Tuesday, May 30, 2006

To Do The Do Over

It happened again last night. Another author whose book had gone out of print approached me to see if Howard Books would be interested.  With the large volume of books published each year (somewhere around 190,000 new titles), it’s to be expected a number of books go out of print each year.  It is a lot of work to get a book into print with a traditional publisher. Yet with a single letter to the author from the publisher, the book can be taken out of print.

Whenever the publisher stock on a book gets low, then the publisher prepares to reprint the book and replenish the supply of books. At this point in time, the publisher also carefully checks the sales history of the book.  Internally the sales history of a book is constantly monitored but it gets special focus at this time.  The sales history is one factor to help project the future sales and determine how many books to reprint.  It’s a basic principle of printing where the larger the print run for a book translates into the cheaper the per unit cost for each book. Against this printing principle is the concern about storage for the publisher’s warehouse.  It’s not effective or efficient for a publisher to have thousands of books in their warehouse. It’s a delicate balance with these variables and decisions. During this time, a publisher will also consider whether they want to keep your book in print or not. If the sales history for the book doesn’t meet their expectations (and it’s different for each publishing house), then someone in the publishing house will write the author a letter and alert them the book is going out of print.

Contractually the publisher offers the remaining copies of the book to the author at a great discount. In actual practice, some publishers are better at handling this situation for their books than others. For example, I recall a four book series where the publisher reached this decision point about taking the book out of print. They had completely run out of two of the titles and had plenty of stock of the remaining two titles.  I was not offered the chance to buy the two books which had no stock but only the two titles where they had copies. From talking with many authors, I know that my experience in this area isn’t isolated but it happens a great deal. When you sign your book contract, no one is thinking about the time when your book will go out of print yet it happens.

Your book has gone out of print. Do you do it over as a self-published book? Some people take this step and sell the book at conferences and other events. Do you find another publisher? It’s not impossible for your out of print book to be taken with another publisher. As an acquisitions editor, I have contracted these books and brought them back into print. But know these situations are rare.  Much more often, I have turned down these types of possibilities.

Like many things in publishing, it will boil down to your pitch to the publishing house. What type of first impression are you going to make to get the acquisitions editor and the publication group at the publishing house excited about your out of print book? Unlike a brand new book idea, the out of print book will involve another set of questions. Why didn’t your book work the first time? What happened within the publishing house or with the marketing or with the launch or with _____?  What length of time was your book in print? What length of time has it been out of print? Are those old copies still around and sold on the used market? To what extent? What were the sales numbers for your book wMaking the Perfect Pitch coverhen it was originally published? What is the market for this book and will this publisher be able to reach that market? What about the new edition will be different? Will you rewrite it? Will it have updated statistics, stories and information? Will it have a new foreword and new high profile endorsements? You have to present some key bit of information about how your new book will be distinct and different and have a better possibility of reaching the audience than it did during the first attempt. Otherwise you let your out of print book slide into oblivion and that’s OK—but it is your choice.

I recommend you use books like Katharine Sands’ Making the Perfect Pitch to refine your pitch to a new publisher.  While this book is focused on how to pitch books to literary agents, it could give you the tools you need to do the do over for your out of print book.


Monday, May 29, 2006

Conference Extras

Over the last few days, I’ve been writing about some of my experiences at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  If you haven’t been to this conference, it’s near Asheville, North Carolina and home to some of the most beautiful scenes in America—especially in the springtime. (I know that was a subjective statement but it’s my writing life.)  As you can see from my entries, it’s an intense experience for anyone on the faculty and especially the editors. Writers have spent their time, money and resources to come to this conference to learn and meet the faculty. From the minute I walked outside of my room, I was engaged with various people. Ridgecrest Mist

Some of you may wonder why I do it? Publishers have a long-standing love / hate relationship with these writers conferences. The editor is away from the publishing house, misses meetings and the day-to-day work of publishing (which continues to pile up when you are away). Some editors never attend these conferences. Others have limited their conferences to one a year (or maybe two).  If you’ve been checking my speaking schedule, you know that I’m out a bit more often.  I have many different reasons for going to these conferences. I enjoy the opportunity to give back to writers and help others on the journey. Also for my acquisitions role, I’m keeping an eye for the undiscovered treasure of a manuscript. It’s always on my radar.

I’m going to give you a glimpse at some of these other reasons I go to these conferences and some of what happened last week at Blue Ridge. In many ways, it’s like going to a huge meeting of old friends mixed with new relationships. In some cases, I’ve known writers and editors for more than twenty years. In other cases, faculty members are some of my Howard Books authors and it gave me a chance to get the update on their particular project.  Many of the people at the conference (participants and faculty) would not know these people are Howard Books authors because their books are still in the publication pipeline and will not be released for some time.

While there aren’t televisions in the rooms at Ridgecrest (at least I didn’t have one), after the last meeting of the evening, I enjoyed going to the lounge near our rooms. The faculty stayed in a similar location and there was a TV on our floor. I’ve never watched 24 but a large number of editors and writers instantly went Shhhhhh when I spoke (even quietly) during the program. Obviously I encountered a room full of 24 fans. On two other nights, we gathered to watch American Idol.  People cheered and talked but only when the muted commercials were playing. Everything was quiet when the actual programs were on the screen.

During another off moment, I walked around the Lifeway Bookstore at Ridgecrest and talked books with some of the participants and faculty members. It was great fun. I enjoyed the ride to the conference and from the conference. On the way in, I rode with McNair Wilson, the creative keynote speaker. He had one of the more unusual book ideas that I saw at the conference—and it wasn’t for me since I acquire fiction.  He has a manuscript called Donuts on the Moon, Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer. Instead of creating a book proposal, McNair has a mock manuscript with cartoons and other fascinating bits that I enjoyed looking through it. Who knows where that manuscript will be published and if it will even retain the same title and feel before it appears in print. On the way from the conference to the airport, Alton Gansky was also in the van. It was fun to talk shop about fiction and catch up on family during that brief trip. From going to these conferences, I’ve known Al and Becky Gansky for several years.

One last experience from the Blue Ridge conference.  According to the published schedule, Monday evening was supposed to be the movie, Vow to Cherish based on a book from Deb Raney, who was also on the faculty. Through some snafu, the movie wasn’t shown that evening but was shown on Tuesday evening.  Some of the participants along with the majority of the faculty bailed out of that movie. How do I know? I was standing in the back of the auditorium and about to return to my room to handle some pending work. I got a frantic wave from another faculty member and pulled into the back of the room. The scheduled movie wasn’t going to happen so they decided to substitute with the editor panel. Where were the editors? There were a grand total of four of us in the room: Len Goss, Senior Editor from B & H Publishing Group, Jesse Florea magazine editor at Focus on the Family, Dan Penwell acquisitions editor from AMG Publishers and me. Instead of a stage full of editors from magazines and book publishers, the four of us conducted the panel. Literary agent Janet Benrey from the Hartline Literary Agency moderated the panel, fielded the audience questions and did an excellent impromptu task at keeping things moving. This panel was an unplanned surprise.  Each participant was able to talk more about their particular company and have more of a presence at the conference from the limited number of available editors. It was great fun and a conference extra from my perspective.

Yes, you go to these writers conferences for the scheduled events but be on the lookout for these extra unexpected benefits. It can feed some unusual opportunities into your writing life.


