Saturday, December 30, 2006

Experiment Until You Find It

Where is the passion in your writing? It's an important question to ask and answer if you want to find someone to publish your material. I'm not just talking about getting your writing published online (which anyone can accomplish). I'm talking about getting your writing published in printed magazines or books from traditional publishers. The standards, quality and expectations are much higher in these areas of the market. They require a greater commitment to the craft of writing. You have to understand what the editor wants then deliver that particular product.

Have you found that particular area where your writing passion matches the needs of the marketplace? From my years of experience in publishing, it is rare for you to instantly fall into the right place. You will have to experiment and find that place. I can't predict how it will happen for you. Many people enter the writing world through children's books. They have small children and read many books to their small child and think, I could write one of these. They sit down and in a few minutes produce something, then try and send it out into the marketplace and gather a bunch of rejection letters. Then they determine they need some instruction and market information. Maybe they attend a writer's conference or they take a correspondence course such as the Institute of Children's Literature. They successfully complete the course but still don't get published. These writers need to continue to experiment and gain experience in the marketplace.

Many writers want to publish a book and ignore the magazine market. If you ignore the printed magazine market, you are missing some key training and publishing experience in my view. Most magazine articles will reach many more readers than the average book. Also magazine credits are important to acquisitions editors because it shows you have experience in publishing. If you write for a magazine, you learn valuable skills such as writing to a particular audience, writing to a particular length (word count) and writing on deadline. In addition, you gain experience about how the editorial process works. For example, if the magazine editor asks you for a different lead paragraph, how will you handle that request? Or if you need a different focus to your submission, can you follow the editor's directions? When you receive the edited version of your story, how do you react and which areas do you push to fix or change? Each of these questions is a regular part of the writing process for magazines and the writer learns valuable skills from this process. It's something you will completely miss if you are only focused on writing book-length manuscripts.

Recently I foChristmaslettersund this article from Publishers Weekly interesting about Bret Nicholaus. Initially Nicholaus self-published a Christmas book, The Christmas Letters, and sold almost 60,000 copies. Now a traditional publisher (Center Street) has released the book with a 75,000 copy first print run. Within the publishing community, Christmas books are considered seasonal and evergreen. They have a limited sales season right around Christmas yet readers buy these types of books year after year (evergreen). Also notice from this article, Nicholaus and his writing partner, Paul Lowrie, have a six-figure deal with St. Martin's children's imprint for a seven-book nonfiction series.

You don't have to be locked into one genre or type of book. You do have to experiment with different types of writing until you find the best fit for you. It might be the best step you could take for your writing life in the weeks ahead.


Friday, December 29, 2006

Understanding the Bestseller List

I've always noticed certain bestselling authors books never appear on some bestseller lists. While authors like Max Lucado or Charles Swindoll have sold millions of books, their books have never appeared on bestseller lists like The New York Times or NY_Time_Best_Seller-smPublishers Weekly. Earlier this year, I addressed this issue and pointed to an article from Jonathan Merhk in Publishers Weekly.

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, wrote a recent post about the inaccuracies of the bestseller list. His explanation has helped my understanding of this area.  Yesterday, Mike added to the discussion and explained what it would take to get to a better bestseller list.

His post includes some fascinating links (make sure you look at them). The link which I found fascinating was his compiled list, The Thomas Nelson Top 100. Using proprietary data, he pulled the information from across the various sales channels for this list of the 2006 bestselling books. Why is it different? It is a list you will not find in any other place. Most bestseller lists will segment the hardcover books from the trade paperback books or the fiction hardcover from the nonfiction hardcover. Mike's list rolls everything into one place and you can see which books were the top 100 books for the year.

Why is it important to consider in the first place? Success often drives more success. Many consumers use these list to determine their own reading choices. They will purchase a book of whatever persuasion or genre because it appears on a particular list.  Reading groups and book clubs use these list to make their selections.  If you write Christian books and those sales channels are excluded from a particular list when it it compiled, see how someone some place is limiting your choices and the overall results? At the end of his post, Mike throws out a challenge to the media outlets to compile a better bestseller list which represents sales across all the various channels. I'd love to see such a list. If that media outlet promoted the list and made news about the story of how their list was compiled, I suspect consumers would gravitate to such a list as a more accurate reflection of what the public is reading and buying.  The complete list could have strong exposure in the marketplace.

In the New Year, I hope someone will take up this gauntlet and compile a more accurate bestseller list.


Friday, December 22, 2006

A Look At The Top Publishers

Despite my long-term involvement in publishing, it would be a challenge for me to pull together a list of the top general trade publishers or the top Christian publishers.  Often this data is hard to find but Michael Hyatt, CEO at Thomas Nelson, has done the publishing community a great service with his recent article The Top Ten Publishers in America.

Any time you look at list, it's important to consider what type of data was used to compile the list. Mike writes, "Over the past several months, we have compiled a proprietary database made up of various point-of-sale databases. It includes all the major retail sales channels. It does not include international, ministry, book fairs, direct-to-consumer sales, etc. If it did, we would be higher on the list because of our robust ministry, school fundraising, and live event sales. Scholastic would also be higher on the list because of their huge book fair business. However, this database only tracks sales through retail channels. We are now updating this on a monthly basis. As far as I know, we are the only publisher in world who has this information." The bold is my emphasis.

Several times in these entries, I've mentioned one of the hardest things to find is something that is not there. While I understand bestseller lists often use the imprint rather than the parent company name, a number of publishers are not on either list. Yes, they may have some bestselling books but those titles don’t boost them into this top ten list from retail sales. I'll give you one name through this link but others also came to mind.

