknames. Immediately I return to Mysnipurl. My latest snip is at the top of the screen. Select the button on the right that says, “Edit URL.” You will have the opportunity to add a “Title.” In this field, you can add some additional information that will help you recall the reason for the URL and a better reference for it. Finally you hit the button that says “Update Snipped URL.”

Why add the title? Because Mysnipurl has a search feature at the bottom of the screen. Months after snipping a particular URL, you can return to that search feature and type in a few words, then easily find your snipped URL. The search feature will look for your title words. For example, I have the guidelines for my publisher on one of these shortened urls at: http://snipurl.com/guide or I have the page with various ways to purchase Book Proposals That Sell at: http://snipurl.com/waysto And if I forget what I called it (as I just did), then I search under the word “ways” and immediately I found it.

Often these free Internet tools don’t come with a lot of instructions. You have to experiment a bit to learn to use the tool. But from my perspective as a writer and editor, it saves a great deal of time in the long run.

I learned about this tool—and others from Sreenath Sreennivasan who held an excellent workshop at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. You can discover additional tools from his links page. I’d encourage you to try a new tool from time to time. You will be amazed at how it will help your writing life.


Monday, July 25, 2005

Why I Keep Track

Today I’m continuing on the topic of maintaining my database of contacts. Why is it important?

Like almost any type of other business, the business of writing and publishing is relational. It’s important who you know as much as what you know. Your writing has to be stellar and a perfect fit for the publisher or magazine. Often because of the volume of submissions floating around, you also need to have this relationship. You can build the relationship through personal contact, Internet exchanges, attending writer’s conferences and other types of conventions such as the recent International Christian Retail Show.

I recommend you use Outlook to maintain your addresses. It’s almost the industry standard in this area—not only within publishing but for other areas of business as well. If you use some other system, make sure it’s compatible with Outlook.  At times, I need to forward an address and often I do it from my Outlook record.

It’s a rare day for me to use a great deal of the information in my address book. But when I need it, I often need it NOW. I think of it like saving for a rainy day or a huge reward. Instead of calling someone or asking for the information from another source (like the author’s agent who might be reluctant to give it to you without a good reason), I tap into my own carefully gathered resources.

During the last few years, I’ve taken advantage of the extra fields in Outlook—such as birthdays and anniversaries and spouse’s name.  As your database grows, you might not be able to remember the name of the spouse, but with a quick glance at your record, you can easily increase your personal connection to whoever you are writing. 

When I have them, I include the birthday and anniversary from the person. Some times a friend will write and say their birthday was the day before or is next week. I will note that information and add it into their address record. Then for the next year, Outlook will automatically remind me about this date. I will fire off a short email of celebration. You would be surprised how many people are shocked (and pleased) that I remember their birthday.  In reality, I’m using the software on my computer to help build these relationships.

As your database grows, you will increase your paranoia about a potential computer crash and losing the information—at least your paranoia should be increasing. I’ve had numerous friends who disappear from an online forum or contact, then when they surface, they say they’ve had a computer crash and need to rebuild their database. Talk about some extra unexpected work!

I’ve got a PDA and I back up all of my data on those files.  It doesn’t cover everything but does include a great deal of the basic information. I have some of the data backed up on my cell phone. For many years, I had a free interned program (from my dot com days) to back up all of my outlook records. I’d love to have this capability again—yet I’m reluctant to much pay for it.  Anyone have a suggestion about this aspect?

It takes consistent time to keep track of the address data and changes in the marketplace. From my perspective, it’s time well spent since my information has become invaluable over the years.


Sunday, July 24, 2005

Small but Significant Steps

Over the last few days as well as during the next few days, I’m carefully going through my business cards from the recent International Christian Retail Show.  During those several days and dozens of times, I exchanged business cards. Now what? I’m taking a small but significant step with this information.

I know some people simply put a rubber band around these business cards and stick them in a desk drawer. I don’t because I’ve repeatedly seen the value of this information.  As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a world with lots of movement. People get promoted within a publisher and change job titles and even direct dial phone numbers.  Editors move to different publishers.  While through trade publications and online ezines, I try to keep up with these changes, it’s not possible to have a perfect Rolodex. 

Without a doubt, I know that some of the information in my electronic Rolodex is wrong and flawed. Why keep it? First, I don’t have the correct information but some day I may cross paths with the person again and receive this correct information. Also while they may have moved, maybe one or two pieces of the information remain valid—such as a personal email address or a cell phone number. I rarely use this information but when I need to get in touch with someone, I will try every bit of means which I have to reach them.

Also notice I say my electronic Rolodex. If your Rolodex grows very large, it’s easier to sort and find information if you have it in an electronic format. Then you can use the “find” or “search” feature of the program. Some times I’m looking for a particular publisher or magazine or other times I recall the person’s first name. The electronic format makes it easy to find the information and use it. It’s much more effective than keeping it on business cards.

I’ve sorted my newly collected business cards into two stacks. One stack includes people who I already have in the Rolodex. I’ll quickly check these cards to see if it contains new information, then add this data to their existing record. The other stack of cards are new people that I met at the conference.  These cards will be scanned electronically (a real timesaver) and added to my Rolodex. Admittedly it takes time to process this information but it’s valuable and important from my perspective.

Several years ago, I needed to contact someone that I have not reached for at least fifteen years. I tried my information and nothing worked.  I contacted the office of this author and attempted to get the information. The receptionist or assistant wouldn’t give me the information on the phone saying, “Terry, how do I know that you are really from a publisher and not just making up this story on the phone?” I turned to my Rolodex and asked, “Does this author still live in ______ (the city)?”

I received a hesitant response, “Yes.”

“And does this author still live on _____________ (the specific street address)?”

Another hesitant, “Yes.”

“Is his home phone number: ___________?”

“Yes, but the area code has been changed to ____.” I thanked the assistant and redialed the number. In a matter of minutes I was speaking to this author’s spouse and leaving a message about why I needed to be in contact with him. Within 24 hours, I was talking with the author. I could have floundered around for days on such a detail if I had not maintained the information in my Rolodex.

