Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Importance of Interviewing

There are many different types of writing. Whether you are working on a book manuscript or a magazine article, one of the best skills that you can continue to use and develop is to interview others. Whether you are looking for great quotations for your article or background research, interviewing is a critical skill.

I want to encourage you to watch a few minutes of Alex Mandossian as he talks about this important skill of interviewing. Also make sure you take the brief marketing quiz to see what you can learn from that simple exercise. Also the $20 preview call is coming up on June 5th. Every author (no matter whether you have published one book or no books or many books) will learn a great deal from this inexpensive call. The call previews the Virtual Book Tour Systems course where I will be teaching an hour about book proposal creation. Just reading the VBT page, anyone can learn a great deal of information.

I hope you find this information useful. And if you just want to see something funny, then check out this YouTube video for an "author book tour" launch. If you've been involved in such matters you will realize the truth behind the humor.

In the last couple of weeks, I've thought about these entries a great deal but not created much material. It will be even harder for me to add entries over the next few weeks. I leave later today to drive to Los Angeles for Author University 101 tomorrow then a couple of days at Book Expo America. I return home for a day, then I leave for Write To Publish in the Chicago area. I'll be teaching the Freelance Career Track where every participant has to have published at least one book. I've worked hard over the last few days to create some fresh information for those sessions.

While I am away from these entries for a few days, I hope you will make use of the rich resource of material in the search tool in the right hand column of The Writing Life. Keep looking for fresh ways to grow in your writing craft and knowledge about the marketplace.

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Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Make An Effort To Reach Out

Writing tends to be a solitary activity. You have an idea for a magazine article so you write your query letter and mail (or email) it to the editor. Then you wait for a response and many writers almost wear a path back and forth to their mailbox (or electronic mailbox) trying to receive an answer.

If you receive a response, even if it is a rejection, you can know you reached out and communicated with that editor. If you don't receive a response, then after a healthy amount of time (which varies depending on the particular details such as your relationship with that editor and their guidelines), then you have a choice. You can either send a little follow-up note to see if they got your pitch in the first place. Communications can be erratic and for whatever reason, some times it simply doesn't get through to the other person. A gentle question can be OK and even gain focused attention from the other person and positive action--or instant rejection.

Yesterday I wrote one of these gentle prods to a magazine editor where I wrote them two weeks earlier and hear nothing. I blamed it that possibly my email didn't get there in the first place. My follow-up email initiated an exchange where I picked up a definite magazine assignment with this editor. It turns out she did get my first email, had processed it internally at a meeting with the other editors and was ready to give me the assignment. We exchanged four or five emails yesterday to refine and specify my assignment and now I'm off and running. The right type of follow-up (learn it) works.

Or you can decide the lack of response is the same as a rejection and move on to a new idea and a new pitch. It is often that persistence and perseverance that gains achievement for the writer. I've found too many people give up too easily in their search for the right person with the right idea for their writing.

Beyond persistence with your pitching ideas, I want to encourage you today to make the effort to reach out to someone who knows less than you about the publishing world. What can you do to help some individual within the community?

Your efforts can be a simple email of encouragement or passing along a book to someone that touched you in a special manner. Maybe you point out an unusual resource such as a free Ebook like my Straight Talk From The Editor or Right Writing News.

Often you will never know the difference that effort makes in the life of someone else. Occasionally you hear about the difference you made for someone else at a critical juncture in their life and you stepped in with that dab of encouragement. It's rare for me but occasionally someone will begin a conversation at a writer's conference or in an email about the significant way that my words helped them. When this experience comes, I'm humbled and appreciative for the opportunity to help. I'm constantly aware that throughout my writing life, I have many resources that have poured into my life--people and books and conferences and many other sources.

Two days ago in church I was reminded of the importance of reaching out to others. They called two recent high school graduates to the front and celebrated their achievement, then gathered the parents and siblings around them for prayer about their future plans. For a moment, I was transported to my own uncertain days at that juncture of my life with I graduated from high school. When I left home I was headed to the campus of one of the largest universities in my state of Indiana, Indiana University.