It's an interesting look at some hard to find publishing data.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

Are You A Right Writing News Subscriber?

Over the last couple of years, I've developed the website Right-Writing.com as a help to writers for many types of writing. If you haven't subscribed to the free newsletter, I'd encourage you to subscribe. Why? It's free but it also gives you access to how-to information which you can't reach if you aren't a subscriber. When you subscribe, the welcome message includes the link to the back issues. Also each newsletter includes this link to the older newsletters.

Last night I sent out issue #23 of Right Writing News and it contained 15 pages of how-to information on different topics for writers.  Much of the information was my own writing but several of the articles were from other writers.  If you print all of the content in the back issue of the Right Writing News, it is over 400 pages of material.

If you haven't subscribed, click this link and fill out the form. It's simple and on every page of Right-Writing.

It might be just the perfect boost for your writing life.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Bookmark These Resources

If you ever need to create a quick bibliography, then check out Ottobib.com. While it only works for books, you put in the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), select the type of bibliographic entry that you need (MLA, APA or Chicago/Turabian), hit the button that says, "Get Citations" and instantly you have the citation along with a permanent URL to reference. It's a  resource worth bookmarking into a folder in your favorites.

BackflipI mark a number of websites into the favorites of my computer, but what if through some disaster, my computer crashes, what happens to all of that research and experience? Does it disappear? It does unless you protect it. Or what if you are away from your personal computer at the library and need to find a particular website but can’t recall the exact location? Are you stuck? Maybe unless you have stored all of your favorites into a place called Backflip.com. I've mentioned this site before but it was almost two years ago.  If you are at someone's office or wherever, you can always access your favorite links.

Both of these resources have a great price tag: free. Take a few minutes to look around but make sure you bookmark them for your needs and your writing life.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Get Down to Basics

Recently I began reading the Church of the Customer blog entries from Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. I like their no nonsense, straight forward focus in their entries. Their focus on the customer (or reader for book people) is excellent.

Last week, they sent an entry called 10 things about writing your first business book. They made some excellent points. Many of these points are something the author will have to answer as they write their book proposal. In order to get a publisher interested in a project, the author has to know exactly who they are targeting with their book proposal. No book is for “everyone” but each book is targeted to a particular audience—whether it is a business book or a romance novel.

With the thousands of business books which enter the market every year, Church of the Customer contains some insight with the points about marketing and promotion. I tend to disagree with point eight about the six-month rule. The months right before a book releases and the months immediately after a release are important to the author and the publisher. During this period you will likely receive the greatest help from the staff of your publisher. The flip side is that not every book takes off in those first few months. Some times, the author who has the greatest passion for the book will continue to push the book into the marketplace and months after the release it begins to appear on the bestseller list.

The key rule? There are no rules—just guidelines and experience from the past. If there were rules, then everyone would be successful. Some books make it while others do not. It’s part of the fun and excitement of the journey. I loved the sixth point about not planning to buy a BMW with your book royalties. It’s a new twist on the common saying for new writers: Don’t quit your day job. One of the crucial elements from my perspective is to keep working at building your audience and encouraging people to use your book and give it to others.


Monday, December 18, 2006

The Story Struck The Familiar

WearemarshallSeveral times a year, my wife and I take advantage of the "sneak previews" at our local movie theater.  If you've never been, these are movies which will release the next week or some times even two weeks from that viewing.   It's like reading the pre-release of a bestselling book so you can write something for a magazine. For those people who attend a sneak preview, you feel like you are on the inside track. Actually the theater folks are smart because they generate one of the most powerful mediums of advertising--word of mouth. I'm guilty because I'm going to tell you about a sneak preview we caught on Saturday night. The movie releases this week.  We watched We Are Marshall.

This movie is based on a true story when a chartered plane carrying 75 people including the Marshall University football team crashed into the side of a hill on November 14, 1970. It was less than a mile from the Huntington, West Virginia airport, Marshall's hometown and there were no survivors. The crash was the worst sports-related disaster in U.S. history. The story is one of hope about how they rebuilt the football team and the rise of the human spirit in the face of such a tragedy.

I loved the interaction between the characters in this film and how they struggled to recover and live in the present yet remember and celebrate their past.  Early on in thMarshalle story, Marshall's assistant coach doesn't fly on the plane but makes a recruiting trip on the way home. He quits his job and is building a shed in the back of his property. The new coach for the football team comes out to talk to the old assistant coach and try and convince him to come back to the team. This conversation happens on the roof of the shed. While the pair are talking, a train whistle sounds in the background and you can hear the rumbling of the freight train down the tracks. From the shed roof you can see the muddy Ohio River in the distance. This point in the film was only one of many that struck the familiar in my life. It will be different for every viewer but it sure hit home for me right there. Why? I was born in Huntington, West Virginia. My dad took some night classes at Marshall University. We lived across the Ohio River in a small town in Northeastern Kentucky for the first twelve years of my life. That scene from the movie was just like lifting a page from my memory banks about my childhood.

While every person who watches this film will have a different experience, the movie touches on universal themes. Each of us will have some tragedy touch our lives at some point. It may be tomorrow or it may be years away but it will happen. When you face tragedy, how to you handle it? Do you face it head on and rise to the challenge? We Are Marshall is a story filled with hope and the experience of life after death. If you want to read a moving story which emphasizes the truth from this movie, I recommend this story by Mike Morehouse on the Christianity Today site. Morehouse’s father, Gene Morehouse, was on the plane that crashed.