Sunday, May 28, 2006

Information Overload

I can see it in the eyes of the participants about 3 p.m. every afternoon.  People invest a great deal of time, energy and effort to attend a writer’s conference.  During this mid-afternoon period, most of them have reached their maximum absorption rate. Last week at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference, I was a part of this process.  I taught the continuing class on the nonfiction book. Each writers conference is different in their pattern. At Blue Ridge, we taught four hour and fifteen minute classes.  As I mentioned in this post, I use a lot of handouts in my teaching. I use handouts for several reasons. 1) It allows me to reinforce the points that I’ve made orally. 2) It allows me to give additional information beyond the classroom for added value and benefit. 3) It reinforces the fact that we can’t learn everything about the nonfiction book in a few hours at a writer’s conference.  The classroom time mostly points people in the right direction and helps them understand some of the dynamics of publishing.

I sent my handouts ahead of time to Blue Ridge and when I arrived, they were waiting in my classroom.  This conference allows each faculty member to have the same room for the entire week.  I had five large boxes of handouts waiting for distribution. After the third day, one of the participants turned to me and said, “It’s great you give out so much information through these handouts and your teaching. I was here last year and I don’t remember getting this much information. Were you here last year?” I confirmed that last year I also taught this session yet I change change/ improve and add to the handouts. “I must have made a different choice for my continuing session,” she replied.

Other people have told me about taking these handouts home and organizing them and using them extensively throughout the months and years ahead as they work on different parts of the nonfiction book. Throughout my teaching, I use different illustrations and even add personal experiences from the last few months into my speaking.  Also I include recent statistics or publishing information that I’ve picked up from my reading. Each of these morning continuing classes were packed with almost every chair in the room filled. In a couple of these morning sessions, people had to find chairs from other rooms and bring them into my session or sit on the floor.

Twice I taught workshops in the late afternoon.  These sessions had few attendees but were recorded. My afternoon sessions had only a handful of participants—read less than six. Many people purchase the tapes of these sessions and even if there were few people in the classroom, the workshop went ahead as planned. With the conference director, I questioned the value of these sessions. She instantly said, “Well, what are we supposed to do, Terry? Plan a nap or hike or something? People pay good money to come to this conference and you can’t have a blank schedule—even if people don’t go to it, at least they had the possibility.” I didn’t have a creative alternative answer to this situation. I knew for a fact that late in the day, people are on information overload so they are ready to return to their room and rest or shop in the bookstore or something different. I know for my part of the conference, I built a lot of value into the teaching sessions. It was a great opportunity for me to help people learn about various aspects of book publishing


Saturday, May 27, 2006

Gentle Reality at a Conference

As Heather mentioned in her comment yesterday, at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, there are traditions to follow.

Once again we followed the bagpipe player to the opening session of the conference.  At the opening session, the faculty gives their introduction.  From attending these conferences, I understand the importance of this introduction.  I wasn’t giving a keynote or devotional talk to the conference so it would be my only time to appear in front of everyone. I prepared several short statements.  Many participants use the faculty introductions to plan their time at the conference. I taught the continuing class on the nonfiction book. My introduction went something like, “There is a huge blockbuster film related to a book which released this weekend with a lot of publicity and buzz. I’m here to report the book sales numbers for 2005 are in—and the truth or nonfiction outsold fiction. I’m Terry Whalin, the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Books and I’m teaching the continuing class on the nonfiction book. Come to my class and see these sales numbers and learn about how you can create a nonfiction book which finds a traditional publisher. I’ve brought an important book related to this topic (I held my book—see a bit of my preparation?) called Book Proposals That Sell and I have a conference special discount. See you at my class.”

I was short, focused and off the stage quickly yet with a solid point to my introduction. You’d be surprised how long some people talked with their self-introduction. At the end of the opening session, the participants could sign up for their 15–minute meetings with various faculty members.  I wasn’t in the room for these sign-ups. The faculty meeting room was in another building and we sat at a series of long tables across from the participant.  My sessions were limited because I taught over eight hours during the four day conference.  Other faculty members didn’t teach much but met throughout the morning and afternoon with participants. 

Tuesday afternoon I did a solid afternoon from 1:30 p.m until 4:45 p.m. with supper scheduled at 5 p.m. (where I hosted a table of others who didn’t get a session). Many conferences send out this schedule ahead of time to the faculty members to allow them to check it and make sure it has some breaks. I must have missed that email (I doubt it was sent for this conference) because my schedule was completely full.

These face to face meetings with individuals are always a challenge.  While it’s still difficult to say no (and as editors we say no a great deal), often we send a form rejection letter. Many years ago, I made a personal promise to use these sessions to help writers have a gentle dose of reality.  It’s easy for the editor to take a completely different stance. I’ve heard of some editors who have every writer send them the manuscript. Then the writer leaves the appointment happy and expectant. The editor is off the hot seat and takes home a bunch of stuff (or has the writer send them stuff), then holds it for a period of time—then rejects everything. Now what does that process accomplish or teach the writer? Almost nothing other than they began to ride the roller coaster of publishing.

Instead I’ve tried to gently tell the person the truth about their manuscript—no matter how hard it may be for me to say it to them face to face. I confess that I’ve received over 200 fiction submissions since January and can only contract six to eight of those books (a year). I attempt to find something encouraging and some recommendation for improvement—either on their manuscript or some resource they can use for other submissions. I hope you can see the challenge from the editor’s view for these meetings.  No one likes to make people cry—but often I find people close to tears because of these honest words.

One pastor eagerly called me before this conference and planned to meet with me. He had received great encouragement on his poetry from the Scriptures and had written something patterned after Calvin Miller’s The Singer Trilogy.  I read the Miller books years ago and was familiar with them—but it wasn’t what I’m charged to acquire or consider for Howard Books. I read the poetry during the session (something I confessed that I know almost zero and have no real skill to evaluate).  I have to admire this pastor. He came prepared with a flow and agenda of information that he wanted to accomplish during his 15 minutes. His plan was to culminate with my taking his manuscript back home and consider publishing.  I tried to bring gentle reality into the situation—yet I could see this man almost in tears of disappointment as the session ended.

Because I was teaching on nonfiction, some people signed up to show me their nonfiction and get my input about it.  One nurse who was taking my class came to her 15–minute session with her editor/ publicist had worked on a personal journey with an extremely ill child. Her book idea had a number of pluses including statistics about the audience, marketing ideas and application for the reader. Yet the pictures of her child were scattered throughout each chapter. This feature would be a costly issue for a publisher to produce and the publisher would have little motivation to actually do it—since this author was unknown. Again my challenge was gentle reality.

Another 15 minute meeting was with an attorney from Virginia who wrote suspense fiction in her limited free time. In the middle of caring for her children and husband as well as working a challenging law career, she was writing stories. I expressed my admiration for her diligence in writing this type of material. I liked her basic plot and she had an agent representing her work. Yet again I had to gently tell this author that I didn’t have any room on my small fiction list for such a project. I encouraged her to keep at it and continue looking for the right connection at the right time and place.

The process is draining for the individual and the editor—but hopefully you get a taste of what happened last week. It’s valuable for each person from my perspective.


Friday, May 26, 2006

Wide-Eyed Excitement

It feels like I might have my fingers on the wrong keys a bit today.  It’s a four-hour flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Phoenix, Arizona and with the start of Memorial Day Weekend every single seat was filled. I’m glad to be back home again after five days at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. If you haven’t ever been to this particular writer’s conference, I’d encourage you to consider coming next year. It has grown to become one of the larger Christian writer’s conferences.  Last year, they had about 275 and this year they had over 400 attending the conference. In addition to those 400 people, a large faculty attended the conference. Why do you care about the size of the faculty?  It gives you much more opportunity to see and meet different types of professionals and learn from their experiences.