I went off to college with a New Testament among my books called Reach Out, which was a Living Bible. I tucked it on the shelf of my college dorm and didn't open that book. In those early weeks as a freshman, another new freshman named Lucy came into my room and noticed the book. Excited to see that New Testament, she called it to my attention. She was reaching out to see if I was also a Christian and we had something in common. Instead I downplayed the fact that I even had this book on my shelf. I was in a rebellious mode from my parents and upbringing. It was almost a year and a half later that I had a life-changing experience which I captured in an article called Two Words That Changed My Life. Looking back I appreciate the fact that Lucy who was from Tennessee made the effort and reached out to me.

What are you doing today to reach out to other writers and encourage them with their writing? You may protest that you are also new to the writing world and don't know much. If you know anything, you can use that information to encourage others. Point to a valued resource. I've listed many of them in these entries. Encourage them to sign up for the updates of these entries on The Writing Life or forward this entry or point them toward a resource like Book Proposals That Sell. I wrote this book with the intention to help writers submit better proposals--but also I wrote it so I could receive better proposals.

People love to complain about how they are working hard and not getting any place. Or how they are marketing without results or how they are sending out their writing and getting rejected. If you are one of those complainers (or have a friend who is complaining), encourage them to make an effort to reach out to others. They will feel better for the effort and they can be a part of the solution for someone else.

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Friday, May 16, 2008

Basics Can Work For New Authors

Whether you are just starting out as an author or writer or maybe you've been around for some time and want to get a new presence online. In this entry about The Writing Life, I wanted to give a few ideas about how to use the basics with your website to easily build a presence. At first, it may look complicated but it's not.

A long time ago, I learned the value of creating my own website. Yes, I could hire someone to do it for me. Many years ago I actually went in the outsourcing direction--and I found it frustrating. At times I couldn't get in touch with my web person--and every time I wanted to make the smallest and easiest change, it involved someone else's time--so I was charged for it.

The first step is to figure out what theme or topic you are going to address on your website. Who is your target audience or reader? Is it for a particular book or author? You need to focus on that theme so anyone who comes to the site will clearly know what they are getting and you can build repeat visitors.

I personally use one of the largest domain places, Godaddy.com Find an available domain and right before you purchase it, do a Google search for "godaddy coupon" and you will often find a discount code that you can use to get some money off the domain purchase.

After you have your domain, you need a hosting site. Choose one with flexibility and that hosts many websites and provides good service. The one that I'm using and recommending these days is Hostgator. It's inexpensive and you can do many things with it. Previously I was recommending Homestead. I still have some of my material there but I'm slowly moving everything to the new place. Homestead is still a good place but doesn't allow me to do some of the technical things that I want to do these days.

One of the options to quickly set up your site on Hostgator is to start a WordPress Blog. For an example, I've done this process for my terrywhalin.com site. The search engines like blogs and will pick up on the fact that you are using WordPress--even if it doesn't look or function like a blog. It will help your overall traffic and exposure online.

As I mentioned earlier this week, with your basic site, set up a newsletter and start the process of being directly connected to your audience. Pick up this free ebook about newsletter creation and read it carefully then begin the communications process. It's a step I recommend for every author or would-be author. Jump in at any point and if you do it consistently, it will reap rewards for you.

Finally I wanted to point out an article which yesterday appeared in my local newspaper, The Arizona Republic. I found this same article online and it's about Henry Winkler and his new children's book. Notice in the article Winkler is promoting his 14th Hank Zipzer book called Enter At Your Own Risk. I was fascinated with his struggle with dyslexia and how he's overcome it--yet notice Winkler's co-author or the writer for the series, Lin Oliver. I instantly recognized Oliver's name as the long-term Executive Director of the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators.

Many would-be book authors look for their own entrance into the marketplace yet struggle with their lack of visibility. If you are in this situation, can you get near someone high profile, join forces with them and use their platform to propel your writing into high gear? It's something else to think about for your writing life.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Everyone Starts Small So Get Started

When I talk with would-be book authors about starting an email newsletter or an ezine, I often hear, "No one will be interested in my newsletter and my list will be so small." Or "What in the world will I write about or use to fill the newsletter (or starting a blog)?" Here's the truth of the matter: everyone starts small. When you start any publication, you put yourself, your spouse and a few close friends to pad your newsletter list and get it going.

