Monday, March 31, 2008

Changing Market Indicators

Last week the April issue of Christianity Today arrived in my mailbox. The online version isn't out or I would be pointing to it. The cover story blared, "How To Save The Christian Bookstore (Hint: Stop making it so religious.)" by Cindy Crosby. While I found the topic and the article fascinating, it took me several days before I could read this reality check on the Christian (and general market) bookstore market.

I've known Cindy Crosby for many years and followed her writings. Her husband Jeff is an associate publisher at a Christian publishing house. Until I read this article, I didn't know about their background of running a Christian bookstore in Bloomington, Indiana, which is a college town because of Indiana University. According to the opening of the article, there were four Christian bookstores when the Crosbys were there from 1983 to 1993 and "today, not one of the four is left." It was a sobering sentence to me because of my own experience with books as well as the four years I spent at Indiana University. If you've never read my story, I'd invite you to read this magazine article which first appeared in print in 1988. As you read it, notice the impact of a Christian bookstore and the book that I purchased. It's one of the major events of my life and could not have happened without the presence of that bookstore.

The article points out statistics such as the shrinking number of Christian bookstores as well as the smaller numbers of general market bookstores. It shows again the ever-changing marketplace. Recently I took my wife to a major shopping area in Scottsdale. While she shopped for some clothing, I checked out the mall directory for a bookstore. Several years ago there was a bookstore in this mall but not today. Yes, there is a Border's bookstore about a block from the mall but no bookstore is located inside this shopping area.

Within a couple of miles from my home, a couple from my church has opened a Christian bookstore. It's in a good location near a busy grocery store with lots of traffic and visibility. The doors have been open for about two months, yet every time I pass it, I notice their customer traffic. Is anyone buying books there? Sadly the answer is rarely. The store is attractive and has great displays and even a few comfortable chairs yet customers who buy will be the way they can keep their doors open. I'm concerned for them and have been trying to support them with anything I can purchase in their shop.

The article is well-worth your attention even if you have to track down a copy. As writers and communicators, we need to be aware of where books are selling. It points out once again the necessity of every author do to something each day to promote their presence online and their own books.

As I complete this entry, watch for a forthcoming announcement about a teleseminar that I have scheduled for next month. My guest will be someone who knows firsthand how to keep books alive in the marketplace. It will be worth your time and effort to make sure you catch this event. I'll be announcing it soon.

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Novelists Need Book Proposals That Sell

This past week I did another teleseminar about book proposals. If you follow this link, you can download the full teleseminar but also make sure you read the comment from Krista Phillips in that section. She asks a question that I have heard often over the last few years, "I have seen your book Book Proposals That Sell referenced several places on the Internet, and seen great reviews posted for it. Most of the reviews note that it is a great reference for non-fiction proposals, however I am primarily a fiction novelist. Is the book still a good reference for us fiction writers out there?"

While Book Proposals That Sell has over 75 Five Star reviews on Amazon, there have been a few critics (follow this link if you doubt me) who don't feel like novelists need this book. In this entry on teleseminar about book proposals, I want to tackle this question and give you three reasons that you need this book if you are a novelist. These reasons will also apply to the professional and experienced writer. I've heard many writers resist purchasing this book because they have other book proposal books or felt like the book was only for beginners. These objections are also false in my view because many professional and long-term experienced writers (fiction and nonfiction) have gained insight from the pages this book.

First, let me point out this endorsement from Brandilyn Collins, a bestselling novelist who has read the book and says, "With years of experience as an author and an editor, Terry Whalin has written a book that can help any writer. Book Proposals That Sell offers great advice on building the nonfiction proposal and also explains the inner workings of the editor's and publication board's role in acquiring a new book. Novelists, too, will find this background information very helpful. All authors need to understand the uphill battle they face in selling a book before they can be fully prepared to submit their absolute best proposal or manuscript. Whalin's book lays out what they'll face--and then shows them how to win the battle." OK, I marked in bold the final portion of this quote for emphasis.

