Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Knocking on the Wrong Door

Knock1At various writers’ conferences, I’m able to interact with writers about their dreams and aspirations. Over the years, it’s been interesting to listen to their pitches and see the projects they want to get published. All too often I find they have poured tremendous work into something which will probably not be published in a traditional way. Why? They haven’t bothered to see what publishers need and present their material in the right way which meets that need. It’s part of the writer’s responsibility to learn as much as they can about the publishing business and one of the best reasons to attend a conference.

In Sally Stuart’s Christian Writers Market Guide, she analyzes the market and the book topics which are most popular with publishers. It’s another tool or gauge of what publishers want to see from writers. The first and second topic were tied: inspirational and prayer.  With all of the continual buzz about Christian fiction, here’s a revelation: #16 Fiction: Adult/ Religious (the first place fiction appears on this list of 148 topics and the next place is #38: Fiction: Juvenile (ages 8–12)). One of the topics in the top ten category is devotional books (#7). Because of this level of interest from various publishers, it makes sense that writers pitch devotional books at conferences.  They are knocking on a door or topic which publishers want but are they knocking on the right door?

Yesterday in an online forum, someone asked about finding a how-to on writing devotionals. It was a great question and showed a willingness to learn how this area of the marketplace works. I think the majority of people on the list were stunned with my answer because it was not what they expected—yet it was a solid dose of reality.  I’m going to include some of my response in this entry with some expansions.

I know many writers want to get into devotional writing yet many people wander around trying to get into it—and not succeeding. I see a lot of book proposals in this area at conferences- -because Howard Books publishes devotionals and writers think I can help them (even though I’m only acquiring fiction). Basically they are tackling it the wrong way—with about 99.9% of their ideas being rejected. I’ve written a couple of devotional books which have each sold over 60,000 copies and I have some experience in this area.

First, hone your craft of devotional writing in PRINT magazines. The format is shorter and the likelihood of your success is increased since it’s not a full length book—which is more involved. I’m not suggesting you hone your craft with Internet devotionals since anyone can throw out their devotional materials on a web page. There are a number of magazines that take devotions—so use Sally Stuart’s Market Guide to read and learn about them. Here’s an example, Upper Room—reaches about six million readers each month. They need devotions from men and in particular from the Old Testament—I hear this detail over and over at conferences. They have lots of specific information on their website about how to write for their needs.

Each of these devotional publications have their own format and their own expectations. If you get published here, it will build credibility with the editor. I’m much more interested if someone has published with a well-known place like The Upper Room than they have some home-grown audience on their devotional website. It means more to the editor—and not just me—any editor.

Second, take a continuing class on this devotion writing topic from one of the Upper Room editors like Susan King or Mary Lou Redding—who regularly teach at different writers conferences. If you can’t get to the conference, get their tape and learn from that tape. Do a simple google search to locate these tapes from writers conferences like the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference or the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference or the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference.

Finally, you need to understand that most book publishers are NOT going to take your devotional book idea—no matter how excellent your proposal or your pitch or your material. OK, look at it from the editor’s perspective. Why should I take your single book idea or single series idea, when I can turn to a packager and have the packager deliver excellent writing and graphics which the publisher prints and sells to the marketplace. Book packagers produce the bulk of these products—and with excellence. If you want to get into this market—write for the packagers. I’ve been in these editorial meetings where a packager will pitch 200 books in an afternoon. Yes, a bit overwhelming but how this part of the business is conducted. From these pitches, the publisher will like up their devotional book needs for the next season (or maybe two seasons). You can waste a ton of time and energy trying to pitch your own devotional series. It’s the way the market works right now in the devotional book area. 

Also you need to understand these types of books are not author-driven products.  In general, the author’s name doesn’t appear on the cover of the book because that’s not why people purchase these types of books. They buy a book because it’s geared for mothers of little kids or grandmothers or working mothers. The reader buys the book as a gift for a graduate from high school or because they want a new Christmas book.  If you are looking for a book with your name on the cover, you will likely be disappointed if you try and begin this process in the devotional book area.

OK, one final story and I’ll quit. I’m rather passionate on this topic because I see writers stumbling around in this area. At the Phoenix airport the other day, I noticed a bright, red hardcover The 100 Most Important Bible Verses (W Publishing Group). I looked at the copyright page—and spotted the packager credit for this book.  The packager found the writer, edited the manuscript, hired the designer and then delivered the material on deadline to the publisher who printed it and sold it into the market. There is an entire series of these books called “The 100 Most Important ______.” They are content driven and not author driven. If you want to write these types of books, you need to be contacting the packager.

If you want to write devotional material, then take the time to learn how this area of the market works. Approach the right person—the packager and not the publisher. If you are knocking on the wrong door (the publisher), then you simply glut the system with more inappropriate submissions which only increase your frustration as a writer.

2 Comment:

At 6:27 AM, Blogger Dena Dyer Left a note...

Well said, Terry. I've written for packagers who actually contacted me after I garnered some credits in the industry. I was one of the "lucky" few who actually placed a devotional book ms. with a publisher through an unsolicited submission...but it didn't sell well, and they recently changed their decision to try and re-release it in a different format (sigh). The market for devo. books is TOUGH! Thanks for the honesty and insight.

At 6:24 AM, Blogger Goin2HeavenRU Left a note...

Thank you. This information is perfect for this stage of my career. My devotionals, sent via email to my private list and posted to my blog, may be best used to practice my writing skills. I will start to compile them by subject now and if I get enough for a topical book then pitch a packager. Thank you for such wise advice so I don't waste my time. Much appreciated!!


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