Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Get The Story Down

Over the last fifteen plus years, I've had many opportunities to interview book authors and talk with them about how they practice their craft. Whether fiction or nonfiction, I've always been interested in how they start the process.

Gilbert Morris, a prolific novelist, told me about his unusual technique. He creates an outline of his story and knows the background on his characters. Then he sits quietly at his desk with a tape recorder and orally records his novel.  The tapes are transcribed and he takes this oral storytelling as the foundation to begin his rewriting process. Gil Morris told me about Sidney Sheldon, the bestselling author who also uses this technique. Yesterday at the age of 89, Sheldon died.  His initial technique to start his writing process was tucked into the Associated Press story: "Unlike other novelists who toiled over typewriters or computers, he dictated 50 pages a day to a secretary or a tape machine. He corrected the pages the following day, continuing the routine until he had 1,200 to 1,500 pages. ''Then I do a complete rewrite-- 12 to 15 times,'' he said. ''I spend a whole year rewriting.'' Several of his novels became television miniseries, often with the author as producer."

I have a full profile about Morris planned for an upcoming issue of Right Writing News, my free Ezine which is only available to subscribers. If you haven't subscribed, follow this link and get a free bonus 150 page Ebook called Ezine Marketing Magic.

Each novelist has to find their own rhythm and storytelling technique. It's the same for the nonfiction author about how they practice their craft.  There are many different ways to get the story down for the first draft. You have to determine which way works for you--your ability, your lifestyle and your available time to write.


Monday, January 29, 2007

Profile of a Risk Taker

Writers are risk takers to pursue their dreams of publication. They invest hours in shaping their idea (or they should) into a book proposal and sample chapters. Whether it's fiction or nonfiction, they write the concept from their minds into print, then send it to the editors and literary agents.

Publishers are also risk takers. If you don't believe me, just take a quick look at this publishing quiz from Putting Your Passion Into Print which I posted almost a year ago. [If you wonder how I remember such things, I don't. Use the google search engine tool in the right-hand column.]

One of the publishing community's risk takers is Judith Regan. I alluded to her in my last post. Several years ago, I was sitting in the office of a New York City literary agent and she told me a story about Judith Regan. This agent had shopped a proposal from a leader in the skateboard community named Tony Hawk (before the huge popularity of his video games). The agent presented the proposal simultaneously to a number of publishing houses. Each of these publishers rejected the proposal--except Judith Regan. She understood the vision for the book as well as the risk. Regan Books published this book and I recall the agent telling me this title sold over 100,000 copies.

There are strong feelings about Judith Regan and how she operated in the publishing world. Just look at this article in Vanity Fair from two years ago if you don’t believe me. In this post, I wanted to point out this recent profile from New York Magazine about Regan. It's another perspective about this risk taker.

Today writers will pitch many different ideas into the editorial and agent offices around the country. How are you positioning your pitch? Is it exactly on the target for a particular magazine or a particular publisher? Or will it be outside the range of what they publish? My encouragement is to polish your submission before you make this pitch into excellence. If you've worked hard on the craft of your writing and your persuasive language, it will lower the risk and gain a fair hearing.


Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Rare Look At Contract Details

A great deal of publishing has a public face where the details are easily known about different aspects. There is also a rarely seen part of book publishing and that's the book contract.

Several times, I've been privileged to write a couple of books which garnered a six-figure advance. One of my book proposals with a six-figure advance appears in the appendix of Book Proposals That Sell.

When you receive a book contract from a major publishing house, it can be daunting. Often these contracts are about 18–20 legal-sized pages of legalese. No wonder people turn to literary attorneys when they receive such an agreement. The parties to the agreement (the publisher and the author) sign the arrangement then tuck it away in their files. It's not a public record for other people to read it or see how it even looks--normally.

Last year, I moderated a panel on contracts at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. One of the panelists brought a handout of the Random House Joan Collins contract from the pre-computer days. I posted it (follow this link) because the contract is in the public domain. You can see the cross-outs and how it appears.

Now because of another legal matter, you can see an actual Regan Books/ HarperCollins contract. It’s complete with the signatures and everything. The Media Bistro Blog posted an article about the cancelled OJ Simpson book. Because the contract went into a public court document, Media Bistro posted this agreement and you can see it from a link in the article. If you scan through it, as I did, you will notice the writer was paid $125,000. Many have discussed the inappropriate nature of this book and celebrated when it was cancelled--and I agree.

