Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Pick A Number -- A High Number

During the last week, I've seen two different large numbers touting the number of new books which were released in 2007. In my entry from a couple of days ago, I gave the links which said 300,000 books were published. Yes that is a large number but what if it was actually an additional 100,000 new books for a total of 400,000 books? According to the New York Times article, "400,000 books were published or distributed in the United States, up from 300,000 in 2006."

No matter how you count the books, that's a lot of books. Make sure you read this New York Times article to see some of the other statistics tucked into this article. Does this information make you depressed or only more determined to sell your book and make it different? I hope you fall into the latter camp and have the determination.

With millions of book ideas and proposals in circulation and the lowering financial bar for authors to enter the book market through Print-On-Demand companies, individuals are getting frustrated and jumping into the book market. Unfortunately many of those books are poorly-crafted and as a result sell poorly into the market. The authors have no clue how to promote or market their own books. Many of them don't even understand their responsibility or work to get the book into the marketplace or reach people.

This morning I received a press release from a publicist about a new book and that she had review copies available and the author was available for interviews. It looked interesting so I dug a bit deeper into this particular book. I went to the website and watched a short television video clip of the author and applauded his good work. Then I went to the particular page on Amazon.com where the book was sold and checked out the name of the publisher. Now many book buyers will never check the name of the publisher but I've spent many years in this business. I instantly recognized the name of the publisher and made a decision not to do anything additional with this book. I will not be ordering or or asking for a review copy or writing about it. Why?

I've tried books from this particular publisher in the past and the books were poor in the writing category. The publisher treats everyone equally. If you have desire and money, you can get them to publish your book. Don't get me wrong, holding that book in your hand may fulfill the dream of a lifetime and be satisfying. That's all that some people need from the book publishing world and there is a place for it. I just don't want to be involved in this aspect of publishing. Why?

I want to work with the authors and books which soar into the marketplace and touch people's lives. Yes, in that process of impact, they sell into the marketplace. To have this type of impact, it involves a lot of hard work on the front end of the publishing process. You have to craft a great book proposal or book manuscript. Then as an author, you have to be committed to consistent promotion of that book. There are many different avenues for promotion and it can be overwhelming but the key is to consistently work at it.

Here's a bit of an update on 90 Minutes In Heaven which I wrote about recently: The cover of this book proclaims over a million copies in print. An email in my box today from the writer Cecil Murphey said the book has sold about 3.3 million copies.

Don't be overwhelmed or depressed about the large number of books which are being printed. Instead, let this information drive you toward excellence in your writing and becoming a different type of author.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Take Active Steps

Yesterday I wrote about some of the challenges of publishing and the necessity to choose a different path. One of the great elements that levels some of the field for publishers whether large or small is the Internet. Whether you are much published or have never been published, what active steps are you taking each day to engage in this resource?

Some authors have decided they will only work on their craft and ignore the marketing elements. And for a very small percentage of the successful authors that is OK. Publishers love their work and they have built an audience the old fashion way. Yet the majority of authors need to enter into the fray and begin to build their audience--one person at a time. It's a constant amazement to me when authors will pitch me a project hoping I will represent it through Whalin Literary Agency--yet they are doing little to continually build their visibility in the marketplace. If you have a website in your proposal (or not), one of my first action steps before I respond is often to type your name into Google or go to that website. I suggest you try it yourself periodically. Type your own name into Google and look at the results. My name in quotation marks yielded: Results 1 - 10 of about 36,200 for "Terry Whalin". (0.13 seconds)

In this post, I want to provide you with a resource to carefully read and study. It's been out a couple of years from Seth Godin and is a free ebook, Everyone's An Expert (About Something), The Search for Meaning Online. If you scroll to the bottom of the link, you will see the PDF link for you to download, print and read. It took me about 15 to 20 minutes. It can take longer if you explore the various resources and links which Godin has built into this resource. You will notice in several different places that he addresses authors or people who want to be authors. It's another tool for building an active presence online.

Often in our hurry-up, instant world, we are looking for some quick fix. I'm not sure that it's there. What is available to each of us is to consistently learn and grow in our craft, our understanding of the business of the publishing world (whatever part--fiction, nonfiction, books, magazine, newsletter or whatever). My strong suggestion for your writing life is to make a plan then work the plan. Enjoy (and learn) from this resource.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

Choose A Different Path

I believe there are huge opportunities in book publishing for everyone who chooses a different path to get published. The path is filled with obstacles and nay sayers.

If you have been reading these entries, you know that I like to give the real scoop about book publishing. I agree when people say there are too many books out there. Each year the number of new books continues to increase. Just check the 300,000 number of new books in this article from Sarah Nelson, Editor at Publishers Weekly. In my earlier reading, I had seen a high number but never this high. Here's the reality check for you. Over the weekend, I was listening to my friend Susan Driscoll, president of iUniverse, in a teleseminar with Arielle Ford, give this 2004 book statistic: 90% of the new books published sold 1,000 copies or less. Now consider the other side of this statistic which means that only 10% of the new books published sold over 1,000 copies. In the last few days, Mike Hyatt has also written about this topic of too many books. Plus Mike has written the follow up article about the way Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher is selecting the books they do publish. This article points out another challenge for any author: publishers are very selective of the books they contract and publish. Increasingly publishers are depending on literary agents to locate new authors. As I've mentioned before it is often more difficult for a new author to find a good literary agent than it is to get published in the first place. I wrote at least 30 books for traditional publishers before I ever worked with a literary agent so it is not a necessity.