Now to my three reasons novelists need to read this book:

1. Understand the Rarity of This Information

For over twenty years, I've read a how-to-write book each month. I've got shelves of these books and periodically I have to clear them out. It is rare to find any editor who writes about the process of book acquisitions. In fact, I've heard a number of my editor colleagues say that they don't like to write. If you travel the writer's conference circuit as I have for many years, you will find that many of these editors don't teach workshops because they don't like to teach or have any inclination in this area. The key decision makers haven't written books (or even magazine articles) about how and why they make decisions about which books to publish and why.

I wrote Book Proposals That Sell from the perspective of the acquisitions editor or the person reviewing your submissions--whether a novel or a nonfiction book. I've read many how-to-write fiction books yet the bulk of my writing for years has been nonfiction. Why? Because I want to constantly improve my storytelling for nonfiction and have gained a great deal of insight from these writers.

2. Understand The Pressure and Mindset of the Editor

Every novelist needs to understand the mindset of the publishing executive to succeed in their desire to receive a book contract. Whether you are trying to write for a particular magazine or publisher or just get published in general, the first step is to understand your reader. That first reader is the editor who is actively reading to locate quality material for their publishing house. You can gain a lot of insight into the editor through reading Book Proposals That Sell.

3. Understand A Great Story Is Assumed and You Need Something More

If your novel is published, it must be a compelling story. The editor or literary agents who champions your novel will need this foundation. Every novelist (and nonfiction writer) should be working on learning their craft. In Book Proposals That Sell, I help novelists understand that in today's market they need something more than a good story. Platform is critical in the nonfiction area but it's the way to rejection-proof your story in the fiction area. Can you take the secrets in this book and turn it toward your novel submission? I know many novelists who have done it successfully. Will you follow the path that they have blazed?

As Sally E. Stuart, the author of The Christian Writers' Market Guide, wrote, "Selling a book may be one of the most intimidating challenges you will ever face. However, an intimate knowledge of the process helps make it easier. Terry Whalin offers his broad knowledge of this business--from both sides of the editor's desk--make him the perfect resource for helping you develop a proposal that sells."

Some readers for this post will probably add some additional reasons. In this post, I've attempted to dispel some of the doubters.

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Friday, March 28, 2008

LinkedIn and Book Reviews

Months ago I started receiving invitations to join the business network called LinkedIn. When I got those emails, I hit the delete key and ignored them. Because I've independently built large network of contacts, I questioned the advantages of LinkedIn.

Finally I took the plunge and joined the system in a few minutes and ever since I have been adding to my LinkedIn connections. An estimated 20 million people are using LinkedIn and I've restored a number of lost relationships through this network plus I've made a number of new connections through this system.

Here's my own profile on LinkedIn:

View W. Terry Whalin's profile on LinkedIn

If you are a part of LinkedIn and a regular reader of The Writing Life or my Right-Writing News or we have some other connection, let me know and send me an "invitation" so we can connect.

Recently I read the book, I'M ON LINKEDIN NOW WHAT??? by Jason Alba. I suspect the majority of the people who use LinkedIn need the quick start information in Jason Alba's well-written book. It's easy to digest and the explanations are clear. I picked up a number of solid insights from this book and recommend it. If you use I'M ON LINKEDIN NOW WHAT???, you will increase your effectiveness and visibility among the millions of people using the LinkedIn system. It's worth your attention and reading time.

If you scan down the reviews on the Amazon page, you will notice that I wrote a review of this book (and here's the permanent link to that review). Notice that each review has a permanent link to lead you right to that review. If you are going to take the energy and effort to write these Amazon reviews for your friends or just write them for books that you read and want to support, take a few minutes for some additional action steps.

First, let the author know that you have reviewed their book. You will be surprised the connections that you will establish in the publishing community through this step--even if you had no prior connection to the person. If you don't have a relationship with this author, you can track them down through LinkedIn or Google or some other method. Let them know about your review and send the permanent link and you will be surprised at how often you will receive a response. It's something that I have been doing for many years.