Ridgecrest headerTucked into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the Ridgecrest Conference Center is one of two large Baptist conferences in the United States. It is almost magical in terms of the facility and the staff. Because I’ve been going to this conference for several years, it’s almost like old home week for me to greet some of the staff members of their bookstore and other places. While the place doesn’t always matter for these writers conferences, it is a factor in your consideration.

My bent in these settings is to focus on the various people who are attending and also to get to spend a few moments with the various faculty members. Some people return to this conference each year while for at least half of the participants, this conference is their introduction to the world of writing. I love their wide-eyed excitement.  Most of them have planned for certain things to happen at the conference.  For example, they have written a book and they plan to sell that project—or at least interest a particular editor.  After about the third day, most of them have radically shifted those expectations and understand they came to the conference for a completely different unplanned reason.

Hopefully when you attend these conferences, you learn that editors don’t have all of the answers. That editors are human beings and make mistakes. Yet you’ve learned to listen to our experiences and our insight because we have been around in this business for a while and do have some valuable insight for your own writing life.  For the next few entries, I plan to give you some details about my time in the Blue Ridge Mountains.


Saturday, May 20, 2006

Escaping the Heat

If you follow the weather, you will know it’s been unusually hot in the Phoenix area. We hit the “triple digits” nine days ago and have stayed with it every single day since that time (yes over 100 degrees). Yesterday they tied the 1973 record of 105. Now you can talk about the low humidity and dry heat all you want but that’s pretty warm.  Within the last several months, I downloaded a little free program from the Weather Channel which puts the outside temperature on my toolbar. I’ve found it fascinating to watch the temperature changing throughout the day. The program is full of surprises. This week we had a freak thunderstorm roll through the Valley of the Sun and the national weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning. My  little temperature turned red and even sounded a bit of thunder, which I didn’t know about until it happened. It definitely caught my attention that something was happening outside my window.Blue Ridge 2006

Early tomorrow morning, I’m flying east to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  The conference is a pure change of pace and I look forward to the opportunity to teach my continuing class on the nonfiction book plus a couple of individual workshops. It amounts to about eight hours of teaching about writing. I love this opportunity to give back to others and help them in this journey of publishing. Last year 275 people attended this conference. This year 410 are registered so it will be substantially bigger and busier. I’ve already had one eager author call me—yes, he tracked down my phone number (long removed from the Howard Books website because of another story).  I was fascinated to listen to this author make his oral pitch for his fiction project (something I encourage you never to do) then I said I look forward to meeting with him and looking at his work (which is true).

From going to these conferences, I understand many of the people attending are investing in their first conference experience (usually about 50%). These writers are attending with high goals to sell a particular book or meet a particular set of editors.  For another group at the conference, it will be like old home week of any reunion. They are eager to see old friends, catch up on the news and learn more about their craft or the publishing business and gain some inspiration. Usually about the third day, the first time conference people have gained something valuable—perspective. They have shown their manuscript to three or four people and received some honest help and know they need to redouble their efforts when they return home.  When you make the effort to attend a conference and receive this type of feedback, it is priceless and can save years of heartache and rejection.

My challenge as an editor and fellow writer is to be diplomatic yet honest. I’ll never forget what a fellow faculty member told me about another editor, “He takes everything and encourages every writer to send him their manuscript. That encouragement dispenses lots of hope until one or two months later when he rejects everything.” I doubt this editor was taking this type of stance but for me that’s unfair and not what I do. I try to find something that needs work, provide some encouragement and information, then return the manuscript—on the spot. Because I receive many submissions and have few spots, I will be hard pressed to take home anything. Yet I am always open and looking for that stand out submission. I could be surprised at what I discover. It’s part of the adventure of these conferences.

I’m going to be teaching about the value of nonfiction and how your nonfiction idea can impact your world. Here’s a little behind the scenes detail about the Blue Ridge Conference. Most conferences restrict the faculty about the number of handouts for their classes. Some editors don’t use handouts but I do. I can understand the restriction because it adds to the overall expenses for the conference. I’ve had no restriction at this conference so I take full advantage of the situation.  I try to build so much value into my few hours of teaching that the participant feels like my sessions were worthy of their time and energy to attend. I’ve not counted my handouts but I believe I have close to 100 pages (no there wasn’t an extra zero there). The contents of my handouts are completely different than Book Proposals That Sell (which will be available in the conference bookstore). My oral presentations will be completely different from my book. It will be fun to see what happens during these sessions.

While I could potentially write something about The Writing Life, it will be difficult to find any time over the next few days. If you don’t hear anything from me for a few days. You’ll know the reason. I’m escaping the heat to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope to see some of you there.


Friday, May 19, 2006

No Fun But Necessary

For the last several months, I’ve been had a repetitious email correspondence with a magazine editor at a well-known publication. According to my past experience with this publication and with the verbal and email reassurances from the editor, they pay on acceptance. My article was written and accepted months ago, yet I haven’t received payment.

Faithfully I’ve been checking on my check every two or three weeks. Each time this editor responds quickly and said she has checked again and it will be going out on Monday. Then two more weeks go by without payment so I check on it again. I needed to apply more pressure and wondered what to do next.

It’s a hard situation. You don’t want to kill your relationship with this editor (and publication) yet as a writer, you did the work and deserve to be fairly paid for that work. It’s a tricky balance. If you are too threatening and forceful, you may get paid but never write for them again.  If you are too lax about payment, you may get stuck.  After over 20 years of freelancing, I’ve seen many publications come and go for no explanation to someone on the outside looking in. The magazine business is a difficult one with small profit margins and it’s tricky to stay in business.

It’s in times like these where writers need to stand together and learn from the experience of others. It’s another reason I belong to several writer organizations and play an active role in one of them. The American Society of Journalists and Authors was formerly known as the Society of Magazine Writers. The organization is much broader than magazine writers so many years ago they changed their name to ASJA. The ASJA has a Grievance Committee to help members in this particular situation. The service is only for members so please don’t go to them with your payment problems (unless you want to join).

The Grievance Committee advised me to write a letter to my editor. The letter with my letterhead should go through the regular mail (not email) and be sent certified with a return receipt acknowledgment. In this letter, I recounted the history or our interaction on email, sent copies of the email, sent copies of my invoices and gave a firm deadline date for payment.  While it wasn’t any fun, it was a necessary step for me to take in this case. I wrote my letter and mailed it this week. Hopefully it resolves the situation and I receive my payment. If not there are additional steps I can take to apply more pressure on the publication. I’m not eager to take any of these steps but I will take them if necessary. Thankfully as a writer, I’ve never had to take these steps—even sending the printed letter via certified mail was a first for me. I hope it does the trick—spur whatever internal process to secure my payment.

You will note that I’ve tried to disguise the specific magazine where I have this “situation.” It may be quickly resolved (my hope) yet it’s probably happening to other writers. You need to stand together with an organization or take proactive steps for payment rather than just shrug it off. It’s another different glimpse into my writing life.


Thursday, May 18, 2006

Getting A Foot in the Publisher's Door

Last week I received another new how-to writing book which is just hitting the bookstores from my friends Len Goss and Don Aycock. These two men have years of commitment to producing excellent how-to books for writers. One of my long-time favorite books from this pair is Inside Religious Publishing which Zondervan released in 1991 (now out of print).  One of the chapters in that book from Mike Hyatt is an earlier view of his thinking about nonfiction book proposals. The updated article from Mike Hyatt is one of the appendices in Book Proposals That Sell.  You have to admire Len and Don for their teamwork and continued work to mentor Christian writers.