Yet increasingly traditional publishers are closing their doors to unagented material. And with good reason if I think about the material that comes into my agency. If you could sit on the side of the desk of an acquisitions editor or a literary agent, you would be shocked at the unprofessional pitches from well-intending authors. Like the recent nonfiction author who sent me a book proposal for a 150,000 word project. This author had a manuscript and had picked up my Book Proposals That Sell to learn how to create a book proposal. I applaud this author's commitment to learning about the business of publishing yet he was overlooking something critical which would get his material continually rejected. I'll not say never--but it is highly unlikely that any traditional publisher will take a 150,000 word nonfiction book project. Why? Because 70,000 to 80,000 words is the normal upper limit of such a book and the author missed this critical detail to rejection-proof his submission. It's like the lengthy novels that other authors pitch to me without understanding the typical word lengths (follow this link if you don't know the typical novel lengths). Without knowing it, they are asking for rejection.

To choose a different path as a writer, learn the craft of writing. Practice it with magazine articles and shorter pieces than books. Magazines reach many more people than most books (especially with the book statistic in the second paragraph of this entry). You will learn a valuable skill as you apprentice with your writing. It's something that many writers neglect in their journey to books.

Also continue to learn everything you can about the business of publishing. How do book acquisitions editors and executives make decisions about which books to publish? What factors push them over the top about a particular book? Also how do the book buyers make decisions about a particular book from a publisher? Many of these factors shift and change and you need to be reading and learning about these elements so you can figure out how to stand apart from the typical editor pitch--in a positive way for that editor. With my pitches for Whalin Literary Agency besides looking for great writing, I'm always looking for that x factor. I'm talking about the little extras that the writer adds to the proposal or pitch which will rejection-proof the materials. The factors are different for each author but I've mentioned some of the distinguishing factors repeatedly in these entries. The biggest element is that publishers are looking for authors who understand the necessity of selling and promoting books. You'd be shocked at the resistance of some authors to work with the media or work with their publisher to promote the book. The attractive authors are the ones which understand this factor and proactively work at it constantly. Yes, I understand it's tiring but if you want to write books and stand apart then it's a necessity in my view.

Another way to choose a different path as a writer is a commitment to ongoing education. This education may come through an annual investment to attend a writer's conference. I understand it costs in terms of time and money. If you can't make it to a conference or want to try something else, get a set of CDs and listen to them. Recently I've been going through Arielle Ford's Everything You Should Know series and it's excellent with incredible insight. I've been learning a tremendous amount from these audios and the printed materials. Also Mark Victor Hansen's Mega Book Marketing University tapes. I've listened to these materials several times and notice something new each time I go through them.

The Christian bookstore near my home is celebrating their grand opening. Yesterday at church I caught a few minutes with the bookseller. One author came to their store and signed books last Saturday. This author had books from a well-known Christian publisher who enthusiastically cooperated with this bookseller in discounting the books and providing extras like bookmarks for promotion. This coming Saturday, a second author is scheduled with a book from a small press in Alaska. It was the opposite experience. The publisher refused to take the bookseller's credit card or handle the books in the expected manner. This retailer was forced to open a paypal account to pay for the books to ensure books would be in the store for the signing. Oh, and for extras like bookmarks? The second small press emailed a PDF file with a color bookmark and the retailer could print their own for the signing. I have no idea about the details of this small press (even the name) but let me suggest the author should be helping this bookseller because the experience is making a lasting (and negative) impression on this new bookseller. I applauded the retailer's energy to pour into this book signing and the unusual steps she was taking yet at the same time I felt the author should have been touching base to ease this situation. It's a mini-example of what's happening all of the time within the bookselling community. Then authors wonder why retailers are resistant to their books?

You can choose a different path as a writer. It's admittedly a bit narrow and at times lonely and ground breaking--but definitely available to you.

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Friday, April 25, 2008

The Awful Revelation

If you are like most authors who have books with traditional publishers, you don't give a passing thought about whether your book is remaining in print or not. The actual decision is out of your control and in the hands of your publisher. It's one of the aspects of the book business which is rarely discussed yet typically one person within the publishing house can make a decision which removes your book from print. Per the typical book contract, the author is to be notified of this decision and permitted to buy the remaining stock for the book at a steep discount. Throughout my years in publishing, I've found the majority of publishers (large and small) handle this part of the process in a poor manner. They don't inform the author and someone else in the publishing house sells that remaining stock to a discount book distributor as a remainder. The author is left without the ability to purchase these additional books because "no books are available." When this experience happens to you, it becomes an awful revelation.

It happened again this past week with one of my books. Because of the public nature of these posts, I'm not going to tell you the specific book or publisher. It is a book that had earned back it's advance and was earning a modest royalty that I received on a quarterly basis. From my other entries about The Writing Life, you understand that makes this particular title fall among 10% of nonfiction books which earn back their advance. Yes, on the other side of that statistic, 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance. In my view, this book was profitable for the publisher and on a good course as a solid backlist book.