Second, write the publicist or marketing person at the publishing house about your review and send them the permanent link (assuming you've said nice things in your review and given the book a Five Star rating). The volume of magazines, ezines and other types of ways books are reviewed can be overwhelming at the publishing house. Even when the publisher is using a "clipping service" where they receive copies of reviews which have appeared in magazines and newspapers and other print publications, your review can be overlooked and missed. But if you take the initiative and send it yourself, it will be appreciated and you will build credibility with that publisher. I did not know the publisher or the author of I'M ON LINKEDIN NOW WHAT??? but if you look at my LinkedIn connections, you will notice the publisher's name and the author are both added to my connections. It's something else you can do to help your own writing life with your own specialty.

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Book Proposal Hot Seat

It is always a good opportunity with the tables turn and you are interviewed instead of always being the one to ask the questions. Last night Rosey Dow from Experts in Focus interviewed me about a topic that I'm passionate about--book proposals. During this hour-long teleseminar, I answered questions which listeners had submitted to her about book proposals.

Why do I continue to go out and encourage people about these proposals?

First, I'm passionate for writers to achieve their dreams and be more successful in their submissions to editors and agents. During the teleseminar, I quoted a statistic from Dan Poynter's Self-Publishing Manual that there are an estimated two million manuscripts in circulation around at different publishing houses and agencies. That is no typographical error but two million. Will you be able to catch that editor or agent's attention in the few seconds they will consider your idea? Can you make it rejection-proof? I gave some ideas in the teleseminar.

As I exposed last night, I'm constantly learning new things about book publishing and in particular the submission process. My experience comes from my own work as a literary agent and my years in this business as an editor and writer. Just as the business is constantly changing and evolving, I continue to grow in my experience and perspective.

My perspective about book proposals takes a "snapshot" in my Book Proposals That Sell yet constantly improves and I gave some of this information during the teleseminar.

Second, as people improve their proposals, I hope my editor and agent colleagues start to receive better targeted and better crafted book proposals. From the feedback that I get from readers, I know to a small degree several of my efforts are making a difference and I'm grateful.

Finally in a selfish way, I'm looking for better book proposals that will come into my literary agency. If they are the right project for my agency, then I can work with the author and push it to a new level of excellence then turn and get it into the marketplace for them.

At several different points in the teleseminar, Rosey Dow told the listeners about Proposal Secrets as a resource to learn more about book proposal creation. If you haven't been to the page in a while, check it out. I've added a couple of additional bonus gifts but the change that happened yesterday was an additional order button. Now you can choose to make three payments for the course. I hope this flexibility will help more people take advantage of this resource.

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Help For Audience Building

I'm involved with a couple of online group discussions. Recently several authors mentioned they had been spending a lot of effort on their marketing over the last few years yet now they had decided to cut back on that marketing activity and instead pouring the energy into their writing. I can appreciate these author's desire to improve their storytelling and writing craft. Every book will have to have good writing as the basic foundation. Yet at the same time, there are great books which never make any traction in the marketplace in terms of book sales because the author has not committed the effort and energy into building their audience. In my view this audience building doesn't have to be all consuming--but it does have to continually be a part of the process.

This process of building an audience involves a consistent effort and vision. No matter where you are in the process of publishing a book, are you writing a newsletter and adding to your list of subscribers. I've mentioned in the past the free 150-page Ebook which gives lots of advice about how to get content and build your list. Also I've mentioned that New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber has over 75,000 readers on her electronic newsletter list. She understands the power of this information to influence readers. You can follow this link to one of my older posts (then follow the links inside the post) for more information.

If you have no idea how to promote--or even if you do and need some fresh ideas, check out Joan Stewart's Publicity Hound materials. On this link, you can download four free ebooks with a wealth of ideas and information. Just click on each book cover to go to the download page. You will discover a wealth of material and ideas.

Finally I want to encourage you to sign up for a valuable FREE email course that I got from Jimmy D. Brown. Jimmy has created a number of courses online that he sells but this one is free. Just follow the link, go to the bottom of the page and add your first name and email address. Then for the next 21 days you will receive an email each day with Jimmy's insight. I set it up at this location and hope it helps you build your own audience.

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Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Cover & Title Education

Where do you get educated about how to create a great book title? Or how do you learn what makes a bestselling book cover? From my experience in publishing, people seem to learn this information through trial and error or years of experience.