Little Handbook coverNow The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing, Getting Your Foot in the Publisher’s Door is available and loaded with great advice and information.  For full disclosure, I sent a tiny bit of material to these authors and it appears scattered throughout the book. What I like about The Little Handbook is how the authors have turned to a variety of writers, agents and editors within the Christian industry for their advice, then woven it into a solid book.

Everyone is looking for the answer to this question: how do I get published? Or if you are published: how do I write a bestseller? The answer is there isn’t a single path or a single solution. It’s different for each person and that’s why it’s a combination of art and science that we call publishing.

Today I want to give you a small taste of The Little Handbook. I’ve intentionally selected a piece from Goss and Aycock. Chapter 5 is titled Writing From the Editors’ Perspective. “Throughout this book we have stressed the importance of doing your homework and research into both your subject matter and the publishing process. Some writers say, “I love to write, but I can’t stand the business stuff. I’ll just leave that up to the publishing house.” That is an understandable sentiment but a misguided one. As a writer seeking publication, you are responsible for everything regarding your work, from the initial idea through the printing process culminating in helping to sell the book. Thus, the more you know about the entire process, the better off you will be.”

“One important piece of the publishing puzzle is to understand what makes editors tick. Why do they make the decisions they make? What factors cause them to reject some manuscripts and accept others? What mistakes do they see writers make over and over? In order to help answer these and other important questions, we asked a number of editors to talk frankly about the entire scope of Christian writing today. They responded enthusiastically and gave us the information you will read in this chapter.”

“We asked several questions that the editors represented here answered. If you study their replies and take to heart their advice, you will be light-years ahead of the person who does not know this information. Remember, no one will do your work for you. Getting your foot into the editorial door can sometimes result in bruises, but all wounds heal! Learn from the editors then go on and slide your shoe right in there.”

I’ve given a single short example of the wisdom in this book.


Wednesday, May 17, 2006

A Glimpse into the Life of a Playwright

Several weeks ago the New York Times magazine ran a glimpse into the life of playwright Richard Greenberg.  I love Broadway plays and every chance I get to New York, I try to get to the theater—at least once and some times several times. I find it a magical experience but even as a writer, I don’t often think about the playwright who wrote the words of the actors.  It takes a special gift to write such beautiful words and plays.

Just look at the opening to well-written piece from Alex Witchel, “As the playwright Richard Greenberg and the director Doug Hughes hung around the stage of the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center waiting for the noise to subside and their meeting to begin, some not-so-idle chitchat was in order. Hughes’s Broadway production of “Doubt” had just changed casts and been re-reviewed, mostly positively, the previous day.
“I don't read reviews myself,” Hughes said. “I have someone who is on my side read them, then tell me about them.”

“I don't read them at all,” Greenberg said.

“You’re a better man than I,” Hughes declared.

“I’m a scareder man than you,” Greenberg answered.

No one knows better than Greenberg that “scareder” is not a word, but with five plays in production — four of them new — he’s allowed.”

Later in the article, we learn, “Greenberg is somewhat misunderstood because he doesn’t get out much. At 48, he is already the author of 28 plays; the extent of the interviews he has given in the last 15 years or so consists mostly of snippets delivered by phone, from an agent’s office, a rehearsal hall or his local diner. His social reticence is a consequence, he says, of being burned by the spotlight of theatrical Schadenfreude when “Eastern Standard” became a sensation in 1989, combined with a renewed zeal to work after a bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma went scarily undiagnosed in 1992 (it was later cured).”

Notice how Greenberg doesn’t get out a lot—to his own plays or other plays. Instead he’s tied to his computer and writing. It’s a life I can understand and appreciate.

Unlike the playwright, most of my work is tied to the printed page—the query letters, the fiction manuscripts and other projects—like the nonfiction books that I’m involved writing.  There are times when I do escape from my computer. One of those times are coming up next week. I’ll be teaching at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference which begins on Sunday.


Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Use What's In Your Hands

Over fifteen years ago, I was wandering the aisles of the American Booksellers convention (now known as Book Expo).  It’s the largest general market bookseller trade show in the United States.  I had been published in a few magazines and hasn’t written a single book at that point in my journey. With wide-eyed excitement, I wandered the aisles looking at the new products and meeting different vendors and authors.  This type of book event is closed to the general public but retailers attend to learn about forthcoming products. Publishers create advance review copies of these forthcoming books and give them away at the event.Moody magazine

Walking past the Doubleday booth, I picked up an advance review copy (ARC) of a book called Covenant House by Bruce Ritter.  It was in late May and this hardcover book from the Catholic priest would not appear in the bookstores until the following February. I loved the writing and the message of this particular book because Ritter had worked in the inner city of New York rescuing runaways, providing shelter and a new fresh start to lives headed in the wrong direction.  With this ARC, I had an opportunity which I seized.  I knew the editor at Moody Monthly (which became Moody and is no longer in print). I wrote a query letter to this editor highlighting the riveting stories from Bruce Ritter and the stirring call for Christians to care about this little discussed aspect of our world.

The editor responded with a note to send the review and specified the word length and tone for Moody.  On the deadline, I submitted my review and it was eventually printed in the magazine. Notice the timeframe variable in this story.  I had this book well in an advance of the publication date. Magazines typically are working eight to ten weeks ahead of their publication date (some times there are even longer lead times). I pitched the right book at the right time and got it into the magazine.

I used what was in my hands to use. It’s the opportunity for each of us. You may not have an ARC but you have a neighbor or a friend with a fascinating personal experience. Can you write this personal experience story into a magazine article? Or you may be passionate about children’s books and are writing lots of this type of material and getting rejected. Can you switch gears and do another type of writing where you can get it published? Each of us face these types of decisions. I’d encourage you to use whatever is in your hands.


Monday, May 15, 2006

Packed Some Books for Google

When this program was first announced, it was steeped in controversy. The Author’s Guild sued Google about it and publishers looked at it with a wary eye. Would it sell books or give away books? No publisher (or author) wants to give away books because it’s what we’re selling to the reader. Yet if putting your book in a searchable fashion sells more books, then it’s definitely worth doing.

Google-Book-SearchIn recent days, I’ve been learning more about this program.  While it’s six month’s old, check out this brief about the topic which actually first appeared in August 2005.  I’ll spare you the legal brief and you can read the straightforward conclusion, “The Google Print Library Project will make it easier than ever before for users to locate the wealth of information buried in books. By limiting the search results to a few sentences before and after the search term, the program will not diminish demand for books. To the contrary, it often will often increase demand for copyrighted works by helping users identify them. Publishers and authors should embrace the Print Library Project rather than reject it.”

If you read John Kremer’s marketing tips from last week you saw his Google video about halfway down the page where it says, “Google Book Search: It Helps Sell Books!” I would encourage you to watch the short two-minute video. Also sign up for John’s marketing tips which always contain useful  information.

I checked out the search tool and I like the way different books will appear when you search for different words—and these books appear with links to purchase the book. Like the Amazon.com Search Inside feature, Google doesn’t allow users to print the pages.  You will quickly tire of reading material on your computer screen and purchase the book. Also the search engine limits the number of pages you can read from a particular book. For me, it looked like there are some safeguards to the process—but also some huge exposure possibilities for authors and their books.