Because of my Amazon profile (something every book author should create), I noticed this particular title was back ordered and only used copies of the book were available. I checked my files and I had not received a royalty statement from my literary agent in a few months. Initially the agent's assistant didn't think the book was out of print because they received a December 2007 royalty statement.

Yet when the agent's assistant checked with the editor (who was someone different than I worked with on the book creation years ago--typical), she learned the book had gone one of print in April 2007 and at that time the author (and agent) should have received notification. I never received the notification--nor did my agent (because he has a system to get me this information on a consistent basis). A year after the decision, I learn about the fate of this book. The remaining stock for the book is long gone when you receive this type of news. There is nothing else that the author can do about it.

Each time I've had this experience, I take a moment and reflect on the challenges of getting the book published in the first place. I consider the hours of work to create the words in the book, then go through the various stages of the book production process and finally (one of the key elements) the on-going promotion work for the book. The revelation also reveals the lack of communication between the publishing house and the author. It's a very helpless situation with no good resolution (at least for the author).

Many of the details of life are outside of your personal control. It's true in the book business as well. I believe in the life-changing power of the printed page to transform lives. Why? Because it happened in my own life and you can read about it in Two Words That Changed My Life. Notice the way people are used in this story but also the way a book, Jesus, The Revolutionary, was influential in the transformation.

Some of you may be wondering why your Writing Tip Of The Day isn't working (thousands of websites) and why some other parts of my online pages are not visible. Homestead.com which hosts millions of websites went down a day or so ago--and I got some sort of technical mumbo jumbo about the reason but reassurance that it will all be back up and running by this evening.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Every Writer Is A Copywriter

Some of you are going to balk at my headline saying, "I'm not a copywriter. I'm a novelist."

Or "I'm not a copywriter. I'm a journalist."

Or "I'm not a copywriter. I'm a nonfiction author."

Or "I'm not a copywriter. I'm a ________."

Many people resist the term copywriting or even the discipline of copywriting. Often copywriting is associated with direct mail sales letters, print ads and other types of sales copy. So why does every writer need to be a copywriter? Copywriting will teach you how to write words which draw people to take action. As a novelist, you want the editor or literary agent to open your submission, look at the title and be drawn to reading your material. From my experience, it doesn't happen very often because the writer hasn't poured enough energy into those words.

The same elements are in play when you write a subject for an email or a headline for a blog posting or a title for your next magazine article or book proposal. My encouragement is to learn these writing techniques because the skills can be invaluable to your writing--any writing.

While in New York City, I met fellow ASJA member, Steve Slaunwhite who runs a thriving copywriting business. During the conference, Steve spoke several different times. He offers a great free resource on his website, The Copywriter's Success Kit. Go over and download this resource then read it and listen to the two free audio downloads. It is well worth your time and personal growth as a writer--or any type.

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Tuesday, April 22, 2008

A Calculated Risk

Depending on the day that that you take a look, it's fairly easy to get discouraged about the book business. The overall statistics say people are reading less and buying less books yet more books are being published than ever before--especially with the advancing printing technologies.

The good news is that every publisher, editor and literary agent continues searching for the best possible projects. You can create one of these desirable products. As I've mentioned in other entries about The Writing Life, it is not easy to come up with the right idea at the right time and the right place.

Over the weekend, I read 90 Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey which has been around for several years but is still on the New York Times bestseller list. It's one of the books that Michael Hyatt listed when he read the Christian books on this list. If you don't know the story, a Baptist minister Don Piper was in a horrible car accident on January 18, 1989 where he was declared dead and it is documented that he died for 90 minutes. This personal story is much more than a glimpse about heaven but describes the journey through pain to recovery. Yesterday I wrote a short review for Amazon and joined over 400 others who have positively ranked this book. Just look at this little photo from yesterday's amazon page.

There are many people who want to publish their personal story and Don Piper's story is unusual. When writers read this type of book, they say to themselves, "My personal story needs to get published." And that story can get published if it is pitched to the right publisher at the right time and the right place and in the right manner. Notice all of the rights in that sentence? It's on purpose because many times writers don't put all of those elements together properly and wonder why they can't find a publisher. One of the interesting details that Piper slipped into the acknowledgements section should be called to a writer's attention. He wrote, "I wrote three different manuscripts about this experience to satisfy inquiring minds. None of them satisfied me. That's when I prevailed upon one of America's distinguished authors to partner with me to write a book that would answer the most compelling issues concerning my death and life." I have no idea if Piper had these three manuscripts in his computer or desk drawer or if he had sent them to various publishers and been rejected.

There is a story about 90 Minutes in Heaven that you will often not hear. This book was not an instant barn-burner bestseller. In fact, Revell, the publisher had modest expectations about this book and took a calculated risk to publish the book. How do I know? The book advance is one way publishers reveal some of their expectations for a book's performance. Unless there are other circumstances such as an author's platform and visibility, the publisher will base their advance so the book will earn out these funds within the first 12-16 months that the book is in print. Cec Murphey is a long-time friend of mine. While Cec didn't tell me this information, I've heard that 90 Minutes in Heaven received a modest advance of about $12,000. Those funds earned back a long time ago as the book cover announces, "More Than 1 Million Copies Sold." If you travel, you will find this book everywhere. I've especially noticed it in the airport bookstores.

Here's the other key which many writers miss: Don is a tireless promoter of his books and his work. Many authors don't want to do media or speak yet Piper is constantly on the road. Just look at his speaking schedule and consider this information is only for a few months at a time.