My point in this entry is to show you something rarely seen--a recent, signed full-length, complex book publishing agreement.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

A Great Resource Now Better

If you want to write for the Christian marketplace, one of the essential resources is the Christian Writers' Market Guide by Sally E. Stuart. For more than twenty years, Stuart has been the go-to marketing person helping writers.

Because I've got personal relationships with many of the book editors and magazine editors, I'll admit that I don't purchase one of these massive guides each year. Instead, I get it about every third year. With the 2007 edition, Christian Writers' Market Guide became even better. Now this reference book includes a CD-ROM for either Windows or Mac which includes a Word document and a PDF format of the entire text of the book.

Why is this important? Let's say you are looking for a literary agent, you can cut and paste the various addresses rather than retyping them on your labels. If you've written a query letter and simultaneously submit it to several magazine editors, you will save time using the cut and paste feature of the Market Guide.

Before you do a massive mailing from a printed guide book of any type, be aware this information is constantly changing. For example, my defunct email at Howard Books is listed in the guide. Stuart works on constant updates. I'm sure she's hard at work on the 2008 edition while the 2007 book has just released. This example shows the constant movement within Christian publishing. The market guide is just the first step in your research process to understand the various markets. It's the writers responsibility to address the right editor and the right publication rather than glut the system with a bunch of wrongly-targeted submissions.

Besides the contact information for different portions of publishing, Stuart includes analysis of bestsellers and lists the most popular topics for books. This information can help you select the right publisher or the right publication for your idea.


Tuesday, January 23, 2007

A Thrilling Contest

I don't enter many contests. The writing world has many of them and often they have the word "scam" associated with them. Occasionally you find a contest worth entering--and I wanted to tell you about it.

The International Thriller Writers are offering the grand prize of 150 signed thrillers for their contest. The contest runs until February 15th and to enter you have to fill out a short form with your name and email address. Through this contest, you are signing up to receive their newsletter, which is a good newsletter. If you don't want the newsletter, you can unsubscribe. I would love to win this contest. Of course I am lowering my chances of that happening as I tell you about this contest. Everyone has an equal chance so give it a shot and you will get a great newsletter no matter what happens.

Last summer the ITW held their first ThrillerFest in Phoenix and it was a virtual whos-who of thriller writers. I learned a great deal and wrote a short article with tips for thriller writers. This month my article appeared in a writing publication. Page One and Page Two Whether you write thrillers or any other type of fiction, you can gain some valuable tips through this article.


Monday, January 22, 2007

Hope Against the Naysayers

If you travel in publishing circles, you hear lots of different opinions about what topics will break through and become bestsellers. Mostly these thoughts are thrown out on the negative side of things. I've heard the same things. People have been saying, "The children's book market is completely flat." Now there is some validity to this viewpoint and I've read articles in the trade magazines to validate this comment. Does this mean that you shouldn't write children's books? Not necessarily. Bounce that view off another conversation I had in a major literary agency about a year ago. I was a few blocks from Times Square in New York City meeting with a fairly new literary agency. Two former publishers at a major publishing house had opened their own shop. While the bulk of their work was with clients in the adult book area, one agent told me that the week before she had negotiated a major deal for a children's author.

If you are a children's book author, it is difficult to find a literary agent. The reasons for the difficulty are fairly straight forward. Literary agents work on a commission basis for their sales. In general, these agents follow the ethical guidelines of the Association of Author Representatives (whether they are members of the organization or not). You probably don't want to be working with agents who charge reading fees. Most children's books have modest advances (especially first-time authors). It takes a similar amount of time and energy to negotiate a $1,000 advance book contract as it would to negotiate a $10,000 advance or a $100,000 advance. Where do you think the agents would rather spend their limited resources of time and energy? That's why in general, it's difficult to find a literary agent for children's books--not impossible but difficult. Also many book packagers are producing children's books. The naysayers are everywhere saying, "Don't do it." Or "It is hard."