At least ten or twelve years ago, I wrote a series of back covers for a small publisher. As a freelance writer, the publisher sent the manuscript, the book title and information about the author. Often on a tight production schedule, I skimmed the manuscript, crafted a headline, then some bullet-points of benefits for the book and sent it back to the publisher along with my invoice for the copywriting. I probably wrote twenty or thirty of these back covers. Besides my payment, I received a copy of the finished book. Often I pulled my submitted copy and compared it to the printed book to see what I could learn from the comparison. With few changes, my words appeared on the finished book. I worked in isolation with almost zero feedback from my connection at the publishing house. No one kicked back my words and asked me to rewrite them. From what I know now about the internal process of publishing houses, I suspect the overloaded production person simply took my words, tweaked a few things and pushed it ahead in the process.

Most recently at a publisher, the editor who did the developmental editing for the book also did the copywriting for the back cover material. Yes, the marketing department had input into the final version but the initial draft of the copy came from the editorial department. There are many different ways this part of the process is handled within the publishing community. From my experience it is learn-on-the-job, thrown-off-into-the-deep-end-and-start-swimming sort of effort with little education and instruction. Yet each day customers make critical purchasing decisions about the books from these efforts.

Within traditional publishing situations, the publisher titles the book and designs the cover along with the words on the back of the cover. Many authors feel powerless and out of control of this particular part of the book production process--yet they don't have to be. I've told authors for many years if they propose an excellent book title and subtitle then that title will remain throughout the publishing process. It is the same way with your back cover copy. As the author, you can propose language and if it is excellent, it will be used in the creation of the book.

Back to my original question about training in this area, where do you get it?

I'd like to suggest an unusual yet in some ways expected suggestion. Turn to experts in design and creating book titles to get the right one for your book. I've recently listened to Cover That Book which in several hours of education gives incredible value and ideas for any author. Whether you plan to self-publish or go to a traditional publisher. Why pour this type of energy into the title of your book? Because when you send a proposal to an editor or literary agent, you have seconds--and I mean that--to grab their attention and the first thing they will see if your title and subtitle.

I can hear the authors protesting this information about the cover design. Yes, within a traditional publishing arena, the cover design is the responsibility of the publisher. But I suspect even a major publishing house would carefully look at cover designs from an author they want to publish.

Finally I want to suggest that editors and literary agents in the publishing community will also benefit from Cover That Book. It's an area of the marketplace where most of us have learned through trial and error. There is huge value (and earnings potential) if you get the right training. Susan Kendrick writes a valuable blog called Book Cover Coaching. Whether you get their valuable package or not, I recommend you subscribe to this blog and follow her writing. It's another means to get educated about covers and titles.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Follow Time-Tested Writing Strategies

Whether you are floundering in your writing, just getting started or thriving, I'd encourage you to get this resource from Jimmy D. Brown called 30 Writing Tips for Ebook Authors.

Maybe you are saying that you don't want to write ebooks. OK, you will still find value in this FREE document. If you are stalled and wondering how to get out of stall and into gear, then you need to read this resource because you can pick up several ideas.

I've corresponded with Jimmy a few times and read this Ebook carefully. He's straightforward, targeted to the marketplace and yet this resource can stir something inside you. The price is right for it--FREE, so click the link and pick it up. Don't just print it but pull out your yellow highlighter read it--then put some of the ideas into practice in your own writing life.

Like many things in the writing world, the proof will be in the application of this material to your own life and situation.

A few of you sharp The Writing Life readers will notice that you've never seen the main domain for this free ebook. It is something that I picked up recently and I haven't fully developed it. I've recently signed up for a Hostgator account and I've been learning how to use some of the different functions of it. They have many resources for their customers and one of them is to install a WordPress blog on the domain. There are thousands of different templates to use through WordPress and I thought the colored pencils from Robbie Williams was fun and different. In the last few days, I've even moved my personal site www.terrywhalin.com to this format. You will notice my site has a completely different appearance. I had not updated the old site for some time and it was due a fresh appearance. I'll be the first to admit, I've got a lot to learn in the WordPress format but I'm starting to learn it.

My encouragement to you: get Jimmy D. Brown's ebook then see what you can apply to your own writing life. I suspect great surprises await you.