I want to conclude this entry with some encouragement to the writer. When I was in New York City, I met with a new editor-in-chief of a publisher who had been in her position about five weeks. I asked her specifics about which type of books she wanted to publish and explored different types of books. Earlier that day I had been in the offices of Simon and Schuster and was carrying a copy of Mistaken Identity. As I pulled out my copy of the book, she instantly said, "That's what I'm looking for. Bring me one of these types of manuscripts." This book is another unusual story but the reason for her enthusiasm is that she knew the book would sell and earn money for the publisher. Too often writers are focused on the story and not the business of publishing in their pitches. There is a place to focus on the story--and it's important. Yet you have to appeal to the business side of the equation if you want to work with a traditional publisher.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

An Intimate Look Inside

Throughout this week, I've been giving you a glimpse of my recent time in New York City. Besides giving you some information, my hope is that it is spurred you to consider the value of organizations like the American Society of Journalists and Authors as well as attending writer's conferences in general. It's a solid way to grow as a writer and in your craft.

The largest Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, announced they are not going to be exhibiting at the Book Expo (for the general market) nor the International Christian Retail Show (for the Christian market). This company has a large presence at these events and you can follow this link and read the details. Coordinated with this announcement, Thomas Nelson hosted a two day, open house with 100 of their top accounts which represented about 1,400 store fronts.

Late last night I watched Michael Hyatt's 40 minute presentation called Why I Am (Still) Excited About Christian Retail. If you care at all about Christian publishing, I encourage you to watch this presentation. It is an incredible intimate look inside at this leader of the sixth largest book publisher. Mike tells about how he came to know Christ and the importance of books in his personal life. I hope you will find it encouraging and strengthen your own resolve in this business. It certainly did for me. I would challenge you to find any other publisher -- general market or Christian -- whose leadership provides such a peek inside. It's rare.

Toward the end of his presentation, Mike talks about the proliferation of product in the marketplace and uses the statistic that 250,000 new books were introduced in the marketplace last year. I'm sure he's got his documentation for such a statistic but it is higher than I've seen before. And he said that Thomas Nelson brought out 500 new books last year. Then he told how 23% of these new titles accounted for 90% of their revenue.

What does this last statistic tell you? I'm admittedly a words person but I believe if you look at what is not said, 76% of these new books accounted for only 10% of their revenue. It affirms the general statistic that I've read in other places that 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance. Thomas Nelson finished their fiscal year on March 31st and Mike also said they are taking a hard look at their own product creation and going to cut their new titles for this coming year "in half." So instead of 500 new books, they will make about 250 new titles. It means fewer books will be given book contracts at Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher.

How do you react to such news? From my perspective, you have two choices. You can throw in the towel, leave book publishing and go into another business. I've seen a number of people make such a choice during my years in this business. Or you can see this information as an encouragement to improve your writing craft and improve your own visibility in the marketplace--whether you write fiction or nonfiction. The great manuscripts will always rise to the top and get published. Yes, you need a champion such as a literary agent and an editor inside the publishing house but it is possible.

I want to close this entry with an example of this type of writing. Many people want to write fiction--yet the opportunity for fiction is less each year with a growing number of writers competing for those few spots. Nonfiction out sells fiction year after year. In other entries, I've mentioned Joel C. Rosenberg and his political thriller fiction. I've been a fan since Forge Press published his first book, The Last Jihad. I just completed reading Dead Heat which is the fifth and final installment in this series.According to the March 31st issue of Publishers Weekly, "Tyndale's initial printing for Dead Heat...was 100,000 copies; two additional printings bring the total to 145,000...In May, he'll do a 10-city book tour to promote Dead Heat and to discuss his nonfiction bestseller, Eipcenter (more than 248,000 copies in print)." See the wisdom of a fiction author having a nonfiction angle to talk about with the media? Also Rosenberg's writing is brilliant and page-turning.

I hope you see this entry as a clarion call to excellence in your writing and storytelling. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you need to be working on and constantly practicing the craft of writing. Also you need to continually work at building your audience and presence in the marketplace. It doesn't happen overnight (for anyone as even someone like Joel Rosenberg can attest if you look closely at his background) but it can happen.

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Friday, April 18, 2008

Speed Editor Encounters

Throughout this week, I've been writing about some of my experiences in New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings. If you have never been to one of these sessions, I highly recommend that you do it at least once. There are many benefits for being a part of this organization. The Friday sessions are just for ASJA members. Unlike many other writers organizations, to get into the ASJA, you have to qualify for membership which raises the level of professional for the group as well as the meaning of membership within the publishing community. Over the years, I have consistently cherished my friendships within this organization and learned so much from different members.

For the last several years, one of the benefits of the Members Only meeting is a session called Personal Pitch. A large number of magazine editors, book editors and literary agents come to these sessions which are Speed Pitch Sessions lasting about nine minutes. Because the conference is based in New York City, many major publications have editors who are a short distance from the hotel. They can easily attend these pitch sessions for a few hours and hopefully receive some great new professional connections. While some editors come year after year, there are often many different editors at each one of these sessions. Members can sign up ahead of time for their pitch sessions and they are run very regimented.