You have to apply and join Google’s program to get started in the process. It’s not just for publishers but authors can also join the program.  After you get accepted into the program, you receive specific instructions for sending your books to Google. Then Google scans the pages and adds the books to their search tool. This weekend, I registered 15 of my books and packed the actual books to send into the system. We’ll see how quickly they are added.  Inside the system, Google keeps up updated on the status of this process.

Some author may read this suggestion and say, “Oh, interesting.  I’ll let my publisher register and handle this process.” For the top authors in a publishing house, they may be right.   In this case, I think authors can help themselves and the exposure of their book, by taking proactive action.  Join the program. Register your book (no matter who published your book—even if you self-published it) and get your book into this system. Whether you’ve written fiction or nonfiction, it doesn’t matter. It’s another simple way to gain exposure for your book—and potential sales.

When I was checking out the search tool, one of the titles jumped out at me: The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing. It made sense to me because this book includes chapters on different aspects of nonfiction writing. It’s a perfect sort of product to give the reader a taste of the book then entice them to purchase the entire book. Whether it takes Google several weeks or several months to add my books, I have no idea.  One thing is certain—if they aren’t sent, they will never appear.


Sunday, May 14, 2006

When You Don't Have Words for Mom

It’s been called the second most popular gift giving holiday after Christmas. I think it’s a great opportunity to express appreciation to our mothers. My mother struggles with osteoporosis and about a week ago, she slipped and fell breaking her leg. The bone shattered and they had to operate and put it back together with a couple of metal plates. For this particular Mother’s Day, my mom will be in a rehab hospital getting some physical therapy so she can walk again. It’s been difficult to know what to say in these situations and find the words of encouragement. None-the-less, I’ve been trying. The heavy weight of helping mom has fallen to my sister who lives nearby. Every time when we’ve talked on the phone, I’ve tried to express my gratitude for my sister’s care of mom in this difficult time of her life.Daughter's Heart cover

I don’t know what sort of communication you have with your mom. Last week I received a beautiful new gift book from Heather Ivester. As a daughter, she knows the love for her mom—but also three of Heather’s children are daughters. The book is called From a Daughter’s Heart to her Mom, 50 Reflections on Living Well. No matter whether it’s for mother’s day or some other special occasion, you will love this book and I highly recommend it—even though I’m not a mother nor a daughter. Each double-page spread contains a couple of inspirational sentences with a beautiful photo. A brief inspirational thought and a relevant quotation and a verse or two from the Bible.

Here’s an example with photo of a woman holding a partially filled glass of water. “If I could describe you in one word, I’d say you’re optimistic. You always look on the bright side of things and choose to let go of the negative. I wish I could be more like you in that way. Your glass is never half empty; it’s half full, and you look around to find someone to share it with. Things haven’t always gone right in your life, but you chose to remain hopeful that tomorrow is a new and better day. People are drawn to you because you don’t let anything get you down. I didn’t always know that hope is a choice. I thought either you had it or you didn’t Now I see that you chose to let hope be the anchor of your soul.”

OK, that was a random page example from this well-crafted book. It’s a perfect gift for any time—and especially on Mother’s Day.


Saturday, May 13, 2006

Find What You Love

If you read these entries, you know that I read a number of magazines and books. It’s part of the way I’m wired to process a great deal of information from a variety of sources. I probably take (and read) about 50 magazines a month. A technology weekly called Red Herring is a new addition to my stack of publications.  I’m unsure how I got on this list but according to the label I’m supposed to get it for the next couple of years. In fact, I thought they went out of business a while back but here they are showing up in my mailbox so I’m reading the magazine. In the May 15th issue, a headline from the publisher's letter to the reader blared, “Living the Gospel of Jobs.”  I’ve not been able to find this particular article online or I would point to it. The headline was a dual meaning and talked about jobs or work but also Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple.  The editorial included a link to the graduation speech Steve Jobs gave last year at Stanford University. I typed in the link and found a remarkable speech and encouragement to writers.  Since this time of year, many colleges are holding their graduations, it seemed appropriate for today’s entry on the writing life.Steve Jobs

First, let me tell a little something personal (yet relevant) which isn’t in this article. My wife’s Aunt Pat lived in Palo Alto, California for over fifty years and passed away last year. She was a grand, remarkable person yet lived a quiet life on Waverly Street. When she moved into the neighborhood, there was little famous about it but it changed over the years. In fact, Steve Jobs lived across the street from Aunt Pat.  Several times, I’ve been to this family home and it’s located right down the street from Stanford University.  It wasn’t a hard trip for Steve Jobs to deliver the Stanford commencement speech last year. 

In his opening statement, Jobs recognizes his unusual status to be giving a commencement address since he never graduated from college. Then he says three key points which I’m going to quote for this entry.

First, he emphasizes the importance of connecting the dots. It’s an important trait for writers as well and Jobs backs up his points with a key life story then he says, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

His second story relates to work. I’m going to skip the story but encourage you to read it.  Jobs says, “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

The third and final story relates to Jobs’ personal brush with death and he makes this point, “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Whether you are a new college graduate or a long-time writer and editor, each of these key points are relevant to our every choices.


Friday, May 12, 2006

Show Up Even When It's Ridiculous

Craig FergusonSeveral weeks ago , I caught Terry Gross on Fresh Air with Craig Ferguson who was talking about his new novel, Between the Bridge and the River.  In the final minutes of the interview, I was fascinated with Ferguson’s answer to this question about how he got the role on the Drew Carey Show where Ferguson played Carey’s boss.  Here’s what Ferguson said”

“It was very odd actually. I was broke and I was down to my last 27 cents. I had 27 cents in the bank and I don’t know if you've ever tried to get 27 cents out of the bank or not. You can't do it. It costs a buck to get 27 cents. So I was completely broke. I had this manager at the time who got me this audition to play the part of the Hispanic photographer on the Brooke Shield's sitcom Suddenly Susan. I looked at the script and I said, “This is ridiculous. This part is for a Latino man.”

And he said, “Oh, your are foreign.  Just go to the audition.”

I had nothing else to do so I went.  I get to the corridor outside the audition.  There are a bunch of guys who look like Antonio Banderas sitting there.  They look at me and I say, “Como Estas, everybody.”

I go in and the producers laugh when I start talking. They think I am totally inappropriate for the job. One of the casting directors there was a guy called Tony Sepulveda from Warner Brothers Casting. After the audition he said, “You are not really what we are looking for this Hispanic photographer but we are doing a show with a guy from Cleveland. Uh, can you do an English accent?”

And I said, “Si, Senor, I can.” (If you’ve never heard Ferguson, he is from Scotland)  So it was from auditioning for a job that I was hopelessly wrong for. I landed the part on the Drew Carey Show. It’s a real lesson about showing up—even when you think it’s ridiculous.”

Maybe you are in that uncertain place where it’s difficult to predict your future in the writing world.  It’s likely you aren’t down to your last 27 cents like Craig Ferguson. Can you learn from his example of showing up even when it’s ridiculous? 


Thursday, May 11, 2006

Snap Decisions

Some people may think editors are too quick in their judgments about manuscripts and query letters.  At times do they make the wrong decision? Absolutely. No editor is perfect in their batting record.  For me, the snap judgments about manuscripts and query letters spring from my long experience of reading such pitches. Also it’s a matter of survival and time management. I do not have hours to pour over a single email or mailed query letter. Nor do I have hours to leisurely sit and read manuscript submissions.  When you step into the editor role, you quickly learn how to handle the flood of material from authors—or you drown. Some editors are drowning and you never hear from them—even those editors with the best intentions.