With fascination, I read this Soapbox article from literary agent Stephen Barbara in Publishers Weekly. Barbara specializes in young adult and middle-grade novels. It's an area of the market where there are many book packagers and long odds to place a project with a publisher. Yet in some circles the teen fiction market is really selling like crazy. Read the entire article but look at the hope in his conclusion, "Maybe there's another way: write a work of highly individual imagination and flair. Build a world. Push the culture in a new way. Explore a taboo. Reinvent a classic. Experiment with the language. For the packagers do have a weakness: they're good at sniffing out what's hot now and producing that book, but they can't create the Harry Potters, the Book Thiefs, the Looking for Alaskas--works that are ahead of the pop culture or beyond the vagaries of time. For a writer--and for publishers, too--that's a pretty good place to be."

It's easy to get discouraged in the writing business. Rejection comes hard and fast. It's the writer's responsibility to put together a compelling case why you should be given the chance to write your book. It may be your writing needs some work and improvement. Or it may be that you are not writing a compelling pitch or book proposal. What are you going to do in the face of this rejection? You have a choice to set it aside and try a new type of writing (which can be a step of wisdom for some writers). Or you can labor on looking for the right connection.


Saturday, January 20, 2007

Another Resource About Publicity

I'm continually amazed at the vast online resources to teach you about almost any topic. For the writer, the key is to choose to learn about the particular resource at the time they need to learn about it. If you want to write children's books, then you need to be learn more about this area. If you want to write magazine articles, then learn how to craft your articles. If you want to write books, then you need to understand how book publishers process ideas and be crafting a book proposal.

Yesterday I wrote about press releases as a tool to expand your message and reach new audiences. One of the comments came from Joan Stewart, the Publicity Hound. Until her comment, I had not visited her website but what a vast resource on this topic (and much of it free). In the press release area, Joan has created a free 89 lesson tutorial to teach you how to craft and use news releases. You gain her personal instruction and insight as a 20-year veteran journalist. Late yesterday I signed up to receive this instruction. Why? There is always something new to learn and I am continuing to learn and grow as a writer, editor and now agent.

As a writer, you can certainly delegate the publicity and marketing roles to your book publisher. That's your choice and you will reap the results of such a decision--positive and negative. Publishers are looking for authors to partner with them in this process. I love the opening sentence in Jaqueline Deval's Publicize Your Book! because it resonates truth from my experience, "The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book." While I haven't examined each area of The Publicity Hound, it looks like a great place to learn more about this area.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Press Your Message

Can you use the power of the press to spread your news about a product, a milestone in your business or your writing life? It is a skill for every writer to learn about and develop. It will involve learning the skill of creating a press release.

There are some great online resources for you to develop this skill. I appreciate the work of Bill Stoller and his perspective in Publicity Insider. Check out this site to get his insight about how to write a press release. Also sign up for a sample of his newsletter. I've found each issue loaded with valuable information.

Why do you want to press your message with a press release? If you craft a press release, send it to the right person at the right time, they can quickly spread your news. Notice the conditions that I included (right person, right time, right shape of release). I'm letting people know about the launch of Whalin Literary Agency. This week I wrote a short press release, then sent it to a few key publications. Like a great deal of the work, there are no guarantees that anyone or any publication will use your material. My release was picked up in several online publications which reached thousands of people with this news.

Just to manage your expectations, press releases don't always work. I was discussing this aspect yesterday and this person mentioned sending out a release about the addition of a new service. No one picked up on the news. It's a gamble and involves many different factors outside of your control. You can control writing an excellent press release then sending it to targeted publications. Much of this type of work operates on the same principle: do what you can do and see what happens. It's like the manuscripts which some writers stick into their desk drawers. That work will never reach anyone because it is not getting out to the marketplace.