You can feel the tension outside the room as writers line up and are mentally rehearsing their pitches and looking over their notes. Nine minutes is not much time so the key will be to ask some pointed questions, swap business cards and get right to it. In years past, they have had these sessions in smaller rooms within the Grand Hyatt.

This year the pitch sessions were inside the Empire State Ballroom with lots of room. The numbered the tables and spread the editors around the room with space between them. It allowed you to talk quietly to the editor and not feel as if you were too close to another session. I met with four book editors and a magazine editor. I made some great new connections and I'm excited about the future potential with these relationships.

As any pitch session--even the longer ones at other conferences--the key will be in the follow-up. With the follow-up proposal or query letter, the editor can make a solid decision in their office or run it past any colleagues for input. I would not have formed these new relationships if I had not been in these sessions at this particular conference. There are many great conferences in different areas. What are you doing to invest in your own writing career? I hope you have plans to attend one of these conferences. Whether it is something you learn from another participant or one of the faculty members, it could take your writing life in a completely different direction.

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Room Full of Ideas

Years ago Elizabeth Sherrill spoke at a class which I attended and told us, "Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas." It's true there are many ideas around us all the time but which ideas do you execute? Is there some idea which crosses your mind or path which ends up becoming significant in your Writing Life? I've had these ideas become significant in my writing life over and over. It's one of the reasons I continue to attend conferences and meet new people.

Over the last few days, I've been writing about some of my experiences in New York City for the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference. I hope writing about these experiences will stimulate some of you to come to this conference next year or take advantage of attending at least one conference a year. These experiences build deep value into my own writing and much more than I can capture in these brief entries. Notice whether you went to this conference or not, you can get the recordings from it and gain from the experience.

One of the unusual features of the ASJA conference is a room called The Idea Marketplace. It started a few years ago when some vendors wanted to be able to pitch the hundreds of journalists who attend the conference.

I've found great value in this room full of ideas. Each year it is different (follow this link to see the list from last week). I've learned it's important to enter the room as early as possible and catch the various people while they are fresh and see what they are pitching. For example, this year Consumer Reports was a new exhibitor and brought some of their magazines along with a few flash drives which are marked on the outside, "Consumer Reports.org." This little storage device will remind me of my brief interaction with these people.

Each table had some literature and often some unique reminder of their company. The American Kennel Club had a plastic notched rolodex card with the shape of a dog sticking up. Blumenfeld and Associates were giving away bottles of water from Iceland (I'm serious). Other groups were set up to provide sources for health-related stories or other resources.

You never know what can come from some of these exchanges. I'm glad to have had the experience and hope it encourages you to make the effort to get to such an event.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Anything Can Happen

On Monday I began to tell you about some of my experiences in New York City. At the end of that entry, I mentioned some unique entertainment that I squeezed into my time in the city. After the full day of meetings and moving around the city last Wednesday, I debated about taking the time and expense to go to a Broadway play. I love the theater and New York is a special place to see plays.

Because I finished my series of meetings just off 42nd Street, I walked over to the TKTS booth where you can purchase half-price tickets to Broadway shows. I arrived about 5 p.m. and found great variety and mid-week tends to be a good time to go. It was my only free evening. When I looked over the possibilities, I spotted a musical which launched in October 2006, Mary Poppins. I purchased a ticket for the mezzanine on the third row and arrived right before the 8 p.m. curtain. As one of the people at TKTS told me, Mary Poppins has some of the best special effects on Broadway. When I heard it, I wondered how you weave special effects into a story like Mary Poppins?

Just to give you an idea, at one point in the play, the character of Bert dances over to the curtain and "walks" up the curtain then tap dances in the middle of the stage upside down. I'm serious. At another point in the production, Mary Poppins opens her umbrella and lifts over the audience up to the third balcony. Yes, she flew right over my head and I was spellbound.

The music from the play was catchy but one tune stood out for me called Anything Can Happen. Here's a bit of the lyrics (or you can follow that link to see all of them):

"Anything can happen if you let it If you reach for the stars All you get are the stars But we've found a whole new spin If you reach for the heavens You get the stars thrown in

You get the stars thrown in

If you reach for the stars All you get are the stars But we've found a whole new spin If you reach for the heavens You get the stars thrown in

Anything can happen if you let it Life is out there waiting so go and get it Grab it by the collar, seize it by the scruff Once you've started living life you just can't get enough."

The evening was magical for me and a solid boost of encouragement. In the writing world, it's fairly easy to focus on the rejection and the lack of response from editors and literary agents. Yes in some circles things are tighter and publishers are making fewer choices and looking for authors that can propel their publishing house to a new level of success. My encouragement for you today is to take these words from Mary Poppins and let it propel you to action with your writing, "Anything can happen if you let it, life is out there waiting so go and get it."

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Build Relationships With Key Editors

A number of times throughout these entries on The Writing Life, I've mentioned the importance of building and maintaining relationships with key members of the publishing community. It's not an easy business to understand. On the surface it seems straightforward. You want to get something published, so you write a query letter or a book proposal and send it off to the editor. Eventually the editor responds that they love your idea and you get an assignment or a book contract. I've simplified the process and it can happen that easily but often the process is much more involved and complicated with many twists and turns. Often these twists and turns involve relationships. While there is a science and form to writing a book proposal or a query letter, there is also a subjective element which none of us can pinpoint for you.