The key is to start and then consistently put out your newsletter. It doesn't have to be often but it does have to be consistent and continually grow. Many people talk about writing and even repeatedly go to writers conferences, but the ones who succeed are the ones who continue to grow in their craft--and they consistently write. They write for magazines and they write fiction and nonfiction but they keep working at their writing.

I'm suggesting you can do the same thing when it comes to growing a newsletter. Over four years ago, I started Right-Writing News I had less than 50 subscribers. Today I have thousands of subscribers and this list continues to grow. Yes, I've had a few people unsubscribe but that happens for many reasons and some of them have even unsubscribed then returned. It's a free newsletter and I've produced 32 issues. If you look at the newsletter, I don't write all of it but get articles from my friends and those articles promote their books and other work. You can do the same with your newsletter. It doesn't have to be as much work as it appears. You can download a free 150-page Ebook about this topic but the key is to get it started and grow your relationships with individuals. Newsletters, blogs or a book project or any type of consistent writing project takes work. Just keep the big picture in mind and take the plunge.

In yesterday's mail, I received the May 12th issue of Publishers Weekly and noticed two listings from their bestseller list which are connected to this matter of growing your newsletter list. In past entries about The Writing Life, I've mentioned Debbie Macomber and how she continues to grow her newsletter list and use it. Her new release, Twenty Wishes, is #3 on the hardcover bestsellers fiction list. Debbie is on a 20-city tour to promote the book and at a recent signing in Chicago fans lined up for more than two hours to meet her. Then the magazine says, "Many attendees learned about the signings through e-mails from Macomber. At every appearance, she invites readers to join her e-mail list--already over 90,000 names. Mira reports 480,000 copies in print (of Twenty Wishes)." Macomber has established a personal connection to her audience.

If you flip the page in your Publishers Weekly over to the paperback bestseller/ trade list, you will notice the second entry or Hungry Girl from Lisa Lillien which makes its first week of appearance on the bestseller list. Beside the entry, here's part of what is in the magazine, "Lillien began her Hungry Girl (hungry-girl.com) in 2004 with 100 subscribers; now, she has 440,000. When she announced the book to her readers a month before the April 29 pub date, preorders at online retailers racked up astronomical numbers--it hit #1 at BarnesandNoble.com and #2 at Amazon.com and stayed in the top 10 for the month of April. Griffin (the publisher) reports 400,000 copies after eight printings and expects that figure to increase." Lillien's newsletter is daily which is quite ambitious. You don't have to start there--but do get started.

The value of your list and that direct connection to the author will be evident in your book proposal and pitches to publishers. It will pay off.

As another resource, if you are near Los Angeles, I encourage you to attend Author 101 University, which I mentioned several days ago. In preparation for this conference, three of the speakers have recorded preview calls (Preview call #1 with Brendon Burchard), (Preview Call #2 Steve Gardner) and (Preview Call #3 with Hollywood Agent Ken Atchity). You can follow each of these three links and download these teleseminars to your computer or iPod and listen to them--and profit from the free information. The key--just like this newsletter issue--is to act. There are limited available seats at Author 101 University but it could be the boost you need for your writing life. I'd encourage you to act before the doors close to this unique event.

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Tuesday, May 13, 2008

It's All In The Pitch

The pitches for book ideas pour into my email box and mailbox. My decision is made in seconds. If you create a moving single page letter, then you've often created something which is much more challenging than it appears.

If you could sit on this side of the desk, you'd be surprised how many of these pitches contain simple flaws. They lack some element such as the word count--or they have an unrealistic word count. For example, the pitch that arrived this past week with a complete nonfiction proposal and manuscript which is about 130,000 words--way over the typical word-length. In some rare cases, I'm going to work with the person because they have a compelling idea or a compelling connection to the marketplace. These situations are the exceptions rather than the wave of submissions. The rest will receive a form rejection letter.