I can see from the emails and other contacts that other people I met are beginning to process their information as well from the conference.  Understand the value of this information and the potential power. Then you will guard and protect it for your own writing life.



Friday, July 22, 2005

In Case You Missed It

After returning home a few days from Denver, I’m starting to dig out from attending the International Christian Retail Show.  One great (and new) event for me was the Christy Awards. Because the Denver airport was closed for several hours (weather related), I arrived late to the awards but managed to catch most of the program.  I arrived during dinner and missed the opening prayer from Mark Kuyper, who is president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publisher Association. I listed the award winners while traveling (see this link if you missed it).

For the keynote message at the Christy Awards, Jana Reiss, Religion Book Editor at Publisher’s Weekly, introduced Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today and on the Editorial Board of Books & Culture. In a fascinating message, Andy spoke about fiction in a virtual world (follow this link for the entire talk). One of the great places to read is in an airplane—and many people in the past have been reading novels. Andy has been taking an informal survey about what people are doing on their laptops and finds they are playing solitaire. He says, “So this is what a surprising number of your fellow citizens are doing in that blessed quiet at 35,000 feet—in these waning days before cell phone conversations are allowed on airplanes and it is never quiet again—they are not reading a novel, they are not writing a letter, they are not even watching a movie. They are playing solitaire. Now I’m in a group of writers, and you all understand symbolism and metaphor, and frankly if you can’t see the metaphorical potential in a plane full of weary travelers using their laptops to play solitaire, you should be in a different line of work. So I won’t belabor the point, but the proliferation of airplane solitaire confirms to me that we are in the virtual reality generation.”

While maybe it didn’t fit into Andy’s talk, I want to tell you a little story for writers today about the solitaire program. In 1989, Wes Cherry created this free program which is automatically installed on every Windows-related computer. As a summer intern, he was honing his computer programming skills at Microsoft as a summer intern. He received nothing upfront as payment for his work and receives no royalty for the creation of this program. As Cherry writes, “If only a penny per copy…”

And the lesson for writers? Volunteer work is great and internships are valuable. You can learn a great deal. Agents are valuable and editors are significant in your work. But….only you can look out for yourself as a writer. You are the one whose name is at the bottom of the contract or the by-line on the publication (some times operating without a contract).

And next time you are taking a second to play Solitaire on your computer, use that program as a constant reminder to be fairly compensated for your work—even if it is a small royalty.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

Because you read doesn't mean....

Writers never cease to amaze me.  Just because they can read books and had to write some essays during  their schooling, they figure they can pull up to their keyboard and write a book. These folks are the ones in the old days who cranked a blank sheet into their typewriter and after a while produced a book-length manuscript. It was probably unpublishable but they felt good in completing it and decided to send it out into the book marketplace.  For most of them, this type of action only brought a number of rejection slips and clogged the editor’s (or some assistant’s) mailbox.

Another type of person has had a successful career in one area such as business or education and when they retire, they decide to write a book.  Often these individuals have forgotten what steps they took to become successful in their previous career. After all, those early struggling days happened a long time ago.  These writers crank out their pages and fire it off to the editor without bothering to learn the editor’s expectations or the system of publishing.

Over the last few days, I’ve received a couple of fresh examples of this process. Because my address and email is on the publisher’s website, I get a steady stream of this material into my electronic box and regular mail box. Yesterday I opened two packages from would-be novelists—each package without an email address (for a rejection letter) or a self-addressed-stamped-envelope (SASE). It’s simply because these writers didn’t know to include this information. I believe the majority of their submissions will never receive a response.

Or I got an email titled, “Submission” which was strangely written and pointed to a website to check out their submission instead of sending a one page query letter. I could have ignored this email (which many editors would have done or deleted it immediately). Instead I sent a brief response, “I will not be clicking on your website to see your submission. Learn to write a query letter or you will be repeatedly rejected in this market--plain and simple. I'm searching for something very specific. I'm acquiring six to eight full length adult Christian novels.” I figured at least this writer heard from me.

In a short time, I received a response (written all in CAPITAL LETTERS), "No, my dear, you are dead wrong. I am receiving lots of positive response to my “query” letters. When I worked for _____________, they declared me to be a “master of marketing.” As such, I generated over $300,000.00 a year in income. Your unkind comments cause me to think that you resemble a “Christian” only in the sense a woodpecker resembles a carpenter.” Notice this writer’s tactic of switching the subject—attacking my Christian faith—instead of sticking to the original area of writing a professional query letter for the submission.

And writers wonder why many editors never respond to these types of submissions? Or they send a form letter and nothing else? Just because you can type or you can write something, doesn’t mean it will find an audience.  With the large number of self-publishers or print-on-demand publishers almost anyone can get a book published (for a financial fee). Now finding an audience and getting that particular book sold into the market is a completely different story.

As an editor, I’ve tried to take a different tack for writers. I want to encourage the craft of writing and that they will take the time to learn how publishing works. 


Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Some Changes Have Merit

If you read these entries very much, you know that I’m a plodder, consistent type of writer. It’s a valuable quality for the writing life.  To write various books, you need to set some solid goals and consistently produce pages or words or however you measure it. To edit manuscripts or to evaluate manuscripts for a publisher, it’s the same type of quality. There is something valuable about persistence and simply showing up each day and moving the process ahead.

In the middle of this routine type of activity, change rears it’s head. I’m as resistant to change as the next person. I like to keep doing things the same way—except that’s not reality.  Editors change places.  The market shifts. Magazines come and go in the business. It’s a part of our life—and something we need to learn how to adapt. If you didn’t catch the cover story from Fast Company which I mentioned a couple of months ago, follow this link to read it. It is called, Change or Die.