Thursday, January 18, 2007

The Literary Agent's Role

For many years, I've been teaching writers about the book business, book proposals, magazine writing and the craft of writing. I shudder to think about those first few writer's workshops where my own background was limited and what I could actually give to others was limited as well. Those writing tapes are probably still floating around some place. Occasionally someone will write and tell me they are listening to one of those old sessions. If that writer gets something out of it, then great but I'm a little unsure about that information because I'm constantly learning and growing in my craft. I've met and worked with a number of outstanding literary agents. Also I've fired a few of them. There is great diversity among agents and each writer has to find the right match for their project and their particular needs. Many people have encouraged me to become a literary agent and I've resisted with all sorts of excuses which were mostly lame as I look at them. I'm in the process of telling people about Whalin Literary Agency. It's taken me a few weeks to get some of the business structure for the agency in place (and that will continue to improve). For most publishers, agents are serving as the developers and refiners of writer's ideas. As an editor, I've often seen book proposals or manuscripts which could be improved--and maybe seriously considered for my publisher. Yet with the flood of submissions (which numerous people estimate to be in the millions), the editor can't do much except send a form rejection. I've attempted to help writers through articles, these entries, Book Proposals That Sell and other venues such as teaching at writer's conferences. As a literary agent, I will be taking on the role of helping writers shape their ideas and proposal packages into something compelling. I'll be working back and forth with these authors to refine their proposals before sending them to various editors. I'll also be looking at the big picture of their career and discussing where they want to go in the long run and planning the steps to get there. Then I'll be fulfilling the other roles of a literary agent such as negotiating the contract, handling the business aspects and stepping in to help the writer if there is any problems in the process. My personal vision about how I will handle my role comes from years of working with many literary agents. I continue to learn from these colleagues. I'm glad for the opportunity and expectant about my future. I'd encourage you to check out my agency website.


Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The Snap Difference

Bloggers love to include lots of links. It's one of the trademarks of this form of writing and something I've practiced from the beginning of these entries on the Writing Life. The links are a way to give additional information and value to the reading experience. But what if you accidentally put in the wrong link or a link which doesn't work? If you do, you frustrate lots of readers.

Yesterday for the first time, I went to Duct Tape Marketing, which has numerous blog awards. I'll be returning here often. As I looked around the site, each time my mouse pointed to a link, to my surprise the actual site appeared in a miniature format. It's a free tool called Snap Preview Anywhere that you can also get at Snap.com. It's quick and a matter of pasting a bit of code into the blog template. According to Snap.com, 50% of searches end in failure. Their search tool is something you should look into downloading, installing and giving a test drive.

Attention Feedblitz readers: I'm including a little visual from Snap.com but this graphic doesn't do justice to the experience. Please click over to my actual blog location from this email and test drive this addition to the blog. It is easy to install and free.


Tuesday, January 16, 2007

If You Hate "Marketing"

Many writers hate marketing. Yes, I understand it's a strong word but in many cases, they avoid it like the plague. They say things like, "I'd rather take my time and write another book than to spend any effort on marketing." I understand this perspective and feel like they need to use a different word than marketing--then maybe it will make sense to them why they need to be involved in this aspect of the business.

During the last few days, I was listening to a podcast from John Kremer. Follow this link and download this free resource. If you don't know Kremer then you haven't tried to google the words "book marketing" because he's usually at the top or near the top of these words in almost any search engine. For many years, Kremer has been the go-to expert in this area. His best-known book is over 700 pages and packed with information for anyone interested in learning more about selling books. I’m talking about 1001 Ways to Market Your Books by John Kremer (6th Edition). I'll admit this book is a bit daunting to use from the sheer size. It's an encyclopedia of ideas for reaching more people with your book and message--no matter whether you are writing fiction or nonfiction. Also you should get this resource no matter where you are in the process. Even if you are just "thinking about" writing a book, the insight in this book can help you get some fresh ideas for your book proposal or your pitch to the editor or literary agent.

I want to return to those people who hate marketing. The key point of Kremer's podcast is that selling your book is about relationships. You are looking to expand your relationships with anyone interested in the topic of your book. It might be through a newsletter that you grow the mailing list. It might be through an online group. It might be taking your local bookseller to coffee and asking a lot of questions about the business. What active and daily steps are you taking to expand your relationships?

As another resource, go to Kremer's site and sign up for his book marketing tips e-zine. It's packed with information to help you expand your relationships. I appreciate what Mike Hyatt wrote about the importance of creating an excellent product. Your writing must be excellent and I'd encourage each reader to take steps to hone their craft and learn more about the writing. When you've created this desirable and important product, work on making new relationships.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Make Your Book Stand Out

Author 101 NonfictionOver the last few days, I've read the latest addition to the Author 101 brand from Rick Frishman and Robyn Freedman Spizman called Author 101: Bestselling Nonfiction. I've written about each of the books in this series and while I understand the branding thoughts that went into the packaging for these books.  They appear very similar. Each Author 101 book tackles a different part of the publishing process. The black cover is on agents while the yellow cover is about book proposals and the green one is about book publicity. The newest title looks at the topic of the nonfiction book and is subtitled, "The Insider’s Guide to Making Reality Sell."