In the past, I've mentioned the Amazon Short program. I've got an Amazon Short called Straight Talk From The Editor, 18 Keys To A Rejection-Proof Submission. As you can see from the illustration with this post, some times this Amazon Short is in the list of their bestsellers (as on this past Sunday). While the bestselling listings change each hour, one title seems to be firmly in first place: How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman. I believe it's because Lukeman is giving it away for free--while the other Amazon Shorts are 49 cents. For a table of contents for this excellent 76-page document, check out this link. He recommends writers pour increased energy into crafting this query pitch. If you don't put forth the energy into it, you may never have the chance for an editor or literary agent to read your work--because you will be rejected repeatedly. Also Lukeman writes about how easily many writers give up then encourages the writer to create a solid and detailed plan of attack to get their idea into the marketplace. In today's crowded marketplace, such persistence is a necessity.

As I've mentioned recently my Amazon Short is available in an updated format without cost (free). Just follow this link and you can download it and learn from it. From looking at how Noah Lukeman set up his excellent Amazon Short, I can tell that he has little interest in selling his other books directly to the writing community. Why?

First, Amazon restricts the links inside of their Amazon Shorts. They are only "clickable" to other Amazon products and do not take you to other places online such as the author's website. When someone picks up the Amazon Short on the Amazon site, the author doesn't have any personal connection to the customer. Like most books in a bookstore, the author has little connection to their audience. With the volume of new books in the marketplace, I believe would-be authors are wise to develop electronic newsletters and other ways to connect to the audience.

Even with these slight drawbacks, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of How to Write a Great Query Letter by Noah Lukeman--and study it, then apply it to your own writing life. If you want to get a book published with a traditional publisher or get a literary agent, reading this Ebook might be your tipping point between success and rejection.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Use Power Words In Your Writing

Make Your Words Sell

Are you using power words in your correspondence to editors or your news releases? How do you learn these techniques of persuasion with words?

Or you may be saying, "I don't need to learn how to make my words sell because I'm a fiction-writing storyteller. All I need to do is writing a pageturner."

Yes it is important to be a good storyteller but will you be able to compel the literary agent or editor at a publishing house to even read your novel in the first place? That particular push will come from your query letter or email pitch letter. What are you doing in that letter to grab attention and persuade?

Then after the book is written and a publisher has contracted the book and gets it on their schedule, how are you persuading people to buy your book? Again it will come down to learning how to make your words sell.

OK, I used the most remote and difficult writing example in my introduction but persuasive writing is important for every writer at any level of experience--beginner or professional. I've found there is always more techniques to be learned in this area and I wanted to point to a FREE 258-page Ebook resource called Make Your Words Sell! Over the last eight years, thousands of people have purchased this Ebook for $29.95 and now you can download it without charge.

Here's a peek at what you will learn in this book:

*Why Most Web Copy Fails

*How To Write To Fit The Big Picture

*Thrive Or Dive With Your Unique Selling Position

*The Power Of Headlines

*How To Read A Mindset

*Words That Trigger Automatic Response

I recommend you follow this link and download the full Ebook saving it to your computer.

This Ebook is one that you will want to print out the full copy, then curl up in your favorite chair with a yellow highlighter and study it. Occasionally the book includes links to other websites. You will want to go to the version you've saved and check out these additional resources.

Whether you are attempting to convince a magazine editor to assign you an article or snag a top literary agent with your latest nonfiction book idea or you are trying to get a children's editor interested in your children's book, Make Your Words Sell! will help every writer--and the price is right.

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Sunday, May 11, 2008

I'm Drawn To Creativity and Innovation

The dual covers on this week's issue of The New Yorker magazine were just a hint of the excellent content called The Innovators Issue. One of the consistent questions that people will ask me is about where writers get their ideas? One bit of insight into this question comes from reading about innovators. Just check out Malcolm Gladwell's article Annals of Innovation. If you are not a subscriber to The New Yorker (as I am), then get over to your local bookstore and pick up a copy of this issue. It's well worth it.

One of the details that is documented in this article is that people can have the same idea at exactly the same time. No one is stealing anything but the same idea can be proposed from two different parts of the country at the same time. I've seen it in the magazine and book business. Particularly new writers are worried about such things but the real question is who will act on their idea with excellence and be the first one to get it into the marketplace, then promote that idea to others?

I continue to see writers struggle to put together a good proposal--and other would-be book authors haven't even investigated the world of publishing to understand that for a nonfiction book they need a book proposal instead of a manuscript. I regularly hear authors complain and groan about doing marketing for their books--yet it doesn't take loads of effort. It does take consistency.