Each of us are looking for a connection or someone to champion our materials through the process. That champion can build enthusiasm for your work as an author and guide you through the publishing process. A week ago I was crammed on an airplane for over four hours going from Phoenix to Newark, then on into Manhattan. Whenever I travel to the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference (at least once a year), I always make a point to plan an extra day in New York City. If you have ever traveled to New York, you know it's not an inexpensive place to visit and why would I build such extra time? It has to do with my commitment to build relationships with various editors. The payoff from that relationship building often isn't immediate but a gentle and slow process which may take years to mature.

Late last week, I took some time to think about the various submissions for Whalin Literary Agency which are ready to go out to various publishing houses. In light of these publications, who could I meet in New York City and work on my relationships? I made a series of phone calls and emails. Not everyone was available. One company was involved in a sales conference and unavailable for even a few minutes. Another editor works at home every Wednesday and would not be coming into the office. I managed to line up several brief meetings in different parts of New York City for last Wednesday.

If you don't know it, one of the most economical ways to get around New York is on the subway. You have to determine if you are going uptown or downtown on the island then catch the right train and get off. I am constantly asking directions but I managed to reach each of my meetings in a timely way. For about $25 anyone can purchase a seven day unlimited metro pass. It allows you to enter and leave the subway as many times as you need to do so over a seven day period and in my view, it's a bargain for transportation.

My first appointment of the day was at HarperCollins, 1350 Avenue of the Americas, New York. The security in recent years has grown increasingly tight in such places. I checked in at a desk in the lobby and the person verified my meeting with the editor. They gave me a visitor's badge and sent me to the reception area on the third floor. This editor actually worked on the fourth floor and she walked down to meet me and escorted me to her office. For about 30 minutes we talked about books, the state of publishing, her work in particular and I gave her a bit more background about the particular project that I was pitching from the agency. If you are looking for specifics here, you aren't going to find them--but you can gain a bit of my preparation and relationship building during the meeting.

My next meeting later in the morning was at another publisher right down the street from HarperCollins at 1230 Avenue of the Americas. When I got to this publisher, there were several flags on a pole from about the third floor and the inconspicuous words on marble columns in the entry way that read, "Simon and Schuster." As with the previous publisher, I had to check in with someone in the lobby who called upstairs. They also scanned my driver's license and issued another visitor's badge. This time they sent me to the 14th floor. I have known this particular editor for several years as he participated in a panel which I organized for the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I kept track of his movement from his previous publisher to Simon and Schuster. We spent a few minutes catching up and he told me about the types of books that he wanted to acquire and edit. Like the last editor, it amounted to about a dozen books. The typical acquisitions editor handles about a dozen projects each year. This editor showed me an embargoed book where he had been the editor. He was protective of this title so I barely got to hold it for a few minutes before handing it back to him. An embargoed book is where the publisher has restricted the release to a particular date before it will go on sale and be available to the public. This editor's author appeared on Good Morning America today so I know in the last week the embargo has been lifted. My meeting was another good session and in particular I pitched several projects from my agency. For one of my pitches, this acquisitions editor took my hard copy and piled it into his stack of material "to be read."

This second editor knew a great deal about New York City and recommended that I experience the shops below Rockefeller Center. I followed his guidance and after the session, walked below ground to the ice skating rink which is often shown on television. It was fascinating to see people ice skating on a sunny day in New York.

I've just described my morning meetings and my afternoon was equally packed with several other sessions with editors and in editorial offices--naturally riding the subway in between to reach these locations. As far as the results from these sessions, the verdict is still out. The wheels of publishing often turn slowly so it may be a matter of weeks or months before I can point to concrete results from these sessions. I will follow-up and continue building these relationships. I've detailed these steps so you can do likewise. You never know where these relationships will take you. I have great hopes for the projects that I pitched and the authors that I championed.

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Monday, April 14, 2008

Back From The Big Apple

Mid-day on Sunday, I returned from five days in New York City. Whenever I travel to New York City, it seems to be a whirlwind of activity. I met with various editors and pitched projects for clients of Whalin Literary Agency. I talked shop with my colleagues in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I met many new people and exchanged business cards and many other details.

Over the next couple of entries about The Writing Life, I'm going to break out some of those events and write about them here so you can get a hint of what transpired, what I learned from it--and you can learn as well. The majority of people who attended the conference from out of town stayed at the Grand Hyatt which was the conference hotel. It's a terrific place located right next to Grand Central Station yet typical for a New York hotel right in the center of town, not inexpensive.

With the advice from an ASJA colleague, several weeks ago I checked out temporary housing on CraigsList and found a one-bedroom apartment for less than half of the conference hotel rate. It was a terrific arrangement because I could cook my own breakfast and had a bit more space than your typical New York hotel room. It would have helped me to have one extra detail from my colleague: to look for buildings with an elevator. This one bedroom apartment was on the fifth floor with no elevator. It took quite a bit of personal heavy lifting to get my belongings up to that fifth floor with a narrow staircase on each floor. Then yesterday heading home, it involved some careful walking again with my suitcases to get down from the apartment. Because I was on the upper west side and at least 50 city blocks from the hotel, I rode the New York subway each direction.