Whenever you tell a story, you face a challenge. Can your story hit such a familiar theme that it transports your readers to the setting of your story? They can feel it, taste it, smell it, hear it and see it. It's part of our joy as storytellers and the quest for excellence in learning our craft and practicing these skills.


Saturday, December 16, 2006

Story and Movies

 Have you ever had great anticipation for a new movie which is based on some book which you absolutely loved? Then when you watch the movie you are disappointed the movie didn't meet your expectations?  Or you felt the movie left out some of the key scenes in the book?

One of the most amusing situations in this area (at least time) was with the John Grisham best-seller The Runaway Jury.  The storyline for the book centered on the tobacco industry. In contrast, the movie centered on similar issues but was about gun control. I noticed many people walking out of The Runaway Jury movie saying, "That was a good film but I don't remember the book being about guns." They were right. It wasn't.  A small percentage of the content of any book can be captured in the film adaptation. The challenge for the book author or the screenwriter is the same: they have to tell a good story.

I confess that I don't understand this adaption process but I've located a great resource which is loaded with insight and background for the adaption process. Stephanie Harrison wrote Adaptations From Short Story to Big Screen, 35 Great Stories That Have Inspired Great Films.  I picked up a copy of this book from Harrison's literary agent, Farley Chase, when I was in New York City last month. I've been reading through this book and found it fascinating. Harrison emphasizes this process of turning the short story into a feature film and includes the short stories in this book from authors like Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Joyce Carol Oates, John Cheever, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

AdaptationsIn her introduction Harrison says, "When stories (or authors) have entered into popular mythology, both critics and public alike resist their being tampered with. (Remember the beating director Roland Joffe and star Demi Moore took for their "free" adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter?--The script takes more liberties with the text than Elizabeth Berkley did with that pole in Showgirls,” complained USA Today). For this reason, films adapted from excellent but lesser-known tales have often been better received. Here, the short story has a distinct advantage over the novel; few short stories are embedded in the public's consciousness in the way that popular novels often are." Then a few pages later, Harrison circles back to The Scarlet Letter saying, "Somehow we need to teach ourselves how to approach adaptations fairly, as neither movie barbarians nor literary purists. A film shouldn't need to spring fully formed from a writer / director's loins in order to be deemed good. Nor should an adaptation be tethered too tightly to its source. (The Scarlet Letter didn't fail because it was unfaithful; it failed because it wasn't a very good film.) For artistic, financial and practical reasons--(there will always be a large percentage of people who never read the literary source)--films must succeed on their own terms. At the same time, though, they shouldn't replace the stories they're based on--though we, the reading public, have let this happen all too often. In the best cases, adaptations extend, enhance, and elaborate on their sources." 

The key from my perspective is each form has to be grounded in excellent storytelling.


Friday, December 15, 2006

Spread the Fire

Several times, I’ve exchanged emails with Greg Stielstra, the author of Pyromarketing. He closes these emails saying, “Spread the Fire.” Those simple words can be a call to action for every writer.

What are you doing to continue to grow in your craft of writing?  Hopefully for the year ahead you are planning to attend a writer’s conference. Besides learning more about your writing craft, what are you actively doing to spread the fire or market your books, your writing for magazines or yourself?  It doesn’t have to consume your day but it does have to be on your radar. I like the suggestions Jacqueline Deval makes in Publicize Your Book if you only have 15 minutes a day. Each of us can find a small amount of time. The key is to keep move ahead or spread the fire.

I returned to this concept of spread the fire when I watched this short YouTube video about Pyromarketing. My Feedblitz readers will have to follow the link where I’ve embedded the actual YouTube video in my Writing Life entry. In a clear way, this book trailer shows the changes in the ways people have to be reached with your product. It’s true we are bombarded with these messages much more than in years past and it calls for a fresh strategy to spread the fire.

As part of my personal effort to spread the fire, over a month ago I launched this Writing Tip of the Day.  It’s a viral marketing effort which spreads without any additional promotion or effort from me. Each version includes the message so anyone seeing it one place can add it to their own website. In about a month, I believe it is on over 1500 websites—and changing daily.

Can you create something which will spread like fire?


Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dreams CAN Happen

What vision do you have for the future of your writing life? Maybe you aren't able to verbalize or even speak that vision to someone else. Maybe you will need to work hard over the next few years to shape your idea into a book proposal then pitch it to the right person at the right publisher at the right time. Or possibly you'll have to invest in yourself and some education through reading some how-to write books and attending some writer's conferences.  It's key to have a big dream then plot a strategy to achieve your goals.

You may be wondering how I got on this topic. It came from reading today's issue of Shelf-Awareness. If you don't get this free publication, go to their website and subscribe.  This particular issue includes an interview with Richard Nelson Bolles (better known as Dick Bolles) and the 36th edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? 2007 A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers which has 9 million copies in print. This Shelf-Awareness interview is interesting and notice the books Bolles is reading and in particular the book which changed his life--the New Testament.

ParachuteThe story I want to call to your attention about this book isn't in this article. Bolles is now 79 years old and has an incredible life from the various editions of this book. In 1995, the Library of Congress listed What Color Is Your Parachute? as one of 25 Books That Have Shaped Reader's Lives. (Some of the other books are in this link on Bolles website).