Everyone thinks I’m pretty technical—mostly because of the volume of material on Right-Writing.com. I don’t believe it when someone writes or applauds my technical skills. I have the same challenges as others in this area. Yesterday  afternoon I began to wonder if I could change the color of my entries on the Writing Life. I was tired of the olive, red pattern which came with this template. At the same time, I was grateful for the basic template and how easy it was to install. I’ve maintained the same design and changed my color scheme.  Through trial and error, I learned how to change the colors and bring a slightly different look to these entries. From my perspective, this change makes the entries more readable and a cleaner design. I hope you agree with the new look and that in this case, the change has merit.

I don’t know what changes you are facing in your own writing life. Maybe you need to open a new window in your own writing and try and different type of writing. Maybe you need to dig into learn more about characterization to improve your fiction. Possibly you need to learn more about the book publishing world and the marketplace from reading my Book Proposals That Sell. Or maybe you need to hone your interview skills with another magazine article assignment. Get the assignment first through writing a query letter, then snag your interview and get it written on the deadline.

And when those changes come into your life—and they will come—try to welcome them and go with the flow rather than resisting. It might just simplify your path.


Tuesday, July 19, 2005

It's A Bargain To Consider

Do you read books about the craft of writing? I’ve got five shelves of these types of books in my office—and I’ve read and highlighted most of them. For more than twenty years, reading how-t0 books about different aspects of the writing life has been a regular part of my reading schedule.  Some of these books are specific about a particular type of writing such as children’s books or book proposals or various aspects of fiction. Others are tied to marketing books and yet others to the mechanical aspects of the business like query letters.

There are many different sources for these types of how-to books. New titles enter the market each year.  Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success joined these trade paperbacks a few months ago. This month the Writer’s Digest Book Club includes this title as a featured alternative. I’m a member of this book club and haven’t received my mailing for the month (remember I’m a “w” for my last name). Several writers across the country have sent their notes of congratulation about the appearance. I’m looking forward to receiving my newsletter.

If you are not a member of the Writer’s Digest Book Club, then now is your time to join. You can get my book free (plus postage) which is a bargain. Note you will have to select my book as one of your choices (use the search feature on the site and type in my last name, “Whalin” and it will take you to the entry. There is no obligation to purchase additional books and if you read the books (some people just purchase books and keep them on the shelf), then it will help you grow as a writer. Of course, you will not be able to get an autographed copy of my book (use this link if you want one) but for some people the bargain is worth your consideration. 


Monday, July 18, 2005

What Goes on Your Card?

Occasionally one of my friends will eagerly reach for a new business card. They will include the comment, “I have a collection of your cards.” It’s a scary thought. For over twenty years, I’ve been using business cards and exchanging them at conventions and conferences plus one on one meetings with people.

Unlike some people, I’ve moved around a bit through different positions and different occupations and different companies.  A business card is a way to update the recipient on where I currently live and how to reach me (depending on the information on the card).

Last week in Denver, I had a number of people say to me, “Now you are still in Colorado Springs?” No, I live in Arizona. Despite literally thousands of emails and other bits of communications, an individual will remember you where you were last living when you connected with them. The business card exchange helps affirm the new location and your current information. In a busy convention, it’s difficult to keep track of all the information you gather and business cards are an important part of this exchange.

Some people use the front and the back of their business card.  I’m not an advocate of these types of cards for several reasons. First is the added expense but many times your business card is used as a reminder for the recipient to take additional action at a later time.  Maybe you are talking about a book to send or guidelines for a publication or _______. It’s common to use the blank back of your business card to write this request for later follow-up. It’s hard to write on a surface that is crammed with type (as happened a couple of times last week).

OK so what information does your business card contain?  There is no right or wrong answer but it should include your name, mailing address, phone number, email address and your website (if you have a website).  Some business cards promote a new book. For example, last week I gave people my Howard Publishing business card but also a card which included some information about Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success.  You may not have a book to include—and if that is the case, don’t worry about it.

I’ve seen writers agonize about which title to include on their business card. Some love the word “writer.” Others prefer “author.” Yet others say “novelist and speaker.” From my perspective, it is not important which occupation you use (or don’t use). If it’s not on the card, it’s not a problem. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Some people include a lot of valuable information on their business card such as their home phone or their cell phone number. Again, it’s a matter of personal choice what you include or don’t include. Last week one author moved so much because of her military husband that the only personal contact information included on her business card was a website address.  The recipient could go to the website address and have the means of contacting this author.

The important aspect is to have business cards. Carry them with you because you never know when you will need to exchange them. I’ve seen countless frustrated people (including some editors) who rush off for a conference without their business cards.  Take the advance planning time to create an attractive yet functional business card. It will pay off in the long run.


Sunday, July 17, 2005

Reading My Mail

In the last few days, I’ve opened a number of new submissions and query letters. It’s been an education to me and I hope a few of these comments will provide some insight for you as well. The key message of this entry is—First impressions count with the editor. I’ve always been amused with the Forrest Gump line, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It has a measure of truth in it. Right off the bat, you don’t want the editor to think you are careless or stupid.

Here’s a few recent examples where I simply roll my eyes when I receive them—and maybe look a bit jaded at the rest of the contents: “Dear Ms. Whalin,   I’m seeking representation regarding…”  Ms. Whalin? Did they take two minutes to Google my name and check? Or if in doubt, use the full name: “Dear Terry Whalin.” And seeking representation? It’s the term used when writing to a literary agent—not directly to an acquisitions editor. The letter was addressed to me as the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Publishing.

Or what about another letter which recently came addressed on the outside of the envelope to my name and address—yet it began, “To Whom It May Concern.”  Who is reading the letter? I recommend you address that person in your salutation.

To be perfectly fair, I didn’t let the salutation sway my opinion of the pitch and I read the rest of it—rejecting it for other reasons. Yet the salutation made an impression—and not a positive one.

At my previous publisher, an editorial assistant sorted through these unsolicited submissions and returned the majority. Occasionally I would see one which had promise. In my current situation, I open and process all of my mail.  I work remote from the publishing house so I answer my own phone from my home office. It’s not rocket science. I live in Arizona and my publishing house is based in West Monroe, Louisiana. It simply takes a little forethought from the writer before they pick up the phone and call me on a Sunday morning or at 7 p.m. in the evening (it’s happened repeatedly).