Just to give you an idea about my diversity of transportation, I took my last subway ride to the apartment late Saturday night, packed up and checked out about 5:30 a.m. I flagged down a taxi who took me to the New York Port Authority. I rode a bus from the Newark Airport when I arrived to the Port Authority and now I was making this trip in reverse. The bus runs about every 15 minutes from Manhattan to the airport. I reached the airport and checked my luggage and purchased a bit of breakfast. My 4.5 hour flight from Newark to Phoenix was uneventful. I waited in the Phoenix airport baggage claim area until the last bag came off--and none of them included my bags. So...I went to the airline to report my missing bags. To my relief the airline worker found my two bags. Apparently I checked in so early in Newark, they put my bags on a previous flight. I took the airport shuttle to the economy parking, found my car and drove home. It made for a long day of travel.

Saturday I was a panelist at a workshop about blogging. Here's what the program said about our session and the various panelists:

(G) Successful (Money-Making!) Blogging

If you're thinking of creating a blog or looking to improve your current template, this is a must-attend session. Panelists will show how to achieve professional results when it comes to generating buzz, cultivating an audience, and writing the kind of content that gets you noticed by editors. Bonus: the latest tech details.

Moderator: T.C. Cameron, ASJA, blogs via TheWriteReferee.com. He has written for The Ann Arbor News, The Detroit News, The Lakeland Ledger, Great Lakes Golf Magazine, Referee Magazine, others. T.C. Cameron has recently authored his first title, Metro Detroit's High School Football Rivalries, offered by Arcadia Publishing. Cameron recalls the best games from prep football's golden age in the Motor City. Release due August, 2008. Cameron also blogs three times a week for The Oakland Press, which syndicates Cameron's TheWriteReferee to a 27-paper network of statewide dailies throughout Michigan.

Bruce E. Mowday, President of The Mowday Group, Inc., spent more than 20 years in journalism, winning a number of writing awards for investigative journalism, before founding his own company in 1997. Mowday's complete endeavors are found at Mowday.com. Bruce is a contributing editor for a business magazine and freelances stories for newspapers, historical organization newsletters and other publications. He has also hosted his own weekly radio show on two stations. Mowday is the author of eight published books, including The Selling of an Author, a marketing guide for authors.

Jerame Rief, owner of DataOne Solutions, Inc., a technology consulting firm specializing in building web-based solutions as they relate to the needs of writers, entrepreneurs and building business platforms.

Patrick Stiegman, is vice president and executive editor/producer for ESPN.com. Stiegman, who joined the award-winning site in April 2004, oversees ESPN.com's day-to-day public and premium sports content, including news, commentary, analysis, enterprise and community. His role includes collaborative strategic planning and content development across ESPN Digital Media. He has editorial oversight of the award-winning premium service, ESPN Insider, with additional strategic responsibilities for numerous business objectives. He was named vice president in November 2006 and added the title of executive producer in June 2007. Before joining ESPN, Stiegman spent five years as vice president/editor of Journal Interactive, the award-winning Internet division of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, where he was responsible for editorial, business and strategic development of Journal Communication's new media initiatives.

W. Terry Whalin, ASJA board member, writer and literary agent, is an active blogger who is always updating his expertise on retaining an audience. He is the author of numerous books."

Moderator T.C. Cameron included some information about the panel on his blog along with some powerpoints from it at this link. Here's my handout that I created for this session. Notice my first link on this page. It's for a free Ebook about blogging. I hope it will be a useful resource for you as well. Our session about blogging was packed with hardly an empty seat in the room.

Over the next few days, I plan to tell you about some of my meetings at publishing houses across New York City, some of the free ideas that I found in the ASJA conference Idea Marketplace plus a bit of extra entertainment that I took in while there. As a hint, I will tell you that New York is one of the few place in the world to experience such clean family entertainment. I promise to tie each detail to the world of writing and publishing.

Finally, not that anyone is keeping track, this entry marks my 800th post about The Writing Life. Make sure you use the wealth of information here and the search tool in the right-hand column of the site.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Publishing Experiments

Late last week online I saw several articles about the new HarperCollins imprint which is trying a different publishing model. The headline blared, "New HarperCollins Unit Cutting Advances; Refusing Returns" Now there's a way to get some attention!

The article about this new unit in The New York Times contains a ray of hope for authors. While there is little or no advance, the publisher hopes to offer authors a 50-50 split on the profits from the book. “Typically authors earn royalties of 15 percent of profits after they have paid off their advances. Many authors never earn royalties.” Yes, I’ve read 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance. A 50-50 split provides hope that authors can earn consistent income from their publishers—provided the book sells which is always a big caveat.

The other area of innovation involves not allowing returns for retailers. Many authors are unaware that booksellers have books in their stores on consignment. If they don't sell in a period, then they are returned to the publisher for a full credit or refund. This policy is a hold-over from the Great Depression according to Making The List by Michael Korda. Retailers complained about the risk of book publishing even then and the policy was established--and it has not been reversed. Can you think of another major product which operates in this way? I applaud HarperCollins for attempting something different about this long-term challenge for any publisher.

My entries about The Writing Life are going to be thin (if at all) for the rest of this week. Early tomorrow, I'm headed to New York City and a series of meetings for the rest of the week. I'll be speaking at the Grand Hyatt next door to Grand Central Station on Saturday as a part of the American Society of Journalists and Authors conference. I'm on a panel about blogging and it should be fun. I'm certain I will learn some new things that I'll come back here and capture.