I had to look elsewhere to find the story which I remembered about Bolles. He hasn't always been successful. I found the story in a 1999 excellent Fast Company article, "As an ordained Episcopal priest, he was canon pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But he lost his job in a budget crunch. He then landed an administrative position with the Episcopal Church, meeting with campus ministers at colleges across the country. He discovered that many of these ministers shared his predicament: Their jobs were in peril, and they had no idea what to do. So Bolles did some research and wrote a 168-page guide to help the campus ministers he was supervising find jobs and change careers. Stuck for a title, he remembered his wacky question from two years earlier. He self-published the book in 1970. The first pressrun was 100 copies, which Bolles toted to a meeting in Philadelphia and distributed free of charge. Then something extraordinary began to happen. He started to get orders -- first for 1 or 2 copies, then for 40 or 50. Before long, orders were pouring in -- not from other ministers, but from such institutions as General Electric, the Pentagon, and UCLA."

He wrote his book as an outgrowth of a personal crisis and self-published it. When it took off, Ten Speed Press published Bolles' book. As this article explains, "By 1972, a small publisher in Berkeley, California produced "Parachute" commercially. "Of course, nobody knew what the title meant," Bolles says. "I'd go into bookstores and find it in sports, with books about parachuting." In 1974, a recession rocked the country, and "Parachute"'s sales soared and have remained sky-high ever since. For all of the changes in the world since the days of the Nixon administration, the book's core advice hasn't changed much. Finding a job is all about strategy. Choose the right strategy, and you can snare a good job even in bad times. Choose the wrong strategy, and even roads paved with gold will lead you nowhere."

I'd encourage you to read the rest of the Fast Company article because he talks about rejection and other issues related to the writing life. I admire the fact Bolles had a dream in his heart, plotted the right strategy and got his book published. To his surprise, it has lasted in the marketplace over the years.  An excellent idea has this sort of staying quality.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Make the Cut

It's a question without a simple answer yet it applies to much of the publishing community. Why does one book get published and another rejected? That's a question many writers ask with their submissions.  During the several months before a book is published and six to eight months after it is published, you begin to ask a different yet related question: Why does one book get reviewed in a printed magazine or newspaper and not another book?

Publicize Your Book coverFrom the beginning, let me say there is no single answer.  There are many different ways these reviews happen.  The book publisher is actively looking to get your book reviewed. At the same time, you have to consider who has the greatest passion for your book. Yes, the publisher has passion but that passion is spread over many books which are promoted during each season.  I like the realistic perspective of Jacqueline Deval in her Publicize Your Book! because she's been a director of publicity inside several major publishers. She understands there is limited energy for each book and helps writers be proactive without being a pain to those inside the house (yes, it happens more often than you would like to think). 

As the author, you can also stir the possibilities to get your book reviewed.  Recently I contacted an author about getting a review copy of her book through her publisher. I assumed she would forward my request to her publisher and it would be handled. This wise author said, "My publisher is slow to respond some times. I'll send you the book." In a short amount of time, her book arrived. I read it, wrote about it and reviewed it. I can think of another situation where I contacted the author about her forthcoming book. She forwarded my request to her publisher. I requested this book weeks ago and I have still not received the book. Showing a bit of persistence and continued care that I write about this particular book, I sent a second follow-up message to this author. She responded that she had written her publisher and that was all she could do.  That wasn't true. Now which author do you think I will appreciate and be more likely to help? This second author forgot there are over 170,000 books published each year (or 190,000 books is another number I've seen). However you count the new books, there are many books releasing constantly into the marketplace. Don't delegate this responsibility to your publisher unless you are totally confident the review request will be fulfilled. You don't want to miss your opportunity. David J. Montgomery a newspaper book reviewer reminded his audience at ThrillerFest, "You'd be astonished how often the publisher never sends the book. The author has to be vigilant and make sure the people who review crime fiction get your books."

I've written book review columns for consumer trade magazines.  I've selected all of the books for these columns the majority of the time when I've been in this situation. Yes, it's happened as a freelancer. Occasionally my editor would suggest a book or two for inclusion but most of the time they were happy for me to handle it, receive the books, read the books and write my reviews at the right length and on time. I provided a service and it was one less thing for the magazine editor to have to consider and pull together.  I've described one way this system works.  In other situations, the editor preselects each of the books reviewed and the writer has little control over which books are reviewed. You need to determine who is doing what in order to get your book reviewed in these publications. Why do you care? If you get a positive review for your book in a publication, that review can be worth it's weight in gold to the author because it encourages people to buy your book.

Whoever selects your book for possible review has plenty of choices. When I was writing these book review columns for a magazine, stacks of review copies appeared in my mail box daily.  Many publishers included my name for every single title they released. It amounted to hundreds of books that I sorted through and processed each month.  At the time, I was writing for a magazine with a circulation of about 150,000 readers. You can see the value of a positive review to the author and the publisher.

How is this process handled in one of the most prestigious book review places in the United States? You can get a glimpse at what it takes to make the cut in this New York Times article. This week Book Review Editor Sam Tanenhaus is responding to questions.

Everyone wants to find the single path to publication or the single way to get their book reviewed in print publications. There is no single way for it to happen but there are proactive ways you can stir the waters to gain serious consideration. I'm constantly looking for new ways to stir those waters and gain additional attention for my books.  You can use the same process.


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Best-selling Book Insight

Each day for at least the last ten years, I reach for one book to begin my day, the Bible.  Before I read the local newspaper or anything else, the words have guided and inspired my life. This year I'm toward the end of The Daily Bible where author LaGard Smith has organized the Bible into chronological order. I’m making my fourth or fifth trip through this Bible and appreciate his devotional insights scattered throughout this book.  Since January 1 is a few weeks away, I've been planning which version I'll read in 2007. I'll be using The Daily Message which released earlier this year and I'm looking forward to this experience.