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Sunday, March 09, 2008

More About Promotion

Since my last post about The Writing Life, I received an email from Raleigh Pinskey. I was interested to learn since 101 Ways to Promote Yourself first appeared in 1997, it has sold over 250,000 copies in nine countries.

In light of the typical low sales numbers for many books, I found that quarter of a million sales number pretty amazing. How did it happen? Raleigh continues to work at promotion for this book through speaking, book signings, teleseminars and a host of other such ideas. She is not sitting around expecting the sales to happen naturally because most of the time they don't. The author has to be proactive to encourage people to buy their book.

Here's another creative resource with 50 book marketing ideas. If you sign up at John Kremer's blog to receive his updates, you will receive a seven page list of these ideas which came from a two hour speech at the PMA Publishing University several years ago. The sign up spot it in the left-hand column of the page.

I love #48 on John's list: "Do Something Every Day" where he says, "Each day, take some marketing action on every active title on your list. Write a letter. Make a phone call. Create a new ad. It need not take much time, but these small actions can keep your books actively selling for years to come. If you devote just ten minutes of focused marketing time every day on each book you published, I guarantee you will make more sales."

If you become a proactive author about your books, you will stand out from many other authors in a positive way. Publishers want to continue to publish and work with authors who understand the necessity and priority that needs to go toward consistent promotion.

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Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Continual Need for Any Author

I often hear this refrain from authors. "I don't like to market." Or "I'm an introvert and don't like to speak in public." Or this one, "I'm a writer and not a marketing person. I'm going to spend my time in the craft of writing." Now don't get me wrong, it's important to learn the craft of writing and I encourage such action often in these entries on the writing life. Yet it is also important to learn the skill of promotion and marketing. It's a huge pain--and I feel that pain personally--yet I understand the realities of the marketplace.

As an acquisitions editor and now a literary agent, I've listened to authors complain about their lack of book sales or their book going out of print. While I understand there are many reasons for lack of sales and the book going out of print, much of it relates to whether the book is selling or not. As I've said many times in these entries, it is the author who has the greatest passion for their topic. It is the author who lives, breathes and sleeps with the topic. So the author is the one who needs to continue to carry that passion ahead and continually do something proactive to get the word out on their book.

Almost every day I try to do something proactive to tell people about Book Proposals That Sell. Yes, this book has been in the market for over two years but it continues to consistently sell either in the ebook format or through Amazon and other places. How do I know it is selling? It's not an accurate barometer but I notice my Amazon sales numbers. They have consistently been between 5,000 and 30,000 throughout the two years. What does that mean? It means that every week this book continues to sell copies. Your first step is to write an excellent book that helps people but the second key is to continue to talk with people about that book.

I make no claims to do this promotion and marketing perfectly but I am consistent. Yesterday I was talking with a long-term editor friend who I had not called in years. when she answered her phone, it turned out she is living in the mid-part of the United States and working remote for the publisher--and has been doing it for two years. Now I've known this editor for many years so we connected right away. She and I had lost touch and I told her about my Book Proposals That Sell. When she said she'd look it up on Amazon, I offered to send her a copy--then I put it in the mail yesterday. Will I see an immediate return on that action? I don't know but I do know she's an active member of the publishing community and I want her to know about my book and recommend it to people. It was a simple act that I took to continue to let people know about this product. You can follow my example with your book. The world is small and inter-connected.

Let me give you a couple of resources in this area of promotion. I was listening to Arielle Ford and her Everything You Should Know package in my car yesterday. If you don't know what I'm talking about, follow the link and check out the short video that Arielle put together. It's informative.

I was listening to Arielle interview Raleigh Pinskey, author of the book, 101 Ways to Promote Yourself. Now I had never heard of Raleigh Pinskey but I was fascinated to hear her talk about her own shyness (common among many of us) and yet how she continually promoted this book with a copyright date of 1999. I have no idea when this interview was recorded but some time in the last couple of years. Pinskey noted that her book continues to sell about 250 copies each month and had total sales at the time of over 10,000 copies. Now 250 copies a month may not sound huge to you but that translates into about 3,000 copies a year--which is respectable in many publishing circles--especially for a backlist title.