For example, last week I was on the telephone with an editor at a publishing house and mentioned my Book Proposals That Sell to see if this editor knew about the availability and focus of my book. As a former acquisitions editor, I wrote the book to get better proposals. I offered to send a review copy and he wanted to read the book. Notice I initiated the conversation, then followed up and sent him the book. It did not consume my day and only took a few minutes of effort. Will it pay off? I have no idea but in the big picture of sales for the book, I suspect it helps the overall efforts. You can do the same thing with your books or writing work. Look for innovative ways to incorporate these actions into the natural conversation of your life.

I've pointed to The New Yorker and this Innovators Issue as a resource for fostering your own creativity and innovation. I want to quickly look at three other resources. In some ways I feel surrounded with this theme.

This weekend my wife and I watched the DVD version of Enchanted. It is an incredibly joyful and innovative film. If you haven't caught it, then watch this version. Several months ago when it was in the theaters, I saw it twice and my wife caught it three times. Yes, it was that good. If you get this DVD version of Enchanted make sure you look at the bonus features and notice the team creative effort which was poured into this production. This point is emphasized repeatedly in the little clips with the actors and director. Here's another detail that I picked up watching this material. The idea for Enchanted was batted around the Disney Studios for nine years before it was completed. I would encourage you to locate and learn about creativity and innovation from this film.

Here's another resource for you to increase your information about creativity and innovation. If you are in the Los Angeles area or going there for the Book Expo America, I recommend you check out this one day workshop called Author 101 University. Why? It's a one-day workshop that will be crammed with innovative ideas for authors and publishers. If you are in the publishing community, I practically guarantee your head will be crammed with plans and ideas from these sessions. I personally know a number of these speakers and have listened to the others. These presenters know inside information about how to sell books in today's marketplace and you can personally benefit from a day at Author 101 University.

In my recent post, I mentioned a free 7-Question Author Profile Quiz. Another resource to foster your own creativity and innovation is to learn about the Virtual Book Tour Secrets. I recommend every author or would-be author or anyone in publishing can profit from just reading the landing page and following the various links. Virtual Book Tour Secrets is a proven method to sell books quicker, faster and with less human effort. To take this training you don't even have to leave the comfort of your own home. Whether you take the full training or only attend the $20 preview call (this link goes live in seven days so go there and bookmark it), you can get a creative and innovative boost from this session.

These types of opportunities to grow in your writing and knowledge about publishing abound--if you are aware of them. Today I'm celebrating how I'm drawn to creativity and innovation.

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Friday, May 09, 2008

The 7-Question Author Profile Quiz

I have a quick multiple choice question for you to answer today.

Here it is:

"Which of these three statements best describes your current or future book or info marketing project?"

(a) "I'm a published author who needs more sales and marketing advice with my current campaign."

(b) "I have a written manuscript that I need to complete in order to publish it into book or info product form."

(c) "I have a book in my heart that I need to write first and then learn how to promote it."

What's your answer going to be?

No matter what your ANSWER is, that's just one of the 7-Question Author Profile Quiz my colleague, Alex Mandossian, has developed to see how you stack up against other authors and infopreneurs worldwide!

To get free instant access to this Quiz, you'll need to click this link.

The Quiz takes about 60-seconds to take and you'll get your "Author Profile" a few minutes after you're done. It's fast. It's easy. And it's fun so take this Quiz now.

If you're an author, info marketer, small business owner or Entrepreneurial CEO and you have a book in your heart, then this "Author Quiz" is a must do for you.

Also after taking the Quiz, you'll also be eligible to attend a live tele-training on June 5th (2 hours) that will teach you how to sell more books (or info products) faster, better and with less human effort. Here's the link again to the "Author Quiz."

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Monday, May 05, 2008

The Horror Of Typos

When someone calls to your attention a typographical error in a printed document, how do you respond? Do you shrug it off to someone else's responsibility or leap into action? And what if an even worse situation happens--the person points out the typos in a very public forum--yet doesn't bother to send the information directly to you? It may sound far-fetched but it does happen as you will see in this true story. One of the truths that I've learned about publishing and writing is that the devil is in the details.