I wanted to make sure readers of these entries about The Writing Life got this advanced look at an article about Bibles in next week's The New Yorker magazine. It’s one of the publications that I read cover to cover and I haven't seen the printed article on this one--because it's not out in print until next week. Daniel Radosh wrote an article called The Good Book Business focused on Bible publishing.  Here's a short quote from the article to illustrate the size of this area of publishing, "The familiar observation that the Bible is the best-selling book of all time obscures a more startling fact: the Bible is the best-selling book of the year, every year. Calculating how many Bibles are soRevolveld in the United States is a virtually impossible task, but a conservative estimate is that in 2005 Americans purchased some twenty-five million Bibles--twice as many as the most recent Harry Potter book. The amount spent annually on Bibles has been put at more than half a billion dollars."

I'm unsure why but I had a bit of trouble printing this New Yorker article. My printer cut off several letters in the right-hand column. I corrected this problem through creating a PDF of the article using the free version of program PDF995 then printing the PDF. If you too have this problem, then you can do the same thing.

Most of this article includes interviews with different people at Thomas Nelson Publishers, which is the second-largest publishers of Bibles. One of the Nelson programs which fascinates me and isn't included in The New Yorker article is their custom Bibles. In this program, any church or organization can personalize the Bible and use it for their needs. I was looking at this program several months ago and haven't noticed anything like it in the other Bible publishers.

The New Yorker article mentions Revolve, a BibleZine for the New Testament which released in 2003.  This book received a great deal of publicity when first released including a segment on the Today Show. Several years ago, I showed a New York literary agent a copy of Becoming and he was stunned. It looks like a contemporary magazine and nothing like his mental image of the Bible. He pronounced it as a brilliant marketing strategy and it has proven the case with the Bible sales. I was a contributor to one of these BibleZines called Align which is targeted to men.

Through the years, I've written material for a number of different Bible projects including The African American Devotional Bible (ghostwritten devotionals) and The Quest Study Bible (where I learned more about a ten chapter section of the book of Chronicles than I'll ever need to know).  The writer has great opportunities with these various Bible projects to contribute and write some of the specialized material which appears in each Bible. The opportunities to work on these projects isn't advertised but comes through personal networking and meeting various editors at writer's conferences or through your magazine writing. For example, part of the editorial staff at Christianity Today organized the various writers for The Quest Study Bible project. While I worked on this material many years ago, it continues to help people and I'm grateful for my involvement. There are many of these projects out there and you can find them as well if you keep at it.


Monday, December 11, 2006

Just Half the Job

I recently read this well-written article in the Miami Herald from Richard Pachter titled, ''For authors, writing's just half the job.'' If you study this article, you will see a great deal of information and insight for any book author woven into it.  For example, one of the people interviewed was Lissa Warren, senior director of publicity for Da Capo Books.  I’ve got this article from Lissa about Ten Things To Do If Your Book Isn't Receiving Enough Media Attention. It's an excerpt from her excellent book, The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity

I was interested to see this quote in the article from Lissa speaking about the publisher: ''They should at least be able to secure reviews from the Big Four trade publications -- Publishers' Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist and Library Journal -- too.''  It's true in general, publishers are intimately acquainted with how to pitch reviews for these publications.  There are a couple of caveats here which aren't mentioned about whether your book gets in these publications. First understand these publications receive massive amounts of pitches and the editors select which books actually are assigned for review and appear in the magazines.  The other bit of information not in this article is these publications have long lead times.  Over a year ago, I was in a meeting where the religion reviews editor at Publishers Weekly was encouraging editors to send in their manuscripts as soon as possible. She said, ''If you are comfortable sending unedited manuscripts, then we'll take them and send them out for book reviews.'' What if the edited manuscript is drastically transformed from the unedited version? I hope you see some of the issues this could create.  Or what if the author misses their contracted deadline and is late? While the author doesn't think about it, a late manuscript handicaps the publisher's ability to reach these trade journals with book reviews.

Each aspect of the publishing process involves effort and contains it's own set of challenges. It is much more complicated than most people know or acknowledge.  If you are like me, you see all sorts of things whirling around you which ''could'' become books. Are they the right idea and are you the right person to write that idea? It all begins there. 

After you select the idea, you create the pitch.  The pitch might be a one-page idea that you use at a writer's conference to gain attention. Or you send it as a query letter to see if a literary agent or editor will be interested. OK, you create a pitch that gets attention. Then you have to follow through with the full length book proposal which delivers. It's not easy for any of us--if we are really honest about it. The process is long and involves diligent and disciplined work at each step of the journey.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Turn a Blog into a Blook

It's a common question that I hear from writers. Can I turn my blog entries into a book?  With a new blog launching every eight seconds, the simple answer is rarely.

A recent editorial from the Writer's Digest Editor, Kristin Godsey, complained about the proliferation of blogs from writers.  I was a bit amused with her editorial because from my view, blogs have their place--especially if they are focused on a single topic. A quick google search located this interview article with Kristin about self-publishing.

Today's New York Times included an interesting article by Liesl Schillinger titled, "Blogs into 'Blooks': The Cranky and the Chaste." Notice the variety of publishers in this one entry: Regan Books (an imprint of HarperCollins recently in the news because of the cancelled O.J. Simpson book) and W Publishing Company (an imprint of Thomas Nelson Publishers).

I hope you find this New York Times article interesting. I point it out but also I have the understanding that even to pitch such a project would require a solid book proposal and sample.