I've written a great deal about the importance of a book proposal. This book moves beyond the proposal (and includes a small amount of information about it) to the full-length process of creating a nonfiction book with chapters such as Getting Started, The Big Idea, Does a Market Exist?, Planning and Outlining, Research, Getting Organized, Writing, Making It Special, Collaboration: How It Works, Collaboration: The Legal Implications, Tips: the Top Twenty, Mistakes: The Top Twenty and Summing Up.  I found each chapter contained valued insight from not only these authors but a number of best-selling authors who they quote throughout the book.

I loved the opening of the Making It Special chapter and here’s a bit of it for a sample of this book, "According to estimates 195,000 books were published in 2004, so the market for books is densely crowded. To interest publishers and readers, your book has to be distinctive and special, otherwise it will probably never be read. To make your book special, use every weapon in your arsenal; pull out all the stops. After you've clearly and intelligently written about all your essential points, impress agents and publishers with the full extent of your creativity and talent. Show them that you not only write brilliantly, but that you also have great, innovative ideas and that you will work tirelessly to make your book a gigantic success. Read extensively. Go to libraries and bookstores and note the qualities in books that you like and try to incorporate them into yours. Since books are not your business, study them from a new perspective. Examine book covers, titles, subtitles, designs, approaches, and writing styles to find the elements you like and that could work well for your book. Although most publishers insist on the right to decide on book covers, titles, and designs, give them your ideas. If you’re talented in any of those areas, offer your ideas and recommendations. Some may consider your suggestions and may even adopt those that could help your book."

I hope you can see the wisdom of years of publishing experience which is loaded into this brief quotation. The key will be where the rubber meets the road. How will you apply this information to your writing? Will you get this book (or another book) and continue growing as a writer? If you get the book, make sure you read it. You'd be surprised how many people purchase the book then never open it or read the information inside it. Maybe you are looking at various writers conferences and planning to attend one of them. What are you doing to prepare for your conference? I guarantee you will get more out of it if you put in some preparation time.

What are you doing to expand your own publishing experience? While your primary goal may be to get a book published, understand literary agents and editors are looking for experienced authors. You can gain (and prove) your experience with print publishing credits. Notice I said printed magazines and not online. It's because the publishing process is much more rigorous for print publications than something you've written online. What are you doing to make your book idea stand out? It will take work and creativity. I'm up for the task. What about you?


Sunday, January 14, 2007

Find the Passion and Run With It

Over the last few days, I've read several different things where the word "passion" continues to be central.  When you face difficult days with your writing, what keeps your fingers on the keyboard and moving ahead? Every writer and editor faces such challenges.  At times in my life as an editor and writer, I dread going to work and the meetings and conversations that are on my agenda for that day. Or I do not look forward to a particular article or editorial task in the day. What drives me ahead? It's passion for the work and the publishing business.

Years ago I interviewed best-selling author Bodie Thoene (follow this link to read her full story). Here’s the paragraph where she talks about her passion and drive to stay at the task: Bodie sits at her computer hitting the keys with two fingers. She may work until 10 p.m. to reach her goal--at least five finished pages. "No little elves come out of my closet to write 650 manuscript pages," Bodie says. "Some mornings I don't feel like writing, but I do it out of obedience to God."

For each of us this passion is expressed in different ways. It was fascinating to read what Mike Hyatt, CEO at Thomas Nelson Publishers wrote about why he loves publishing.

I have those days when I don't want to write or edit or face the things that are ahead of me.  One of my personal motivators is the power of the printed page to change lives.  While some times the connection is a bit of a stretch, I'm involved in the printed page every single day. For those who don't know my personal story about how the printed page has touched my life, look at this story. A different version of this same story is the final entry in God Allows U Turns for Teens.

It's key to face the discipline of the work, draw on your passion and keep your fingers on the keyboard. I know firsthand the way books and magazine articles can change lives. It happened to me.


Friday, January 12, 2007

Is Blogging Dead?

An online forum recently asked this question--without anyone giving much of a response. In my last few entries, I've been writing about some of the insight from Bob Bly's new book, Blog Schmog which is a skeptical and practical look at blogging and business. People love absolutes--you must do such and such as a writer. For example, some people are saying every writer must have a blog. Others say every writer must have a website. Others say every writer must have a newsletter. The answer from my view is much more gray rather than black and white. You can have these things if they fit into a larger plan and purpose. To create a website or a newsletter or a blog without a larger plan for it, just doesn't make sense to me.