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Friday, April 04, 2008

Platform Defined--One More Time

In the right-hand column of these entries on The Writing Life, I have a Google search tool. If you search for the word "platform," then it will show up these pages of entries. From a comment on yesterday's entry, Krista asked for a definition. I've written about platform before but I thought I'd take a different approach and give you some insight from some other people.

A quick Google search took me to some articles on this matter and I hope something that will be of help to you. I was interested to see Joe Wikert's article from May 1, 2005 titled Blogging as a New Book Platform. Joe is a Vice President and Executive Publisher in the Professional/Trade division of John Wiley & Sons, Inc. He's talking about the role of blogs in helping authors raise their visibility in the marketplace.

One of the more interesting articles came from Rick Frishman from Planned Television Arts called The Newest Barrier to Being Published. For this article dated March 14, 2008, Rick interviews a number of people in publishing in different roles. The article shows in detail the emphasis that publishers put on authors having a national presence or platform.

I was interested to see the ideas from Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen about How to Build a Writing Platform. I like the emphasis in this article that a platform can be built.

Michael Drew has an interesting article: Your Marketing Platform--No Longer Optional. If you want to do some serious reading on this topic then follow this link because you will be amazed at what Drew has put together. If you want to about Drew's reputation putting people on the top of the New York Times bestseller list, then look at this link.

Don't let these articles about platform discourage you. Instead hopefully they will empower you to take action to raise your own visibility in the marketplace.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

Imitate Good Ideas

I am constantly looking for good ideas that I can imitate and apply to my own writing life and publishing work. This entry on The Writing Life is going to cover a number of ideas. My hope is that you will apply these insights to your own writing situation.

First, I want tell you about something that I had heard about but never actually seen until yesterday. You've probably heard about the book Mistaken Identity because of the intense media on television about it. It was the theme of yesterday's Oprah Show. Howard Books was the publisher for this book and a former colleague sent me a short email that Mistaken Identity will be at the top of the New York Times bestseller list on April 13, 2008. OK, today is April 3rd so how did he know that information? I've heard these lists are compiled about 12 days out from the actual publication date. The email announcing the news about this book included a PDF attachment. At first, I opened the PDF, saw the placement and celebrated. Later in the day, I looked closer at this attachment and printed it. This document was the full extended New York Times list for April 13. It was a new experience for me.

If You've Written A Memoir...

A couple of days ago, Alex Mandossian interviewed Julie Andrews. You can listen to the interview now in replay or look at this page for the replay. The book is a memoir yet notice what they are giving away to people who come to this book tour website. It's not a portion of the new book but instead it is a series of tips about how to get the most out of reading with your child. Yes the site pushes people toward the memoir but Julie Andrews and her daughter, Emma Walton Hamilton, also have a series of children's books. Notice this sort of cross-marketing effort that I found fascinating. My question if you are pitching or writing a memoir. Can you imitate this good idea for your project?

If You Have A Book To Promote...

I've pointed out Book Tour in some past entries but not for some time. The creators are from Wired magazine so savvy about using the Internet tools. It's free and I did a bit of experimentation. With some simple HTML, you can make your profile as well as the events "clickable" or so they open a new window and lead someone to another website. Here's my author profile on Book Tour. It didn't take much of my time (always something writers seem to be concerned about in this marketing area) yet I believe it is well worth doing. I updated my profile with my forthcoming travel schedule for this year and included the various conferences and speaking dates. Take a few minutes and imitate this idea for your own writing work. You never know how it will pay off for you.

If You Need A Platform...

Whether it is in the queries or book proposals that come across my agency work or the questions I am asked at a writers conference or in any other setting, most writers seem to understand publishers are looking for authors with platforms. I want to be clear because publishers are not building platforms but looking for authors who already have built the platform. This situation has been true in nonfiction for some time but it is also secondary but important for fiction authors. Many writers groan when they hear this news, feel rejected and slink off somewhere to moan to each other. In my view, they need to stop such actions and begin to build their platform. Yes, it will take time. It takes time to learn your writing craft and marketing skills and many other things. Start a newsletter and then regularly build your audience. Again I'm going to point to this PDF resource which is a 150-page FREE Ebook. You have to take action, get this book, print it out and study it. Then start your own newsletter and audience building for your own platform.

I've mentioned this example in the past but please bear with me because I've got some updated information--so read carefully. In this platform area, I've mentioned New York Times bestselling author Debbie Macomber. Several years ago I was at a conference with Debbie and she orchestrated a mob scene for her book signing at the local Barnes and Nobles in Amarillo, Texas. If you haven't done it, check out her guestbook and the data that she is collecting. About a year ago, a Seattle newspaper interview mentioned that Debbie had over 70,000 names on her list. An article in the March 31 issue of Publishers Weekly shows that Debbie continues to grow this list of readers and now it is over 100,000 strong. Notice the amazement of her fellow novelist in the article but also how Debbie is using this list. First, she has grown this list over 25 years in the business and second, she uses the data to tell people about her book signings in a particular area of the country and build new readers. I believe it's another good idea that any author can imitate. It will not happen overnight but begin to take some steps in this direction for your writing life.

Some of these practices are easy but will take time and investment. Are you willing to chisel away at it and make it happen? I'm encouraging you to take action and imitate the good ideas that come across your path.

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