Thursday, December 07, 2006

A Celebration of Faithfulness

You will not find this book on any bestseller list.  Maybe it probably doesn't appear on any list at all. And that's OK. This week I received a copy of A Cup of Good Water by Francis Eachus and celebrated my chance to hold this printed book in my hand. Several years ago, Fran sent me her manuscript and asked if I knew how she could get it published. From the minute I glanced at the book, I knew it would be a challenge in today's marketplace. For over 50 years, Fran has worked among one of the largest groups of Mayan Indians in Guatemala, Central America—the K'ekchi'.  Yes, the name of the language includes apostrophes which are glottalized stops (the official linguistic term) and distinguish the language from Spanish. It sounds nothing like Spanish.

AcupofgoodAs a young girl in the 1950s, Fran combined forces with her partner, Ruth Carlson and began to work among the K'ekchi' people. In the late 70s and early 80s, I had the privilege to be one of Fran's and Ruth's colleagues who worked in Guatemala. These two women were quiet yet prolific. Most of us in Guatemala had the goal of giving the New Testament to a local language (one of more than 28 throughout Guatemala).

Fran and Ruth had a larger vision. They translated the entire Bible. If you've not looked at the books in this way, the New Testament is about a third of the entire Bible. The Old Testament is twice the size of the New Testament. It is a complicated and painstaking work to get the entire Bible into another language. Why take that amount of time and energy? The power of words on the page to transform lives. It happens outside of English and today because of the work of these two amazing women, it’s happening in K'ekchi'.

Over twenty years ago, I spent a couple of days with Fran and Ruth in their Coban home. In some ways it's a lifetime ago and in other ways I can picture it like yesterday. These women could switch from English to Spanish to K'ekchi' in a heartbeat and I found their skills remarkable. Their zeal for life and service to God was an amazing testimony to me—and continues to this day.

Back to A Cup of Good Water which is now in print.  I was honest with Fran and told her that it would be hard for a regular publisher to take such a book. I recommended she look into Print On Demand through Pleasant Word. This former colleague took my advice and followed through and now has a completed book. I have no idea how many copies of this book are in print but I suspect it's a relatively small number. I'm thrilled for this 79–year-old former colleague (her birth date is in the book). In July 1999, Fran's partner, Ruth Carlson, went to her eternal reward. Today Fran continues living among the K'ekchi' in Guatemala. Thousands of K'ekchi' Christians have come to faith and grown in their faith through the faithful effort of these courageous women. Because of their work, thousands of people learned to read and write in their own language. I celebrate their faithfulness.

Not every book will land on the bestseller list. Some books only have a few copies in print--and that's OK. 


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Novel Give Away

Can you build an audience through giving away your novel as an ebook? It's an interesting idea and I confess I don't know the answer to the question.

I'd encourage you to read this article from Forbes.com by Cory Doctorow who has been giving away his novels as an ebook online since 2003. More than 700,000 copies have been downloaded from his website. Tor Books has published his novels.

Did the publisher (and the author) lose money because of the give away? He says, "There's no empirical way to prove that giving away books sells more books--but I've done this with three novels and a short story collection (and I'll be doing it with two more novels and another collection in the next year), and my books have consistently outperformed my publisher's expectations. Comparing their sales to the numbers provided by colleagues suggests that they perform somewhat better than other books from similar writers at similar stages in their careers. But short of going back in time and re-releasing the same books under the same circumstances without the freePyromarketing e-book program, there's no way to be sure. What is certain is that every writer who's tried giving away e-books to sell books has come away satisfied and ready to do it some more." While he includes no sales numbers for the printed novel, it outperformed the publisher's expectations.

About a year ago, I wrote about another give away type of program. Greg Stielstra gives away the audio version of Pyromarketing (HarperBusiness), which is a nonfiction book. It’s a way Greg is practicing the principles that he promotes in Pyromarketing. Again like with Doctorow's book, I have no information or insight about the sales of Pyromarketing and how it’s worked out for Greg and his publisher. It is innovative. If you get a few minutes, take a look at his google video on the front page of his site.  I found it fascinating and only four and a half minutes.

I retained the electronic rights for my Book Proposals That Sell which people can get instantly as an ebook. From my personal experience, most people prefer to get the printed book (which cost less than the electronic version). For someone who wants the book instantly or is overseas and in a location where receiving the printed book is a challenge, the ebook gives them ideal access to my book.

These experiences may or may not provide you with answers. I call it to your attention to note the innovation and the way authors are working in creative ways with their publishers to attract an audience for their books.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Sort Conflicting Advice

If you read enough material in the publishing world, you will soon find conflicting bits of advice.  Some writers claim never to go to writers conferences while others (like me) claim it's one of the best ways to get into this business. These different voices clash and at times you wonder how to sort this conflicting advice.

These clashing voices came to focus for me recently through an interview article in the November 27th issue of Publishers Weekly with journalist-turned-novelist Pete Dexter called "Telling What I need to Tell." It's an interesting well-written article from Steve Silva and points to Dexter's forthcoming book called Paper Trails. I had never heard of Dexter until this interview article but I was interested in his responses to the questions.

Notice what Dexter as a jaded journalist who has written a newspaper column for many years says about newspapers: "It's a yawn. I quit reading the papers. There was just no opinion anymore. There were no columnists that made me laugh or made me angry." It's no secret newspaper reading is in decline but I continue reading the daily newspaper. Papers are filled with story ideas--if you are looking for them.

Or here's another piece from this short article: Silva asks Dexter about where he finds inspiration: "I was at a writer's conference recently, and the advice I heard for writers was to read, read, read. It's the opposite for me. To come alive as a writer, I think you've got to live in some meaningful way and live long enough to look back and write about it. I still find inspiration in what's been done to me and for me."