The content of your query or book proposal has to be outstanding, crafted for my publishing house and in the range of material that I am acquiring for it. I’d encourage you to not rush your submission into the marketplace. It’s always good to keep that email in your draft box overnight and take one last look at it. Or keep the letter on your computer and re-read it one more time in the morning. Think about how the editor will receive it.

In general across publishing (large publishers and smaller publishers), if you address a package to a particular editor at a particular publishing house, it will likely land in their in box. Some editors have editorial assistants who sort their mail but in general, it comes to that particular editor—whether it says, “Requested Manuscript” or not. We may not get to it as promptly as you would like but editors do read their mail.


Saturday, July 16, 2005

Must Network

I can’t over emphasize the need to have talent and craft in your writing. It will be a key in your success as a writer in the publishing world.  This entry is continuing my series on characteristics of successful writers from my years of interaction and observations. It’s probably the final one in this series (for now).

Publishing is also about connections or your network. Who do you know or who can you get to know that will champion your cause within the publishing house? Why can you get to know who will champion your cause outside of the publishing house? Every aspect is equally important.  Like every business, successful authors know and understand the power of information and the value of their network. At some writer’s conferences, I’ve seen classes on how to schmooze the editors with tips on the right and the wrong way to accomplish this type of networking. I’ve not taken one of these classes but would like to do so some day.

In a recent issue of The Foster Letter, Religious Market Update from Gary D. Foster, a news item caught my attention related to this topic. It originated from the Small Business Computing 6/10/05 but Gary’s newsletter said, “Contact Management Software not withstanding, a new Plaxo survey finds 37% of small business persons manage their contacts with Post-It notes or a Rolodex. Only 35% noted they used Microsoft Outlook to manage personal and business contacts, 17% reported using their PDAs or cell phones  to track addresses or phone numbers while 2% indicated they don’t use any form of contact management.”

Can you believe that lack of information management? Where are you in this process? How do you maintain or don’t maintain your information about writers and editors and others in the publishing area?

I don’t expect you or others to maintain my level of information management —yet everyone can be doing something in this area. Bestselling writers understand their need to have a constantly expanding network.  They can’t depend on an agent or a writer friend or someone else to handle this aspect but they understand the importance and power of this information.

In past entries, I’ve mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell talks about several factors that come together to make a product or a person catch a broad range of public attention. One of those factors is a connector.  The book includes a brief test and from taking this test, I learned that I fall into this connector category. Not everyone can be a connector—yet everyone can make a conscious effort to collect data and use it sparingly.

I have a lot of information in my Rolodex. I maintain it and preserve it and change it constantly. I back up my information files (to avoid computer crashes and losses). I’ve never used Plaxo —even though I’ve received the notices from many people.  Often the Plaxo notices have my incorrect personal information which at times I fix. At other times I send an email directly to the person with my data—so they can add it to their system if they want to do so.

I maintain my own Rolodex and database—one entry at a time. Yet the information  in my Rolodex is valuable after interviewing more than 150 bestselling authors. Often I have no need to go through a talent agent or a literary agent to reach a particular author—because I can reach them directly (which is often much more effective). It didn’t happen overnight but one entry at a time.

Last week at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, I exchanged many business cards. It’s something I do naturally—and you may have to practice the questions. When you give your card to another person, they may or may not give you a card. If they don’t reach for their card, then you actively ask, “Do you have a card?” Even if I have their name and information in my Rolodex, I still exchange cards. Why? Information is constantly changing. Editors change titles and positions. Phone numbers change. The card gives you some new information which may or may not have been said verbally.

A major executive and I were continuing our discussion about a possible project. Besides the card, this person wrote his cell number and his personal email address on the back of the card. See the value of the network and the information? In one brief exchange, I received the way to contact this person directly—and by-pass his assistant or others who may block and limit access.

Exchanging business cards is only one step in this process. The cards do almost no good in my desk drawer. I will be adding this information to my computer (where I can search by company or last name or first name). Do I have this aspect perfected? Not a chance but I continually work at it—and you can as well.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s the same with understanding the importance of the network.


Friday, July 15, 2005

Must Be Willing To Learn

Successful authors are continually growing in their writing life. They certainly deserve a certain amount of respect for their creation of a bestselling product or book. But they aren’t pushy about demanding this respect nor do they flaunt their bestselling status (as some people do). These writers recognize that each of us are on a journey and they are trying to grow in their craft and are willing to continue learning.

I’m continuing my series of entries about the Writing Life on key qualities of bestselling authors.  These qualities aren’t anything scientific but simply from my years of interacting and observing these authors in different settings. If you have missed any of these posts, go back and pick up the other qualities since each one is a valuable aspect to build into your own writing life.

This past week I’ve been at a large convention and had another opportunity to meet additional authors and see old friends in this business.  Certain authors try and set themselves above the others in this setting. The authors move with a group of people around them. These authors have people who meet their every want or need—and instantly. Also you can’t get to these authors without going through the intermediary or having a pre-arranged appointment.  This convention was a closed trade show. No one can enter the floor unless they are a part of the publishing industry and obtain a badge.  The majority of authors feel free to roam the floor without their contingent of assistants. The danger for those with this type of arrangement is simply having a bunch of “yes” people around them. They will only tell you the positives and never help you learn or grow in life.

Many years ago, I supervised an author who had written numerous books. One day I asked him if he ever attended a writer’s conference. He looked at me and sincerely said, “Yes, I go when they ask me to teach.” He missed my question. I was trying to see if he was actively learning and growing in his life as a writer. In a backhanded way, the author answered, “No. I’ve learned it all.” No one has learned it all and each of us (no matter at what point in our writing and publishing career) has more to learn.

Despite my numerous published books and magazine work, I continue to learn more about the craft of writing. I continually read new how-to writing books and magazines. I can improve and will be improving in the days ahead.