Recently I was talking with a literary agent about an editorial director at a publishing house.  I mentioned how I’ve been friends with this editorial director for many years yet I never receive a response to my emails—well, almost never. The agent told me, “Oh, she’s like that. I have to email her, then email her again, then leave voice mail and urgent voice mail. Eventually I hear something but it takes multiple times.”  I don’t know for sure but it looks like this editorial director is drowning in this response area.

I’ve got a theory about contacting people: the higher the position, the more likely you are to receive a response. The response may be a single sentence via email but you do hear from the person and I appreciate it.

I’ve been trying to process query letters and submissions for my role with Howard Books.  The volume of submissions has substantially increased in recent months.  Last week, one poor author submitted her query right before I checked my publishing email.  I was efficiently logging my submissions and sending form rejection letters. This author received her rejection within 15 minutes of sending her query letter. It must have been a new record for her. She wrote asking if Howard Books was considering any submissions and assumed she had received an automated response. I wrote a second time reassuring her that I had carefully read her submission and giving her several reasons why it didn’t work with a personal response (not a form letter).  This author thanked me for my diligence in processing the submissions.

Just check out this statement from Noah Lukeman of the Lukeman Agency, “The more practical, hands-on experience someone has with them, though, the more you might trust his judgment—particularly if this person is an active publishing professional who evaluates query letters for a living.  As a literary agent for the last 10 years, I have received, on average, about 10,000 queries a year.  That makes almost 100,000 queries received over the last 10 years.” Now that is a lot of letters to process.

The great irony is if you don’t craft a great query letter, then you can’t get the editor to read anything additional. It’s why it’s important to learn how to pitch your project.  I recently found this well-crafted book excerpt about query writing from Noah Lukeman. It’s solid advice for anyone with a book idea—whether you are writing a novel or nonfiction.

When you receive any response from an editor, celebrate—even if it’s a rejection. At least this editor took the time to read your query and respond. This editor is trying to faithfully handle submissions and that is something to celebrate.  I’ve prepared a few standard paragraphs that I will at times add as a p.s. to my form rejection.  You should see the responses of appreciation from these authors. It’s like handing a cup of water to someone who has walked miles in the desert.


Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Check Out the Numbers

Recently I wrote about how truth sells books pointing to a Publisher’s Weekly article which is now online. I recommend you study this article. With all of the massive amounts of print and hype about books like The Davinci Code and other novels, nonfiction continues to substantially sell more than fiction.

Yesterday Bowker released the statistics on U.S. book publishing for 2005.  The numbers of new titles have decreased which is the first decline since 1999 and only the 10th time in the last 50 years.  If you scan through these statistics, it’s easy to grow discouraged. Publishers are making fewer choices and the price of books is increasing in costs.  Here’s a key statement in this news release, “In 2005, publishers were more cautious and disciplined when it came to their lists,” said Gary Aiello, chief operating officer of New Providence, N.J.-based Bowker. “We see that trend continuing in 2006. The price of paper has already gone up twice this year, and publishers, especially the small ones, will have to think very carefully about what to publish.” Why? Because if these publishers don’t make wise choices at the beginning of the process, then they can’t stay in business and will publish fewer books the next year.

How can you beat these trends? The first way would-be book authors can beat the numbers is through standing out from the other proposals.  As I describe in Book Proposals That Sell, it is hard work to put together an excellent proposal but it’s not difficult to stand out—because of the high volume of poorly-crafted proposals in circulation. 

From my perspective, these numbers help writers and editors live in reality—and work even harder to write with excellence then get the word out about their books.


Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Sound Advice for Authors

When it comes to looking for wisdom about marketing and selling books, I’m constantly on the lookout for such experts. I want to hang on their every word and continually learn from them.  I’ve found there are a number of wise counselors when it comes to this area.  One of the people you need to have on your radar is Fern Reiss.  Several years ago, I met Fern and there is plenty that any writer can learn from her. Recently I saw her again briefly at the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference.Publishing Game Bestseller cover

Her self-published books on publishing are loaded with insight. Here’s just one example from The Publishing Game Bestseller in 30 Days. Before I give the example, this book gives you a game plan for marketing your book and creating a bestseller in a brief period of time.  Often she is asked, “What if my book is already published?”  She says you won’t be able to do all of the steps but can follow many of them. “Keeping your book active will keep it selling. And a good “backlist” title can sell forever—at the rate of several thousand copies per year.  If this sounds impossible to you, take a look at my first book, The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage. It was first published in 1999–-and still sells at a steady rate of several thousand copies per year, bringing in at least $30,000 in net income each year. Not only that, but I continue to get new reviews for it, some of these in very prestigious publications. As long as I have the energy to market it, I expect to continue to sell for at least the next five years.”

If you are a novelist, make sure you check out Fern’s blog entry for April 24 on Amazon.com. She’s got five solid tips to help novelists generate increased sales.

You’d be surprised at the questioning looks or emails I receive from novelists when I ask for their personal marketing plans. Many of them are clueless—and I have a large pile of manuscripts to return as a result of their cluelessness. Yes, you have to craft an amazing, timely story.  You have to motivate me to turn those pages so I can’t get enough of your story. My first appeal to any author is to learn the craft of storytelling and writing—then practice the craft over and over through books and magazine writing.  After craft, the next step is for writers to understand the marketing and grow in their own active involvement. One of those steps to learn more about marketing is to read anything you can from Fern Reiss. She’s one of those people who knows how to sell books.


Monday, May 08, 2006

Two Articles With Same Theme

Some writers are genius at remarketing their magazine articles.  They take a magazine article and rework it or simply package it as a “reprint” then send it to another publication.  I’ve heard some writers talk about having several hundred reprints circulating at any given time.  It’s true and I know firsthand from some of my magazine work that you can make as much money on the reprinted articles as the original one. Also the article can get much more exposure to the audience in multiple magazines than a single one.

In the last week, I’ve got another twist to this reprint idea. You can query several different places at the same time. Then write different articles for each publication. One magazine will want a smaller article while another one will be open to a longer piece.  I have two articles to show you this type of situation. I wrote both articles about the Sounds of Hope Conference recently held at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton, Illinois. It was an invitation-only conference and I had the opportunity to write about it in a couple of places.  One article appeared in The Christian Examiner newspaper. From the assignment, it was a shorter article.  Also I was able to write a longer piece for a news service. Each of these stories are gaining a different and broad readership.

Two More Book Reviews

I continue to review books and last week two more of my reviews appeared on Faithful Reader.com. They are: Surprised By Remarriage by Ginger Kolbaba. It’s a well-done nonfiction book and I’ll see Ginger in a few weeks at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  Also I reviewed The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney by Randy Singer which was a great suspense read. 


Saturday, May 06, 2006

Any Exposure Is Good Exposure

Often when it comes to publicity for a book or a product, the publicists repeatedly tell me that any publicity is good publicity.  They contend that no matter what is written about the book that ink translates into sales for the book.

In some regards, I believe it because of the massive amounts of books which are continually released into the marketplace.  I see it happen in the area of movies all the time.  A much promoted film will come out and be slammed with a poor review. The public will ignore the reviewer and it will be the most attended film of that particular weekend. A Writer's Life cover

Several weeks ago, I wrote a bit about a new book, A Writer’s Life by Gay Talese.  I still have yet to read this book but it’s on my wish list and will be something I will read eventually.  When I was in New York City last week, I relish picking up a New York Times and reading it every day. The Sunday Times is always a great reading experience for me and especially their well-crafted book review section.