Apparently he finds his inspiration from life instead of reading. I think there is some merit to that but there is also merit to reading--particularly in the type of writing that you want to do or are doing. I'm always surprised when I talk with a writer who wants to write thrillers but doesn’t read thrillers. Or someone who has written a romance novel but doesn't read romance novels. You'd be surprised how often it happens and if you admit such a thing, understand it's not an attractive point for your editor or literary agent. Instead, you've revealed your lack of understanding about that particular area of the marketplace.

How do you handle these conflicting bits of advice? I always look at the source of the advice. Do I respect the opinions of this person and are they someone I want to imitate? In what context did I receive the advice? Was it from a magazine article or a random thought during a late night conversation (always taken with a huge grain of salt)? Is there a way to test my application of this advice? How does it test? 

In the end, each of us have to follow our own instincts and decide which voices to follow and which ones to leave behind. It's good to simply be aware of the conflicting bits of information and devise a plan how you will handle it.


Monday, December 04, 2006

A Window Into Picture Books

It's a glorious experience with books. You snuggle close to a small child (maybe even your own child or a grandchild) who is dressed for bed.  This child has selected a book from their bedroom and now you get to read aloud the story. Do you change your voice for the different characters or read it in a monotone? I hope you change your voice because it’s fun to differentiate the characters as you read aloud the story.

Yet as you read something inside bothers you.  Maybe it's the storyline or how the characters treat each other. Or maybe a sentence isn't written like you would have done it.  Then you think, I could do better than this. I should be writing children's books. Then the next time at your computer you actually write a children’s book. You even pour the energy into learning the children's marketplace and learning about how children's books are constructed. There are some terrific tools available to you in this area. For over two years, I taught at the Institute of Children’s Literature, which is the nation's oldest home correspondence course for children’s writers.

One of the teaching goals in the first lesson was for the student to understand the necessity to learn the craft of writing. As an instructor, I read hundreds of horrible first stories and had the opportunity to gently guide the student toward improvement. The ICL course is excellent and highly recommended if you want to get into this area of writing. Many professional writers got their start in the writing world through taking the Institute correspondence course.

It's admittedly a challenge to find a publisher if you've written a children's book. Why? Because the publisher devotes a large percentage of their financial investment in producing a children’s book into the artwork and design--as well as the words from the writer. Printing in full-color is a requirement for the majority of these books and it's expensive. Publishers move with caution on these projects because of this large financial investment. The book has to sell into the marketplace to recover that initial investment and earn additional funds. I know it's a simple concept but many writers forget this fact as they submit their manuscripts.

GoodnightmoonboardFor a window into some of the children's picture books published last year, take a look at this fascinating article in The New Yorker by Elizabeth Kolbert called "Goodnight Mush." The title is a play of the title, Goodnight Moon, the best-selling picture book from Margaret Wise Brown. Look at this insight about this classic from Kobert's well-written article, “The mother of all bedtime stories, "Goodnight Moon," by Margaret Wise Brown, will turn sixty next year, but the official anniversary edition is already out (HarperTrophy; $6.99). To return to it after reading six or seven dozen of the latest picture books is a bit of a shock. As you might expect, "Goodnight Moon" is more restrained, more exacting, and more lyrical than anything written for children today. In its own quiet way, it is also more brutal. At the time that it appeared, Brown was thirty-seven and a well-established children's writer; among her many acclaimed picture books were "The Runaway Bunny" and "Little Fur Family." Still, she didn't quite fit, or want to fit, the role of beloved children's author; her real ambition was to write for grownups. Brown never married--her affairs were conducted with members of both sexes--and had no children. When she wasn't making up tales about soft little bunnies, she liked to watch them get ripped to pieces; a fan of running to hounds, Brown was a charter member of an exclusive Long Island hunting club known as the Buckram Beagles. (Asked about this apparent conflict in an interview with Life, Brown replied, "Well, I don't especially like children, either. At least not as a group. I won't let anybody get away with anything just because he is little.") Reportedly, Brown wrote "Goodnight Moon" in a single morning. The struggle between parent and child that is the explicit subject of so many bedtime stories is, in "Goodnight Moon," only implicit. Indeed, there's no parent on the scene. The story begins with the little rabbit, drawn with wonderful flatness by Clement Hurd, already in bed. It is seven o'clock. A few pages later, according to the blue clock on the mantelpiece and the yellow clock on the bed table, it is seven-twenty. Then it is seven-thirty, then seven-forty. When the "good-nighting" begins, it is not clear who is doing the speaking. The moon is rising, yet the light grows dimmer. The clocks tick on--seven-fifty, eight o'clock.”

Before you fire off your next children’s book submission, pour a bit of additional energy into your pitch letter.  To find a home for any type of submission will be a matter of getting it to the right person at the right time at the right place. It requires more than persistence. Combine your persistence with excellent storytelling.


Sunday, December 03, 2006

Insight for Better Google Searches

GoogleThroughout my day on the computer, I often turn to Google for a number of different searches. Am I using it in the best possible way? Probably not.

I found this informative article from Michael Miller about smarter google searches. Much of the contents, I already knew but it served as a good reminder to improve my searches.

The final tip calls to your attention some of the specialized searches such as books, blogs, scholar journals, news sites and government websites.

If you use just one of these tips to improve your Google searches, you will improve your research skills as a writer. It’s something I’m constantly trying to improve in my own life. I learn about new tools, new sites and even new ways to use Google. Ultimately in a small way, it improves the amount of things I can accomplish in a single day. We each have the same 24 hours. Will you be using your time to the greatest possible results? 