Last Sunday night the featured speaker at the convention was Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan (one of the fastest growing churches in America). It was fascinating to hear Rob talk about the Christian life as a journey and each person in the room trying to get to the next point of growth. In contrast, many pastors and teachers contend the Christian life is a destination—and once you arrive, you are there.  Danger lurks when you believe this second view and you encounter a bump along the road. The same type of danger exists for the writer—even the bestselling writer. They begin to believe their own press and reputation. When they hit a bump in the road, it throws them for a huge loop. Instead, I believe there is wisdom in the writers who are continually growing in their craft and willing to learn—from any source. This type of availability will show to others around you—whether you are aware of it or not.


Thursday, July 14, 2005

Headed Home

I’m headed home in a few hours and I’ll spend a good chunk of today in the airport. I’ve got one more breakfast meeting with a couple of literary agents.  The annual book conventions are busy times of meetings and countless individual conversations. It stands in complete contrast to the typical writing life of sitting at a computer for the majority of the day and spending a few minutes on the phone.

At these conventions, authors come to life. They stand in front of you and you spend a few minutes getting acquainted or catching up on family and their current lives, exchanging business cards, then pressing on. I’ve had some significant meetings during the convention. As often the case, the proof of the significance will be in the follow-up and whether anything results from it.

Several times during the convention, I had some basic truths confirmed—which are rarely discussed but significant to any writer. The craft of writing is critical. If the book or the book proposal or the manuscript isn’t well-written, then the sales people have nothing to sell. The writing is always foundational. Yet there are many other factors in the sales process such as the cover design, the book packaging and the sales materials.

Yet sadly because of the huge volume of manuscripts and submissions, unless the relationship is present with the agent or the editor, then good work can be overlooked. The book conventions are about affirming, building and continuing those relationships. Who you know is important and can’t be overemphasized.  If you don’t know anyone, then you need to start the journey. If you know a few people, you need to constantly be expanding the circle of editors and agents and authors.  These relationships are important.

As an editor, I understand a basic truth (again often overlooked): agents work for the author. While some authors have to work hard to find an agent, the author often forgets that the agent works for them. The author doesn’t work for the agent. If you love a particular editor and publishing house and want to work with this editor—and your agent discourages you—never forget that ultimately you are in charge of your own publishing career. Sure you want to listen to your agent and his advise—but no one is perfect in this business and no one gives 100% sound wise advise. You can still go to that smaller publisher despite what your agent says.   It’s a truth that I know only too well so I’ve spent a lot of time this past week building, meeting and continuing my relationships with authors.

Today I noticed Amazon.com has finally added my “look inside” the book to my Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. I believe this feature is a strong help to people who want to look a bit at the book, read the back cover and a sample before they purchase the book. I can’t find the link at the moment, but Amazon.com has a way for authors to submit their own material. It can take eight weeks (and almost took that long for my book). I took that initiative as an author to send my book to Amazon.com and eventually it showed up on their website—as an additional sales tool for the book. It’s another marketing hint for any authors and their own books. Again you can take charge of your own destiny in this small but maybe important area—and not wait for your publisher to submit the book into this system (because depending on the publisher it may never happen).

Tomorrow I hope to return to my remaining characteristics about successful writers.



Tuesday, July 12, 2005

A Few Statistics about Christian Retail

While I’ve had some long days at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, it’s been a great experience for me. After years of attending these sessions, it’s like a huge family reunion in many ways.  There are new friends to meet but many old friends to see and get a bit of news about their lives. I’ve got another long day tomorrow ahead so this entry will be brief.

Tonight I learned about some preliminary number information from the initial days of the show. I hope this statistical information will be useful to others. Currently there are about 2200 members of the Christian Booksellers Association. This number is about the same as it was last year and in fact, over the last ten years (since 1995) the number of members has maintained about the same. So you have some way of understanding these numbers. The American Booksellers Association in 1995 had about 4400 members. Today they have about 1,700 members. The drop in membership for the ABA reflects the struggles for independent bookstores to stay competitive in light of the “big box stores” or the Borders and Barnes and Noble stores.

This year at the ICRS there are 1, 126 buying stores. Now under this system of counting some large entities such as Wal-Mart or Family Christian Bookstore would only count as one store. Over 50% of these retailers are east of the Mississippi River and typically drive to the convention each summer.


Saturday, July 09, 2005

Christy Award Winners in Denver

It was a terrific evening celebrating Christian fiction in Denver at the Marriott City Center.  The occasion was the sixth annual Christy Awards. It was my first time to attend this event. Here are the winners in the different categories:


Bad Ground by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers)


King’s Ransom by Jan Beazely/ Thom Lemmons (Waterbrook Press)


Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House Publishers)


Tiger in the Shadows by Debbie Wilson (Kregel)


The Shadow Within by Karen Hancock (Bethany House Publishers)

First Novel

The Mending String by Cliff Coon (Moody Publishers)

Thankfully the meal was a buffet outside of the ballroom. Even though I planned lots of travel time to arrive in Denver, get settled into my room and arrive at the event, the weather had other plans. Th Denver airport was closed for several hours because of weather (I believe lightening). My plane from Phoenix circled, then had to land in Colorado Springs to refuel then finally arrived in Denver about three hours late. I found a few friends, quickly ate my food and finished right before the program began. Whew.

I’m unsure how much I will be able to blog but I wanted to pass along these results so you can celebrate the Award winners and this evening to highlight Christian fiction.


Friday, July 08, 2005

International Christian Retail Show

For the next few days, I’ll be at the International Christian Retail Show which is the largest book event of the year for the Christian bookselling business. The show moves to different areas of the country and this year it will be in Denver, Colorado. My schedule is fairly packed and I doubt I will have any time to write entries about the Writing Life.

I have not finished my various characteristics of successful writers. When I return, I plan to continue with some additional entries. Until then I’d encourage you to learn some valuable tips from Kristi Holl about waiting.