At a rare moment, I look at the customer reviews of some of my current books which are listed on Amazon. I have the active books organized in my Amazon profile so it's pretty simple to check them. In past entries, I've written about the Amazon Short program and in particular, my Amazon Short, Straight Talk From The Editor, 18 Keys To A Rejection-Proof Submission. For the first six months of their contract, Amazon had an exclusive on this project but then it switched to a non-exclusive relationship. It continues to sell on Amazon yet you can get the same material free at this location. Because I have the source document for my version, I can easily update it and keep it current. Also the links inside this version are "clickable" something that Amazon doesn't allow with their Amazon Shorts. While the text is the same, the format and appearance is different to make the two products distinct.

Imagine my horror when I read the four star review from Desert Gal dated February 17, 2008 which had the headline, "Good Tips...Poor Spelling." I appreciated the kind words then I read the details of the second paragraph. When I opened my version and searched for the specifics from Desert Gal, yes, I located these misspelled words in the Amazon Short. It has been well over a year since I've read this material. I put it through several checks--and Amazon has an editor who reviewed it then mostly worked to format the document. The homophone (tender vs tinder) was completely missed. I corrected these errors and they are not present in my version. Now I need to write Amazon and see how these issues are resolved in their version.

If I had not read the reviews, these errors would still be present in the version. Instead of copying me or contacting me directly, this former editor chose to write her review on Amazon which is not the best way to reach me. If you find some typo in a book or published document, it is much better (and direct) to contact the author or the publisher and get it resolved--instead of airing it in such a public forum then hoping the author will read it.

This morning I was looking at a bonus offering for a new book which has 101 bonus gifts. One of the gifts from an author named Tim had his name spelled "Time." I pulled up my Snag-It program, copied the screen and sent a little note directly to this author. Then he is informed and can go through whatever steps to fix this matter.

Despite the best efforts and check systems from publishers, mistakes do creep into printed materials. The good news is that they can often be fixed. Last year in my daily Bible reading, I found a small section which made no sense. I pulled up my Bible program and discovered about 50% of a verse was missing in this printed book. I took a few minutes to contact my friend, the editorial director of this publishing house. He wrote back and expressed appreciation. About a week or so later to my complete surprise, the publisher sent a leather-bound version of this Bible with a handwritten note of appreciation. With that type of reaction, if I find something else in this book, I'm inclined to pass the information to them. From my experience, the direct approach to the author or publisher is often the best approach for resolution.

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Friday, May 02, 2008

The Wrong Multiple Submission

For many years, I have been reading submissions from writers. I reviewed these submissions as an acquisitions editor and now as a literary agent. In Book Proposals That Sell, I advocate simultaneous submissions (Secret #19) because of the slow nature of publishing.

Writers are creative people and over the years I've seen some "different" submissions. Several years ago, one published novelist before I had a chance to read and respond to her submission would periodically email me a revised manuscript and ask that I substitute it for the original submission. I was glad to know this author was continually working to revise her story but when I got the fourth substitution, I'd had enough of this nonsense and unprofessionalism. Without providing the reason (which in general editors and literary agents do not provide), I sent this author my form rejection letter.

As I explained in Book Proposals That Sell, writers can't assume that the publishing professional is reading their email or their physical mail every day. We travel and attend conferences and sales meetings plus other immediate priorities push these unsolicited submissions into a "to be read" stack.

Within the last month, I've received a different type of multiple submission and I thought there was value to tell you about it. The cover letter included a date, "The Whalin Agency" then the words, "Please substitute the enclosed in ______MS." Then a signature and email address combined with some strange manuscript pages.

It looked a bit strange and I had not opened the original submission so I had no idea what was being substituted. Then several days later in my mail, I received another letter from this author with different pages to be substituted. Another day I received another thin envelope with different substitute pages. The arrival of the third envelope with substitute pages triggered an email form rejection (which if I had been on top of my submissions would have happened with the first submission since it was totally off the wall).

This writer was clueless about the memorable impression that he was making with these substitutions. I'm certain he was innocent on his part with little thought about how his actions were coming across to the receiver. Whatever you write, take a few minutes and consider how it will be received. Then your pitch will be seriously considered and possibly you will stay out of the rejection pile.

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