Saturday, December 02, 2006

Look For the Workaround

About six years ago, I was working for a dot com in Northern California. The company was in the process of building an online community and there were constant challenges--where parts of the system didn't work at they were planned to work. The computer programmers were always telling us to use a "workaround." If you've never heard of this term, it's a way to accomplish the task. Often it's not perfect and at times it's messy with additional steps or bends, yet the result happens. You get the job done.

This week I created a work around for my Amazon Short, Straight Talk from the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. I've heard from several writers outside of the United States about their desire to purchase Straight Talk but they can't do it. The Amazon Shorts are only available to customers in the United States. IStraight-Talk-cover've written my Amazon contact and learned they have plans to expand to other parts of the world but at the moment are limited to the U.S.

A writer in Canada approached me because she wanted to purchase 20 copies of Straight Talk and give them to various members of her writers group. It's a great idea yet how could it happen? Yes, I have the PDF on my computer and could have sent it to her. No one would have known but it would have been in violation of my contractual relationship with Amazon.com. From each sale, Amazon gets part of the funds and I get part of the funds. I know it's 49 cents for the Amazon Short so we are not talking about a lot of money.

Here's my work around for this situation. The Canadian writer sent me the funds to cover the Amazon Shorts to paypal. She also included a bit extra because paypal charges a fee for the transfer of money. I didn't want to lose money on this workaround.  After I received the notification of the funds from paypal, I bought, then downloaded 20 copies of Straight Talk.  I numbered each download so it was a distinct copy, attached the files to an email and sent them to the Canadian writer. I explained the files were exactly the same but for the accountability each one was different. From this solution, the writer received her 20 copies and I worked it out that Amazon received their portion of the earnings. Yes, I went through a bit of downloading and attaching to make it happen but it didn't take me much time and it was properly handled.

I could have written this writer and said, "Sorry, I'm unable to help because of Amazon’s restrictions." Instead I thought about it creatively and worked out a solution where the writer received her 20 copies and Amazon received their payment. Admittedly my sales numbers for Straight Talk will be a bit whacked for an hour or so but that's the least of my concerns.

I've written about this workaround because it illustrates the types of challenges that confront us every day in the publishing world. Many roadblocks occur on the way to publication--whether it is in the magazine world or the book world. When you face the roadblock (and you will face them), you can choose to quit and give up. Or you can look for the work around and persevere through the challenge.

It's easy to give up, stick the manuscript back in your drawer and not look at it for possible reshaping then send it back into the market. One of my friends, Kelly James-Enger, calls rejections "bongs" and determines to get a "bong" back out into the marketplace within 48 hours. Kelly has an excellent book, Six-Figure Freelancing. I admire her persistence in this area. Can you follow her strategy with your own submissions?

When the problems of publishing come your direction, don't let them discourage you. Look for the workaround. You can usually find one.


Friday, December 01, 2006

If It WERE Easy...

ChangeWhen push comes to shove, I can be as stubborn and unwilling to change as the next person. For most of us, it's our natural bent and our opinion rules or we take our materials elsewhere.   If you have this sort of attitude, then you will be challenged to find any place to publish your material —whether in a magazine or a book—whether fiction or nonfiction.  Of course, you can always self-publish then try to find a market for that material and many people have decided to head in that direction (for many different reasons). Much of successful publishing works on building consensus and enthusiasm and being willing to change and adjust. It's a valuable skill--and a often a choice of our will.
Are you willing to rework your article or book proposal so it is better than good but falls into the excellent, gotta-have-this-one category? Are you constantly growing in your insight and abilities to craft a good story? If not, what steps can you take to move in this direction.
This week I had completed a book proposal and sample chapter which I felt was ready to go out the door into the market. Instead, I received comments which pushed it back with suggestions for improvement and change. I could have pulled up my marbles and taken them to another game--but I didn't. Because I understand the reality. Like my co-author said to me, "Terry, if it were easy, everyone would do it." It's true so this material is undergoing more change to make it better. Why?  You only get one chance to make a good first impression.
Several weeks ago I joined an evangelical blog group called 14Six.com (based on John 14:6). There is a small graphic for the group in the right-hand column of my entries about The Writing Life. I was one of the charter 14six members thanks to Cory Miller at Church Communications Pro. Last Tuesday I was reading Cory's site and discovered some additional resources for you through his blog entry. His three paragraph post includes some great free ebook resources. I downloaded several of them and read through Guerilla Marketing by Jay Conrad Levinson which has almost 50 pages of ideas (many of them inexpensive).
While these ebooks are not tied directly to your writing/ publishing area, if you think creatively with the ideas, then you can apply them to your own area of the business.  Each of these authors at the ChangeThis site are marketing leaders. For example, many years ago at an Evangelical Press Association convention, I heard Guy Kawasaki was known as the Apple evangelist in the early days of Apple computers. I've met Kawasaki off and on at various events over the years.  He includes a great deal of his experience and wisdom in this downloadable ebook, The Art of the Start (which provides a sneak preview into his book with the same title). Will one of these ideas take your writing or your visibility or your book to a new level? I have given up predicting--but I know one thing for certain: it will not happen if you don't try it.  I hope these ideas will give you some additional resources.
Also check out this PDF for Straight Talk.  It's a one page download which shows Straight Talk from the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission in the number one place on Amazon Short. These rankings change every hour. I created this PDF to freeze-frame it.  Please feel free to pass it on to others. At 49 cents, it's a bargain.
Back to my opening paragraph, through these resources, I am constantly learning new things—and growing in my knowledge and ability. In addition, I am choosing to change and choosing to grow.  That easy way must be out there but I've not found it yet. There is no replacement for good, old hard work.