Must Listen

The skill is rarely practiced in our world. I’m talking about the ability to listen and listen deeply to the person who is speaking. It’s another characteristic which I’ve observed from my interaction and interviews with bestselling authors.

Some times the intensity of the listening from these authors surprises me. Several years ago I interviewed an author for a magazine article. As we talked, this author was constantly analyzing the conversation and what I would be doing with the information I was gathering from our time. At several points, he abruptly switched gears for our conversation saying, “But why are we talking about this? The reader doesn’t care about ______.” So I berudging pressed on to a different topic—despite my own fascination and internally muttering, Who is controlling this interview? Thinking back on that time, the author impressed me with his intense listening skills. It’s rare but a quality I’ve seen repeatedly.

As we listen to others, we gain insight into their world, their particular audience and their particular market. The successful authors are eager to improve and some of that improvement comes from their listening ability.

One of the keys from my perspective regarding listening is to evaluate the information as you gain it. These authors listen but they consider the information and use some of it and discount other parts of it. If you feel like your listening skills could use a bit of tune up, let me recommend a resource. When I was the acquisitions editor at another publisher, I wrote and called a number of my bestselling author friends looking for leads on new projects (something else an acquisitions editor does to find exciting work). Gary Smalley recommended two friends who had been teaching for over twenty years on listening yet never gathered this material into a book. Ultimately I acquired that book for the publishers and even helped in the writing and editing process to get it completed. Dallas and Nancy Demmitt wrote Can You Hear Me Now? As Gary Smalley wrote about the book, “Prepare to experience the power of listening.”

You may think your listening skills are in great shape. I’d encourage you to work on constantly improving in this area. It’s one of those skills that constantly need honing—and like our writing.


Thursday, July 07, 2005

Must Have Commitment

My wife is one of the most sensitive sleepers that I’ve ever met.  Several years ago I faced a steep book deadline. I knew it would be difficult to complete this deadline when I signed the contract—but I was determined. Despite working a full-time job, I took this deadline which had different stages for completion. Crunched on several fronts, I was committed to turning in my material on these deadlines.  The volume of writing and the time involved meant writing throughout the night.  My wife came to my office about 3:30 a.m. asking, “Are you coming to bed?” I answered, “Probably not tonight.” A few hours later I pushed the Send key and turned in my section on the deadline.  My little story is just one to illustrate the type of commitment you must have to your writing and the details of publishing.  Commitment is another key characteristic that I’ve observed in bestselling authors. I’m continuing my series of characteristics for successful writers.

Yes, lots of things interfere with our deadlines. It’s called life. Children are ill. We get ill. Family members get into accidents and we are called on to help. Someone in the church or an organization needs our help. It can be a million different things.  Repeatedly I’ve watched successful authors meet their commitments in the face of such difficulties. It’s one of those values which distinguish them from the crowd of other want-to-be writers.

While this quality of commitment is revealed in a number of different ways. I’m going to highlight several of them. First, these writers are committed to the craft of writing.  Several years ago bestselling author and long-time writing coach Sol Stein held a limited attendance workshop in his home.  It wasn’t an inexpensive session and only a few people attended the event.  Later I heard about one of the attendees who had written a little known book called Left Behind.  Why would someone like Jerry B. Jenkins (who at that time had written over 100 books) take the time, expense and energy to go to a session from Sol Stein? Jerry is committed to the craft of writing and constantly working to improve his craft and learn more about storytelling. His attendance wasn’t a publicity stunt yet he slipped into the session and learned from this seasoned writing teacher.

Or several years ago at a major writing conference, I spotted a best-selling author in the crowd. Often this author is a keynote speaker at writing conferences but she wasn’t even listed on the faculty roster.  She had no plans to teach sessions. This author came with her daughter-in-law to take a series of classes. Her daughter-in-law expressed interest in writing children’s books and this author freely admitted that she knew nothing about this area of the market and was at the conference to learn. My respect only increased for this author and her commitment to the craft of writing.

Also these writers are committed to learning about the market and the audience for their work. If they write fiction, then they read fiction and are involved with other fiction authors. If they write nonfiction, then they are active in nonfiction circles. If they write children’s books, then these authors are active in the children’s market to follow it and learn from any means possible.

In addition, these writers continue in the face of rejection. Another bestselling author friend has faced some struggles to find a place to publish her books in recent years. This author has over six million books in print yet is very approachable and unassuming. Her particular area of the market tends to run in cycles and at the moment it’s in a dry or downturned cycle. Is she giving up? No way. She continues to have new ideas and new proposals. Her enthusiasm seems unflappable and I admire her commitment in the face of rejection.

I have no idea what you are facing with your writing life today. I’d encourage you to look inside to see if you have this commitment.  It will carry you ahead for the days and weeks ahead.


Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Must Have Perseverance

We face many roadblocks to our writing life. In the face of rejection and opposition do you have the courage and characteristic to continue? It’s another one of the key characteristics of bestselling authors. Yesterday I wrote about persistence or the characteristic of consistently pursuing a goal or course for your writing. Perseverance is slightly different but equally important for success.

As I’ve talked with a number of bestselling authors over the years, I can easily think of incidents which could have knocked them for a major loop. They could have quit and disappeared from the marketplace—yet they don’t do it. Instead they persevere through the discouragement and the rejection.

Recently I reviewed Bill Butterworth’s book, New Life after divorce. It will give you one example of perseverance and you can apply it to family illness and other situations that you may face.  It was probably fifteen or twenty years ago I listened to Bill as a keynote conference speaker. On the staff with a major ministry and married with five children, Bill built his work career around a marriage and family ministry. One of his bestselling books was called Peanut Butter Families Stick Together. He told funny, entertaining yet pointed stories. Then he faced divorce and suddenly disappeared for a while off the speaking circuit. This new book chronicles his journey through the pain of divorce yet as the subtitle says, the book provides “the promise of hope beyond the pain.”

Your pain may be completely different but do you have this characteristic of perseverance to reach the next stage with your writing life? I faced my own crisis in this area years ago. Yet my writing life has continued in spite of it.