BlogschmogDirect marketing is the world where Bob Bly lives and breathes and succeeds every day. He asks, "Are blogs effective marketing tools on a widespread basis? Not according to MarketingSherpa. "Call us cynics," says an article in Sherpa. "Blogs may be hip and trendy, but they don't do diddly-squat for most people's businesses." A page later, Bly says, "Blogging is not a particularly potent marketing tool, and creating a blog for most businesses is strictly optional. No business "needs" a blog. Most businesses probably shouldn't waste time and resources creating one. Although blogs can incrementally increase sales of products and services, their ability to generate online revenue is insignificant when compared with proven online direct response marketing methods such as e-zines and e-mails."

Then Bly gives two areas where blogging has value as a marketing medium: "First, blogs can in many instances significantly improve a site's ranking in the search engine, thereby driving more traffic to that site. Second, blogs can be effective as part of an integrated program to establish one's reputation as an expert in a particular field. Therefore, blogs can help consultants and other businesses that sell expertise (either as a stand-alone service or in support of a product) increase visibility and credibility among the target audience."

Whether you blog or not, it's a choice and hopefully your reason for doing it fits into a larger plan. I agree with Bly's conclusions (or I wouldn't have done this work to include them in my own entries about the Writing Life). The bulk of my writing day is involved in other aspects of publishing such as writing books or writing for printed magazine articles.

Blogging isn't dead but it's good from my view to stand back and look at the effectiveness and the potential results from it. You can make your own decision about whether you want to jump into it or not. Just don't feel pressure from the "everyone is doing it" mentality.

If you want to capture the editor's attention, you are much better spending that same energy toward a quality book proposal or a quality fiction manuscript or a series of printed magazine articles. Then you have built a body of work in the print world which will gain attention from editors and potentially provide you other opportunities.


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Stick To the Topic

For my last few entries, I've been writing about some of the insight for writers (and bloggers) from Blog Schmog by Robert W. Bly. One of the challenges for every writer is to learn to stick to your topic.  Because blogs are everywhere, it's easy to write about something completely off the topic. For example in these entries, I could include some personal story about a difficulty with my car or another personal subject with no connection to writing or publishing. I'm not going to do that because when I do, I've instantly moved away from my topic. Much of the blogosphere becomes a mish mash and readers quickly lose interest.

BlogschmogThe type of blog which Bly calls "The Best of the Breed: Topic Blogs." He says, "The pleasure of reading a topic blog is to become engaged with the mind of an individual who shares your interest, and from whom you can possibly learn. It also provides a forum for stimulation discussion on topics you are passionate about. The other advantage of a topic blog is they are more focused. As a rule, the more narrowly you define your topic, the more thoroughly, authoritatively, and effectively you can write about it. By that logic, a blog on customer service is good but if you are a concierge or hotel manager, a blog on customer service in the hotel industry will deliver more value to you. The ability to focus a blog on a niche topic is one of the advantages blogging has over other media, in particular books. A traditional book publisher will publish a book on customer service, because the size of the market of people interested in customer service will make it more likely they can sell the many thousands of copies needed to make publishing the book a profitable venture. What traditional publishers can't do very tell is publish topic books geared toward smaller vertical niches, like customer service for concierges. Reason: the number of concierges is relatively small, so the book will not sell enough copies to justify publication."

This same type of focus about blogs and sticking to the topic is an important discussion for selecting your book topic. I've often rejected book ideas and seen them rejected in the publication board meetings of publishing houses--because they are too narrowly focused. To use Bob Bly's example above, they've written an entire book proposal targeted to hotel concierges. Or maybe they propose a solution for a rare disease through more of a homeopathic cure yet the universe of people with this illness is too small to merit a full-length book. Or the publisher looks at the proposal and decides they have no idea how to reach that particular audience through their established sales channels. The result for the author is the same. They receive a form rejection letter from the publisher and troop off to try another publisher without a clue why it was rejected.  As an editor, it's not my responsibility (and time is always the issue) to pass on this insight from the publication board.

Why? Because the next publisher where you send the proposal might be the right one with the right vision which matches your target audience. The world is full of surprises and each of us in publishing have our own stories about the "big one" that we rejected as not right for us. Just remember to stick to the topic.