"Something" about the title of this book, 101 Ways to Promote Yourself, sounded familiar. It turns out I've had the book on my shelf for at least six months (maybe longer) and had never opened it. I read the entire book last night. I love the classic marketing quote from P.T. Barnum in the Foreword, "Without promotion something terrible happens--nothing!" This quote captures the truth of many authors. They want the world to come to their door and when it does not, they don't understand. It's like Pinskey says, you can build the world's best mouse trap (or the world's greatest book) but if no one knows about it, then you have a garage (or basement or storage area), filled with great mouse traps (or books). I added my review of this book to Amazon then I noticed Raleigh Pinsky's address in the right-hand column. We probably live within a few miles of each other.

In summary, here's the lesson for your writing life: make a choice as an author or writer to continually promote and market your book or yourself or both. It may not pay off immediately but in the long run, I predict you will reap unexpected and potentially huge results.

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Lock This Marketing Tool

With last night's teleseminar with Sally Stuart, we had more than 200 writers send in questions. I had a wealth of material to cover in the session. If you missed it, you can still catch it at http://www.asksallystuart.com/ This teleseminar is in "replay" mode. When you sign up or ask a question, instead of going to the confirmation page with the information about calling in or listening to it on your computer, you will be taken to the "replay" page. You can instantly download the complete and edited recording or listen to just parts of it online. Plus you can download the free chapter on marketing from Sally Stuart's Guide to Getting Published.

If you go to the replay page, you will notice a large button at the bottom saying, "Order your copy of the 2008 Christian Writers' Market Guide." The button takes you to Sally Stuart's website. For years, Sally has offered writers the opportunity to "lock in" the price of the market guide and receive it automatically each year. She mentioned that some writers have dropped this service. If you order immediately, Sally is putting writers in less expensive categories of $24.99 and $29.99 a year. You can lock in this price for the years ahead and you can guarantee that the price of this guide is not getting any cheaper. Here's the critical bit of information which Sally gave us last night -- why you need one each year. She said about 90% of the entries have some change. That's why. You do not make the right impression when you submit your material with the wrong editor's name or wrong material for the publication or publisher. Instead you waste valuable time and energy.

Each year, Sally Stuart teaches at about five to seven different writer's conferences. If you've never heard her teaching, you can get her insight free through this teleseminar. Also make a regular habit of reading Sally's blog to catch the latest details.

Don't hesitate to go over to the teleseminar website and download this information to your computer or iPod. There might be some nugget of information or encouragement that will propel your writing career to the next level.

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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Get Registered Now

These entries about The Writing Life have been a bit thin over the last week. My wife and I traveled to Frankfort, Kentucky to celebrate my mother's 80th birthday last Sunday. The trip provided a vivid reminder why I don't go through Chicago in the winter. Our flights were canceled both directions. On the way out, we spent an extra nine hours waiting around in the O'Hare airport until we reached our destination. Then on the way home, the airline re-routed us through Dallas. If you watched the weather, it was snowing in Dallas on Monday. Our plane was two hours late taking off because of de-icing in the snow. I'm grateful to have gone (and returned) but it did not allow any time for blogging.

One of the greatest challenges for most writers is marketing your work. How do you find the right connection for your creation so it appears in print? The marketplace is constantly shifting as publications start-up and others go out of business. While the "danger point" for many magazines is the first five years of business, even long-term publications have stopped publication. I've seen a number of print publications which will win awards for excellence one year and disappear from the market almost before the award is announced.

Tonight I'm providing you with a rare opportunity ask marketing expert Sally E. Stuart a marketing question. I'm going to grill Sally with your questions during a live telewebcast at 7 p.m. Eastern or 4 p.m. Pacific. You can register and ask your question at: http://www.asksallystuart.com/ And if you can't make the live event, go ahead and register because the call will be recorded and every registrant will receive the links to the recording. Then you can download it to your computer or iPod and gain from the unique content. Also for registering you will receive a chapter On Marketing from Sally's excellent book, Getting Published. You will be able to download this chapter immediately when you reach the confirmation page. You will be able to either listen to the teleseminar on your computer or call in through the telephone. Don't miss this opportunity so get registered now.

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