Or look at the perseverance in the story of Andy Andrews, author of The Traveler’s Gift. A popular speaker, Andy wrote a manuscript which he tried to get published. It was rejected 54 times. How many of us send out our material to this degree? He continued in his popular speaking work but did not have a book for his audience. One day Gayle Hyatt was in Andy Andrews’ audience. She came up to him afterwards and suggested that he write a book.

Looking a bit sheepish, Andy told Gayle, “Your husband’s company (Thomas Nelson) has already rejected my book.” Gayle asked to receive a copy of the manuscript and promised to read it. Andy sent her the book. She showed it to her husband (Mike Hyatt, president of Thomas Nelson) and the book was published.

Note the perseverance in what happened next. When Andy got his new book, he gave away 12,000 copies of the book. Most of those review copies didn’t make much of a difference. But one of those copies got in the hands of Robin Roberts, a producer of ABC’s Good Morning America. Roberts selected The Traveler’s Gift as their Book of the Month. The Traveler’s Gift sold 850,000 copies and the rest is history.

The writing life isn’t easy for any of us. Perseverance is a key characteristic of the writers who ultimately find success.



Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Must Have Persistence

No. Not right for us. Not at this time. No thank you.  We hear these words a lot in the publishing business.  You pick the area of the marketplace.  The competition is stiff for most of it. Yet every bestselling author that I know has the characteristic of persistence. They carry on in the face of rejection. This entry about the writing life is continuing a series of key characteristics of successful writers. It’s been my privilege to know many writers and to sit in their homes or offices and interview them. I’ve gathered a series of qualities or characteristics each of them exhibit and over the next few days I’m highlighting these aspects.

One of the keys with persistence is to find the right area of the market for your writing. Some writers are stuck trying to write fiction when they should be honing their craft with shorter nonfiction magazine articles. Other writers are trying to get a nonfiction book written when they are born storytellers and have a dynamic fiction style. Yet other writers are trying to write adult material when their ideas and style is perfect for children’s books.  You have to experiment and persist enough to find your place in the market.

Many readers are drawn to the latest Frank Peretti book, Monster, which made the bestseller list when it was introduced. Yet they forget some of the twists and turns in Frank’s journey to publication. I don’t know all of them but I know a few of them. He spent a few years in the Los Angeles area trying to write screen plays and getting constantly rejected.  He returned to his home in Washington State and worked in a ski factory and part time in the church. Throughout this period, Frank continued writing the book, This Present Darkness. The book was rejected fourteen times—and one of those rejections came from the eventual publisher, Crossway Books. 

Ultimately it was a children’s book, part of the Cooper Kids Adventure series, Crossway published. And when they wrote saying they wanted to publish Frank’s children’s book, the same letter said, “And by the way, you earlier sent us this other manuscript, can you send it back?  We’d like to take another look at it.”

Everyone tends to forget This Present Darkness didn’t sell well at first. It began to take off through the word of mouth and in particular the enthusiasm of Christian recording artist Amy Grant talking about the book. Millions of copies of this book are in print today.

Or look at some of the early stages of bestselling author Robin Lee Hatcher’s writing career. As you read this link note the persistence in her writing and learning about her craft. It’s paid off today in a prolific writing career.

I’ve got a ton of these types of stories but note these writers didn’t quit the first time they were rejected. They continued to hone their craft and learn about the marketplace yet also continued to persist in the marketing aspects of this business.



Monday, July 04, 2005

Must Work Hard & Smart

Do you wonder why some writers seem to rocket to the top of the bestseller charts while your writing is consistently rejected? From my perspective few writers rocket to the top of the bestseller charts. If you get the opportunity to talk with them and ask questions, you will learn they have worked hard and consistently in a smart manner for years.

I’m continuing to write about characteristics of successful writers. These various traits are not based on some scientific study or trend but from my observations and years of interviewing and interacting with many bestselling authors.

I’ve seen it often and usually find it a bit amusing. A brand new writer will come to a conference. This writer has been successful in another career such as teaching or business. They expect their first book manuscript or magazine article will instantly find acceptance and success. These individuals have forgotten the years of learning and hard work they poured into their previous career. Usually the first writers conference is a revelation to these individuals that they need to figure out how publishing works—and that effort will involve hard work.

For example, are you willing to learn that the market needs before you write it? Are you willing to take the time to study a magazine and see what types of articles they publish before you learn to write a query letter? Are you willing to invest the time and energy necessary to block out other things and write to a particular deadline and word length? I find many writers want to write what they want to write then expect the market to embrace them and publish their material. It simply doesn’t happen that easily under normal circumstances.

The bestselling authors have worked hard to develop their own skills so they are excellent at the craft of writing. They’ve also learned to ask questions and work smart—deliver what the editor wants for the market rather than what they inspirationally would like to be writing. 

It’s fine to work hard but you also need to work smart. For example, you need to learn to write your ideas for magazine articles into a query letter rather than writing the full manuscript. You need to write book proposals instead of manuscripts (particularly in nonfiction). Otherwise you are spending volumes of time working hard on the wrong track.

Mike Hyatt has some terrific tips and links about how to work smart in his blog. I’ve incorporated a number of these suggestions and they have helped me work smarter.

If you’ve heard those miracle stories about the first-time writer who sells a bijallion books and makes it to the bestseller chart. Rejoice for that person but realize they are a fluke more than a path that most of us can follow. The majority of these authors worked hard to achieve their goals and they worked smart. If you had the time and opportunity to hear the stories, I suspect you would find this characteristic in each of them.


Sunday, July 03, 2005

Must Read What You Write

It’s happened more frequently than you would imagine. I’ve met with hundreds of writers one-on-one at a writer’s conference.  A woman who has written a suspense mystery novel (unpublished). She has slaved over this manuscript and produced 80,000 words. Casually into the conversation I will ask about what types of books she reads. “Reading?” she says, “I have three kids and two of them are in diapers and a husband. Who has time for reading? I often fall asleep with a couple of pages from a novel that I’ve been trying to finish reading for the last month.”