Monday, January 08, 2007

Keep Your Big Picture in Focus

As you write, are you keeping your overall goal in focus? Do you even know your overall goal? Maybe your goal is to get a magazine article into a printed magazine during the next few months. Or maybe your goal is to write a full-length book. Or maybe your goal is to craft a book proposal along with several sample chapters to get a book contract from a publisher or capture a literary agent's attention. How are your actions throughout the day moving you ahead toward that goal?

BlogschmogFor my last entry, I wrote about Robert W. Bly's new book, Blog Schmog. There are many different types of blogs. Because anyone can start a blog about anything, many of these blogs lack a purpose and overarching goal. In the chapter Blogging For Your Business, Bly writes about the explosion of blogs in the business community and the merits of blogging. Anyone can easily start to blog. He writes, "Business growth is a common result of blogging since they are a flexible, pliable form of communication that generates information in a timely manner. Keeping to the true "blogging form" is the key to gaining so much information. Blogs are successful because of their basic format that produces a free exchanges of information between the posting parties and the commenting parties. The exchange can seem overwhelming at first, but many find a blog much more organized than e-mail and less rigid than a newsletter or a Web site." 

Throughout his book, Bly includes a series of 14 different Rules for the Blogosphere. I particularly liked Rule 10: "The key to getting results from a business blog is to define the results you want to get before you start. Do you want to increase online sales by generating more traffic on your Web site? Create a favorable image for your company or product? Get your side of the story out in an honest manner to combat bad PR? Keep your employees, vendors, customers, investors, and other stake holders up to date on company activities and plans?"

Notice the focus and the planning involved to execute Rule 10? Too many writers have no plan or focus to their writing life. One day they are focused on children's books and the next day they are writing greeting cards.  Don't get me wrong because it's one of the great aspects of the writing life that we can write different types of things--but it is a matter of focus. You have to have a big picture goal and keep to that goal. It might just be the missing ingredient in your plans for the days ahead.


Saturday, January 06, 2007

Blog Schmog

BlogschmogOver the holidays, I read a new book about blogging -- Blog Schmog, The Truth About What Blogs Can And Can't Do For Your Business by Robert W. Bly (Nelson Business). Some fervent bloggers will be ready to hang Bly in effigy because he takes a skeptical view about the merits and down sides of blogging. I found the viewpoint refreshing and valid.

For many years, I've known Bob Bly and appreciated his commitment to excellence--in his books and his magazine articles. Bob writes books as a "hobby" because his full-time work is copywriting.  His best-known book is The Copywriter's Handbook and is excellent.

I've heard a variety of absolutes that writers will throw out to each other. For example, every writer should have a blog or every writer should have a website. The reality from my view is much more balanced. There is no absolute for every writer and it's the view that Bly takes in Blog Schmog. He used a term from blogger Rick Bruner that I had never heard where printed newsletters and trade journals are called "dead tree media." Here's the balance perspective from Bly in the early pages of Blog Schmog, "The best tactic is a mixed media approach. For instance, I am a regular contributor to dead-tree media including Writer's Digest and DM News. I am the author of more than sixty books published by such mainstream publishing houses as Prentice Hall and Amacon.  But I also publish a blog, a free monthly e-zine, and downloadable free articles and special reports, all available on my Web site (www.bly.com)."

Here's the focus of Bly's well–crafted book, "This book is about the strategy of using blogs as a business-build and marketing tool, explaining how your time is best spent on strategy, not fooling around with programming or design."

I agree with Bly's skeptical perspective--even though I've blogged almost 600 times over the couple of years. I've seen writers devote large amounts of energy to their blog and zero energy toward appearing in print magazine articles or books.  As an editor, I will tell you which has more credibility--the print magazine articles and books--not the online material. If you want to build credibility as a published author, you need to be devoting your writing energy toward building a body of work in print.

Over the next few entries about the Writing Life, I'm going to highlight a few principles from Blog Schmog in hopes it will help every writer gain a more balanced perspective.


Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Infuse Hope in Your Writing

It's a key ingredient in storytelling: hope. It’s worth thinking about for a few minutes and how it enters into your particular writing project. Think about whether you've included it in the elements of the story for the reader.