In the center fold of the April 30th book review section and spanning two pages was an in-depth review of A Writer’s Life. Because of the positive spin from the Publisher’s Weekly profile, I was surprised with the large amounts of space and the negative tone about parts of the book in this well-written article. I know The New York Times encourages honest evaluations of the book but here’s a couple of paragraphs from Kurt Andersen that stood out to me:

“But his personal life as an adult remains largely blank. A brief account of eloping in Rome is charming — but then he retreats, archly, declaring almost everything else about his family off the record. Although Nan Talese is an important book editor as well as his wife of 47 years, we learn almost nothing about her. Her professional accomplishments are glossed over in two cursory paragraphs. He is so reluctant to tell his own story that he reprints 800 words from a Vanity Fair profile of himself. Friends and children scarcely appear in “A Writer’s Life.”

It’s one thing to rummage through the files and cut and paste together enough material to fulfill a very old book contract. Talese has hustled enough over the years to be permitted a punt. But a great deal of the prose in “A Writer’s Life” is shockingly, inexcusably bad.

Some is ungrammatical, some is clumsy (Tina Brown “was particularly compelling and seductive when dealing with men of means or other assets who were close to the age of her father”), and much is simply imprecise and amateurish — like his 1965 Selma memory of “wooden clubs and rifle butts pounding with muted audibility the demonstrators’ clothes-covered flesh,” and his conviction that in the newsrooms of his youth, unlike today, “Journalism was . . . performed with resonance and impartible vivacity.”

There are many other words about rambling sentences and poorly crafted storytelling.  You can read the entire article but here’s Kurt Andersen’s kicking conclusion, “Better luck next time. “A Writer’s Life” is only a failed book, not a failed life. One hopes that Talese has purged himself, and can start anew, with a fresh story he’s passionate about telling honestly and clearly. And maybe stew a little less, and write a little faster.”

Does this type of book review hurt or help the sales of a book? In some ways, I can see the jaded New York audience reading the review, then rushing out to purchase the book and see for themselves.  Because of my long-term reading of Talese, it’s a book I’m still eager to read.


Friday, May 05, 2006

A Room Full of Ideas

Do writers need any more ideas? Always is my answer. We can always use more connections and relationships.  You never know when you will need a particular relationship or connection.  It’s another reason I head to New York City each year for the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings.  The last several conferences have included an Idea Marketplace.

As a kid, I loved to go to the county fair and wander through the exhibits.  I always picked up a yardstick and some other little gadgets.  The various vendors came to the fair so they could show off their latest products, take orders and remind the public of their existence.

The Idea Marketplace at the ASJA conference holds exactly the same sort of idea—yet it is completely targeted to the writing community.  For example, I picked up a lot of great information and contacts with potential sources for future stories.  It was fascinating to wander through and look at the various exhibitors.  If you come to this conference, it’s always a good idea to circle through the various exhibits early in the day—when the exhibitors are fresh and also when they have plenty of giveaway items.

I picked up various press kits and contact information for different types of possible stories.  Also I picked up some fascinating little gadgets. For example, I have a new mousepad from the Copyright Clearance Center which is colorful with a pair of glasses like Benjamin Franklin wore on the top of a handwritten document.  I love the quotation on it: “Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing,” Benjamin Franklin.

Also Clemson University News Service was exhibiting.  One unusual item was a name holder that you could wear around your neck (perfect for some future conferences) but it also includes a place for some business cards and even a pen. I thought it was clever. Or I’m always a fan of the giveaways at the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.  Besides their attractive bone pens (yes it’s a pen in the shape of a bone), they had small pads with a pen. Or maybe you need some data on the current health trends and wanted to touch base with the U.S. Department of health and Human Services. They were giving away CDs loaded with such information.

The prize little gadget from my perspective came from the Texas Children’s Hospital. Now their press kit was a huge box with three plastic crayons stuffed with news releases. I didn’t think I could such a package into my suitcase. But the small hard rubber ball was the prize.  With their logo and name on the outside, it was clear and when you bounce it, red lights begin to flash. It will be perfect for one of our grandchildren and I will always remember the Texas Children’s Hospital—so the gadget worked.

I’ve given you another glimpse into the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference and hopefully motivated you to put it on your calendar for 2007–-April 21 and 22 at the Grand Hyatt in New York City.


Thursday, May 04, 2006

Diverse Panels at ASJA

Last week I spent several days in New York City at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings.  One of the hallmarks of our Saturday conference is the various workshops (which are now available in an audio format). If you’ve never been to this particular conference or listened to any of the tapes I recommend it. Why? They are built on a different format and with a higher caliber of presenter than most conferences.  At your usual writer’s conference, you listen to one presenter for the entire hour. These workshops are built in panels with multiple participants—and designed in this fashion from the beginning.  Last Saturday the Society had 25 different panels.

I’ve moderated a number of these sessions over the years and one of the “perks” for the moderator is the opportunity to construct your particular panel and have a deeper and ongoing relationship with your various panel members. For example in my case for my panel on contracts 101, I have a relationship with three lawyers who work in publishing matters and another literary agent.  Each panel includes an ASJA member who moderates. Then another one of the panelists represents the “writer” perspective and is also an ASJA member.  Each panel has four presenters. The other three members are often editors or literary agents or other people involved in the publishing community.  The presenters depend on the particular topic.

Usually each conference includes a panel on Women’s Magazines and what they want. Here’s the construction of this particular panel:

Moderator: Leslie Levine, ASJA, writer, speaker, writing coach; author, Will This Place Ever Feel Like Home?, Ice Cream for Breakfast, and Wish It, Dream It, Do It. Contributor New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Woman's Day.

Madonna Behen, health director, Woman's Day.

Jennifer Braunschweiger, articles editor, Good Housekeeping.

Janine Latus, ASJA, contributor O magazine, More, Woman's Day, Family Circle, All You, Parents, www.WomensWallStreet.com.

Marty Munson, health editor, Marie Claire.

The circulation of the publications alone accounts for millions of subscribers in this particular panel and what they presented. It was a single hour of the conference.  Typically each panelist makes a five to ten minute presentation (with specific directions from their moderator) on a different aspect of the topic. Then the remainder of the hour workshop is a question and answer format.  Some participants are eager for this give and take session portion of the hour.  As a moderator, I know it can be a bit chaotic. You call on someone in the back of the room and they have a three part question which you try and read into the tape recording. At the suggestion of another ASJA member, I tried a different system—which worked great.  When I gave the introduction to my panel, I also passed out cards to the audience and encouraged them to write down their various questions.  We collected the cards after the last speaker and I began asking questions from these cards. Each one was read into the microphone (no huge gaps in the tape while you listen to the question in the audience then repeat it for the tape).  I had more questions than could possibly be covered—and the audience had an opportunity to interact with the various panelists.

After each session, there is a 20 minute “break” where the audience changes workshops. When you have 650 people in the halls of a hotel, it’s pretty chaotic but works.  When the panel concludes, audience members swarm to the front to have a few seconds of interaction with a particular panelist. It gives you the chance to exchange business cards and the hope of connecting at a later date. You can’t have that face to face time through listening to the tapes. You have to get to this conference. The diversity alone is amazing—and the instruction and teaching is some of the best in the country. I’ve just given a taste of it today.


Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Pay Off From Book Marketing

I have this discussion on a regular basis with authors and other editors.  What is the true value of marketing a book? How do you know it pays off? Much of marketing is a bit of a shot in the dark with an uncertain payoff. I was fascinated with this article in the April 24th Publisher’s Weekly on this topic called Documenting the Value of Marketing by Jim Milliot.

While this particular study involves 200 book authors and geared to business books, it might have some lessons for every author. I checked on the actual book from RainToday.com and it has a hefty price tag. Here’s a few key sentences from the article: “The most effective way to promote a book, the survey found, was through the Internet, followed by coverage in trade magazines that report on an author's particular field. Book signings were far down the list, though Schultz acknowledged that a consultant is more likely to draw consumers at a professional event than a bookstore.” Businessweek also published an article about this book with slightly different information.

It gives another key reason for publishers to continue to look for authors who will work to promote their own books. Together with the author’s efforts and the publisher’s efforts, everyone can sell books.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Fever Pitching


For the last three years, the American Society of Journalists and Authors has included Personal Pitch Sessions in their member day.  This first sentence may be confusing so I need to break it down for you.  Each year the highest visibility event for the ASJA is our annual east coast conference at the Grand Hyatt in New York City (conveniently located right next to Grand Central Station). It is always held on a Saturday and Sunday.  Right before the public event, the ASJA includes a members only event which is part of Thursday and all day Friday. Traditionally the member event has been much smaller and is a terrific way to get acquainted with your fellow writers.  I’ve probably mentioned it before but a key value to membership with the ASJA is that you have to qualify and prove you are a professional writer. It’s different than almost any other writing group. There was a great rush of people trying to join right before the annual conference and some of it had to do with this Personal Pitch Session.

Each year Personal Pitch Sessions have improved and grown in participation from members—as well as book editors, magazine editors and literary agents. Like most of the ASJA, volunteers organized and ran these sessions.  Besides these sessions, there are workshops and other events including a member luncheon where various awards are presented. There is a lot of activity going on and personal pitch was added to these activities.

The editors and agents sign up for as much time as they can commit to the day. Some people give the entire day while others can come for a few hours. Since many of these publishing professionals work in New York City, it is fairly painless for them to come for several hours and interact with professional writers.  For the editor or agent, the benefit is the quality of professional writer.  Each of these writers have qualified for membership so whatever they are pitching can likely be produced with quality. For the writers, it’s a way to meet literary agents, book editors and magazine editors face to face and form an initial relationship.

Why is it fever pitching? The sessions are for ten minutes. Now at some conferences, they have fifteen minute sessions but ten minutes is even more compact and these sessions are rigidly enforced. The editor sits and at one minute they issue a warning, then at ten minutes you are saying good-bye and getting out of the chair.  Why would you enter such an intense environment? Here’s some of the magazine editors to give you an idea: Parents, Family Circle, Parade, Woman’s Day along with several airline publications. Each of these publications are paying high dollars for their articles and reach large audiences.  A number of the literary agents are some of the best in the business. It’s the same quality with the book editors—who rarely get away from their desks to a writer’s conference.

With the rapid fire nature of the pitches, the writers are expected to come prepared with ideas. You meet the editor, exchange business cards (your means to follow-up), then start pitching or asking questions. Ten minutes passes in almost the blink of an eye. Editors and agents try to be honest about the type of material they want or excites them. Some times I’ve pitched and received an instant no thank you.  Even the rejection has incredible value because you learn they have another article in the works with that topic or they aren’t interested in that topic or whatever reason.

Each year these sessions have grown in popularity and this year provided the largest turnout of our membership with 300 ASJA members crowding the halls and outside the rooms for these pitch sessions. There are 1200 ASJA members so to gather 300 members in one place was quite the occasion.  The editors and agents sign up for specific times ahead of time. At specific times ahead of the conference, members signed up for their choices. The committee has a complex way to handle these matters and provide the appointments. It’s not easy and no one receives all of their selections.  I met with one magazine editor, one book editor and two literary agents and had great interaction with each person.

Now the key to making something happen in terms of actual writing assignments will be the follow-up work. Personal pitch has provided the open door and an initial relationship. As one high-profile author friend, who is not currently an ASJA member, told me, “It’s a reason that I might apply for membership.”


Monday, May 01, 2006

Contracts From Different Views

Unless you work in book publishing, it’s something you may or may not think about. Each person who approaches a book contract has a particular viewpoint and goal with it. Each is different.  Saturday in New York City at the Grand Hyatt, I organized and moderated a panel on this topic called Contracts 101, Legalese for the Rest of Us.  The promotional material ahead of time for the panel said, “Contracts may look like they're black and white, but understanding, negotiating, and interpreting publishing agreements means seeing their many shades of gray. Experts cover the basics, explode the myths and explore the subtleties of contract law.”Author Law cover

As the moderator, I pulled together this team of experts, then issued the invitations and organized the details of it. Then during the panel, I introduced each speaker, gave them suggested topics and then fielded the questions and answers. The tape from this panel will be available online so watch this link to see how you can order it and get the full perspective. Each of these panelists had a unique view of book contracts. Sallie Randolph has been an advocate for individual writers and it’s a key part of her law practice. Her book, Author Law A to Z was recently published and is and excellent resource for any writer.

Lori Perkins, president of the Lori Perkins Agency, has been a literary agent for the last 19 years and negotiated over 2,500 contracts for her authors. The only panelist who was not a lawyer, Lori had some great tips and insight into the book contract process.

Eric Rayman has recently returned to practicing law in New York after his most recent stint as the president of Budget Living, a general market publication which recently folded. Eric was on this panel because of his long-term experience as in-house counsel for The New Yorker magazine and also Vice President and deputy general counsel for Simon and Schuster. I was fascinated with Eric’s presentation and the handout of the Random House contract with Joan Collins.  The contract was from the pre-computer days of contracts so you can clearly see the different crossed out sections.  Because of the legal case, this contract is a public record rather than the typical situation where a contract is not seen in public and buried in the files of the publisher, the literary agent and the writer.  Until receiving this handout, I’d never seen a four million dollar contract.  As Eric explained, Collins’ agent routinely struck the “acceptability” clause of the contract. It’s where the author is required to deliver an “acceptable” manuscript and the publisher determines whether the author has met this requirement or not before they pay another portion of the advance. It’s the key leverage a publisher has over the author to make sure they deliver quality work. In the case of Joan Collins, this accountability process wasn’t present and she delivered something which Random House could not publish.  The conflict resulted in a lawsuit where the publisher list and Joan Collins won the suit. The lesson: when it comes down to the final wire, it’s the language of your signed contract which will make the difference with the courts. Here’s that handout if you’d like to see it.

The final member of my panel, Richard Dannay, who is one of the nation’s foremost authorities and litigators in the area of copyright, publishing and trademark law. He teaches lawyers about this topic at the Advance Seminar on Copyright Law at the Practicing Law Institute. His insights and information were brilliant.

As the moderator and time keeper, I was challenged to take any notes during this hour. After each person gave a brief presentation on a different aspect of contract law, I asked a series of questions from the audience.  These questions were written on cards and various panelists addressed the question from their perspective.  I was only able to cover a small percentage of the questions from the audience and our hour on this topic quickly filled. The ASJA has a contracts committee and they actively help freelance writers at this link.

Overall, this contracts panel seemed to make a valuable contribution to the participants and the success of the conference. I was glad to be involved.