Or I meet a man who has a historical novel with some obscure period of American history. He’s been fascinated with the research and worked to complete his historical.  His day job is as an accountant or in sales or _______. When I ask whether he reads historical fiction? He responds, “I’ve never read historical fiction but I’ve written an excellent manuscript.”

See the disconnect?

This entry about the Writing Life continues a series that I’m doing on characteristics from successful writers.  I’ve interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors and talked one-on-one with many more writers. It’s universal that these writers are reading in the area where they write. If you want to write a self-help book for parents or for couples, then you need to understand the current literature and have read those books. If you want to write children’s books, you need to understand your particular segment of the children’s market (and understand the age divisions of that market).  If you want to write contemporary romance, then you need to be reading contemporary romance and aware of the twists and turns in this particular market. You need to know how your characters will fit into this genre and be distinct yet successful.

If you want to write magazine articles, then you need to be reading the particular magazines where you want your articles to appear. As a former magazine editor and current book editor, I’m always surprised when I meet writers eager to appear in the publication but have never read it or rarely read it.

Yes, reading trends are down. Many other things consume our time and energy such as family, computers, television, DVDs, movies, sports and other types of recreation. These things can be distractions to our writing and reading. Are you making a conscious effort to build such reading time into your schedule? I hope so because the writers who are successful read and read extensively.

Admittedly we can’t be experts in every type of genre of books. The volume of books is simply too great and new titles appear daily. Your task as a writer is to choose your type of writing and make a conscious effort to read in your genre. Then you will not be caught flat footed and empty-handed when the editor asks you about what types of books you read in your selected area. If I’m asking the question, I have a broad-based background in different areas of publishing and will be listening carefully to your specific answer.


Saturday, July 02, 2005

Must Have Follow-Through

This entry today about the Writing Life continues a series on characteristics of successful writers. I’ve got about ten to twelve aspects which will be critical for your success as a writer in the world of publishing.

As an editor, I’ve been surprised at the number of times at a conference or through an email or a phone conversation, I’ve said, “I’d love to see that proposal or that manuscript.” Then I never see the proposal or manuscript.  I understand the writer may choose not to send it to me or find another place for it but there is another reason why I never receive it: a lack of follow-through.  Of course, I’ve had other projects that I’ve asked to see then sent back because they weren’t right. These writers followed through but they didn’t send what I expected. You have to not only follow-through but send excellent writing when the editor asks for it.

Some writers wait for inspiration to write or treat their writing like a hobby. If they don’t determine publishing is a business and should be conducted like a business, then it will be hard for them to gain much ground and find a place to get published (in my estimation).

Many years ago, I told bestselling author Jerry B. Jenkins about working with Moody magazine on an article assignment. I described writing a query to the editor, then delivering the article when expected. Jerry’s response has stuck with me, “So few writers do.” He meant that few writers follow through with their promised manuscript on the deadline—in the magazine world as well as in the book business.

Follow-through is a key characteristic for successful writers.

Are you delivering what you promise? I know many people struggle with this aspect of the business. It’s easy to take too much responsibility and get too overwhelmed and overloaded.  There are more demands on our time than ever before. Whether it’s a local or national writer’s group or your local church or other organization, they need volunteers to accomplish the work.  If you are successful as a writer in magazine or books, you will be asked to carry additional responsibilities. I’ve learned to be cautious about what I take on—and to have the ability to say, “No, thank you. I can’t fit that into my schedule.”

Whenever someone asks me to do something (large or small), often (if I remember this principle) I will ask for some time to consider it. Then I will either accept the responsibility or turn it down. I do not want to accept something that I can’t fulfill. So if you are struggling with this aspect of the business, first, count the cost and only accept what you can handle.  Then continually work hard to get organized and meet your various deadlines. I’ve seen this characteristic repeatedly in writers who are successful.


Friday, July 01, 2005

Must Have Discipline

Do I have what it takes to be a writer or maybe to continue writing in this business called publishing? As I travel to conferences and interact with writers online, these are common concerns. Over the last twenty years, I’ve interviewed a number of writers and written their stories for various magazines.  I’ve talked one on one with an even larger number of writers about their craft and how they practice it on a regular basis.  From this personal research, I’ve learned a series of characteristics. Starting today and for my next few entries on the Writing Life, I’m going to emphasize a particular characteristic. Don’t be concerned. Whether you are beginning to write or have written for many years, each of these “must haves” can be learned.

Most of us cringe at the first characteristic—discipline.  The successful writers that I’ve met over the years have all learned the discipline of writing. They may not like it—but they do it anyway. Check out what bestselling author Bill Myers has done for years as a writer: In his small office--formerly half a garage, Bill begins work with an hour of prayer and Bible study. Then about 8 a.m., Bill revises his pages from the previous day. After two hours and a short break--maybe some basketball, Bill skips lunch and writes new material until about 3 p.m. “My goal is five pages a day or 20 manuscript pages a week,” Myers says. “If I have time, I’d like to rewrite each page about four times. I have to work hard at my writing because I’m still learning my craft.”

See what is buried in that paragraph about Bill? He writes five pages a day. You might not be a five page a day person. But set a goal—maybe a page three times a week. Be reasonable with your goals but do it in a disciplined manner.

Or look what bestselling author Bodie Thoene says about the discipline of writing: Bodie sits at her computer hitting the keys with two fingers. She may work until 10 p.m. to reach her goal--at least five finished pages. “No little elves come out of my closet to write 650 manuscript pages,” Bodie says. “Some mornings I don’t feel like writing, but I do it out of obedience to God.”

Each of us have many different choices about how we spend our days. Last weekend I was fascinated as Debbie Macomber told me about her discipline of writing three romance novels each year. It takes a tremendous amount of disciple to accomplish this task.

And if you don’t have this characteristic of discipline? Then set some short-term goals to work on this aspect of the writing life and see how you can make some progress. It will take your writing life to a new level in the days ahead.