PursuitofhappynessTypically during the holidays, my wife and I get to a movie or two. This past week, we caught The Pursuit of Happyness which is based on a true story. The movie trailer looked interesting and like something we would enjoy. My wife had seen Will Smith and the real Chris Gardner on the Oprah Winfrey Show. It looked like an interesting storyline. Chris Gardner struggles to survive in the world. He loses his marriage and his place to live (a couple of times) during the story. Yet the story is about the drive and genius and survival skills of Chris Gardner. He breaks into a position as a stock broker and in the final two or three minutes of the film, you learn that today he's a multi-millionaire.

There's my key phrase for you--in the final two or three minutes. Most of The Pursuit of Happyness is painful and struggle. Yes, you have to have some of these elements in good storytelling but almost two hours of pain was too much. Because this movie spends so few minutes on hope, you walk out of the film feeling overwhelmed and almost depressed. Now maybe you like to tell those types of stories but it’s not where I want to spend my days writing. I want to infuse hope into my writing and storytelling. The Pursuit of Happyness left a bad feeling with the viewers. My wife and I were eager to get to another film.

TheholidayLast night we saw The Holiday, a romantic comedy. I noticed right away that I was one of the few men in the audience. Little groups of women came together to see this film. Our local newspaper gave it a two-star rating (out of a possible five stars). We were wondering about our selection. Before I tell you about the film, when we walked out of the movie, my wife said, "I could watch this one over and over. I'm ready to get the DVD version when it comes out." That feeling was in stark contrast to the first film.

The storyline for The Holiday evolves around two women. Amanda lives in Los Angeles and Iris lives in the snow-covered English countryside. Both of them are caught in horrible relationships and need a change of scenery. As the movie website explains, they discover a change of address can also change your life. While the adventure of trading homes on the spur of the moment is engaging, it’s what happens next that entertains and drives the plot. The characters are well-formed and the dialogue was engaging and I liked the plot twists. The newspaper reviewer probably didn't like the predictability of the resolution yet the feelings of hope were infused into this film. It made it a hit in our view and something that we could enjoy again and again.

The storyteller has to choose their themes and plot twists for each tale. Some stories lend themselves to including hope more than others but I'd recommend you include a healthy dose of a solid resolution in your stories. Think about what lasting feelings you want to leave with your readers. Ironically both of these films came from the same studio (Sony) and the feelings it left in the viewers were distinct. I'll take something like The Holiday every time.


Monday, January 01, 2007

Set Reasonable Expectations

2007goalsHappy New Year 2007.

When we turn the page of the calendar to another year, many people make resolutions. They want to change their physical appearance or increase the amount of material they publish or increase their book sales. It’s great to have goals and expectations for yourself. Here's a key question: are your goals and expectations reasonable? Are they just pipe dreams or something you can actually accomplish in the days ahead? The old saying is true, if you shoot for nothing you are sure to hit it.

Over two years ago, I started these entries on the Writing Life and wrote this post. I returned to it today and re-read it. The different areas such as being willing to learn and grow in different areas continue. For example, I continue to be committed to working out. Yes, many days it is a huge pain to get on my treadmill. Often my mind challenges my workout and encourages me to skip or not do it. Instead of sitting on my couch watching the news, I stand on my treadmill, sweat and work out. The benefits far outweigh the alternatives.

Each Monday, I look forward to reading Harvey Mackay's column in my local newspaper, The Arizona Republic. Today's column was called, "It's a good time to start working on you" and was excellent. I tried to locate it online and add a link in this post. I could not find it and I suspect it has something to do with the newspaper syndication rules. Here's some startling statistics (which Makay used in the context of talking about "we live in a sad time"):

"* Only 14 percent of adults with a grade-school education read literature in 2002.

* 51 percent of the American population never reads a book of more than 400 pages after they complete their formal education.

* 73 percent of all books in libraries are never checked out.

* The average American watches 32 hours of TV every week.

* The average American reads only eight hours (books, newspapers, magazines, Yellow Pages, etc.) every week.

* The average American annually spends 10 times more on what he puts on his head than what puts into his head. Consider:

* If you read just one book a month for 12 straight months, you will be in the top 25 percentile of all intellectuals in the world.

* If you read five books on one subject, you are one of the world's foremost leading authorities on that subject

* If you read just 15 minutes a day -- every day for one year -- you can complete 20 books."

If you have the goal of reading 15 minutes a day for one year, that's a reasonable expectation and one that will carry you to a completely different place at the end of this new year.