Wednesday, September 24, 2008

It Makes No Sense To Me

Recently a fiction author sent an email query to my literary agency about his work. He had a Christian contemporary novel and expressed his frustration about the lack of response and attention from editors and agents. In fact, that attitude seemed to ooze out of his pitch letter (which should have been a bit of an indicator to me).

If you read these entries, you know that as an author, former book acquisitions editor and now a literary agent, I want to help writers understand the marketplace and become more successful with their pitches. Most writers have no understanding of the sheer volume of submissions which editors and agents receive. Dan Poynter in The Self-Publishing Manual estimates there are millions of proposals, manuscripts and queries which are circulating around the country. I have a small portion in my office so it doesn't take much for me to believe that number.

For this novelist, I told him that nonfiction out sells fiction and that there are more people trying to write fiction than nonfiction--but if he still wanted to send me his proposal and sample chapters, then I would have a look and get back to him.

Even with my caveats, this author sent me his material. Late one night recently I pulled his submission out of the envelop to have a quick look at it. His synopsis was OK then I flipped to his sample chapters--which started at Chapter Two then also threw in Chapter Eleven. Yes, the sample chapters were two and eleven!

I've read hundreds of these submissions and I still see authors select random chapters from a novel to send to the possible agent or editor. It makes no sense to me. When I pick up a printed book in a bookstore, I don't start reading in the middle. I turn to the opening pages and see if I like it. If I like the opening, then maybe the rest of the book is worth purchasing. The opening chapter lays the groundwork for the whole novel. It introduces the characters and the setting and the difficulty or problem for the entire book.

It's also true for a nonfiction book proposal and sample chapters. The first chapter is critical because like in the novel, it lays the groundwork for the subsequent chapters. It's almost impossible to evaluate a work from looking at the middle of it.

Let me close this entry with six steps to stand out in your submission:

1. Use my tips in Straight Talk From The Editor -- the free Ebook.

2. Send a complete proposal and the initial chapters of your writing and only send compelling writing.

3. How do you know if your novel or nonfiction is compelling? Check it out with a colleague. Join a critique group. Write and rewrite it and please don't fire it off without some serious thinking about how it will come across.

4. Check and double-check the name you are sending. Even this past week, a writer queried me at my submission email address for the agency which began, "Dear Ms. Wagner..." When I wrote the author asking about it, she apologized and her second attempt began, "Dear Mr. Whalen..." These exchanges happened rapid fire and within a 20 minute period. If you didn't notice, she misspelled my last name. I fired back with a form rejection. I don't need to work with such sloppy submissions. Yes she made an impression but not a good one.

5. Continue to learn what factors in a proposal or submission make an editor sit up, notice and get excited about it. One of the best tools that you can easily use is the session I did with eight different top editors and literary agents called Secrets About Proposals. Go over there and access this information, download the audio, listen to it. Then download the written study guide material, print it, read it and study it.

6. If you are looking for an agent, make sure you get my free list of agents and also that you look at this short two-minute clip from David Henry Sterry about the easily overlooked art of agent research which on the Media Bistro site. It's common sense but few writers actually take these wise steps.

These actions will dramatically increase your possibilities for having your idea seriously considered. It's all any writer can ask from an editor--that their idea be seriously considered. Like I've mentioned before in these entries, your search as an author (and my search as an agent for my clients) is to send the right idea at the right time to the right place to the right editor. Yes, I understand there are many "rights" in the previous sentence. You are looking for a match.

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Get My Latest Free Ebook

This week I did a teleseminar with Platform Building Ideas For Every Author. As a part of that teleseminar, I created a free Ebook.

Here's where you can get it (just click the image):

Or you can go to this page.

I'm excited about this new resource and believe if writers study the contents, follow the clickable links, then they will make great strides to increase their attractiveness to literary agents and book publishers.

I look forward to your feedback about this new resource.

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Catch The Replay Of Yesterday's Teleseminar

Does life seem a bit overwhelming at times and you wonder which way to jump? It happens to all of us--yes all of us. It is key when you are in one of these situations to push aside all of the noise and find the energy to focus on the task at hand and move it ahead toward completion.

It's what I've been doing lately since I've had the best of intentions to handle some matters which are not getting handled. There are several explosions of activity going on at the moment.

Yesterday I participated in two different teleseminars. They were great exchanges of information but the one in particular that I want to tell you about was the connection between platform and book proposals. It was a great class and you can listen to the replay online at this link. Or you can right click here (save link as) and immediately download the teleseminar to your computer or iPod.

During the call Rosey Dow mentioned ten special bonuses where people who attend the Spread the Word conference will get a 15-minute one-on-one session free with me during the conference. I'll use that time to listen to your book idea and look over your proposal and give you valuable feedback. In addition to my bonus, you will receive a free 30-minute consultation with Rosey Dow.

In this hurry up world, it's hard to get anyone to give you this important feedback about your proposal and pitch. It could make the critical difference between serious interest from a publisher or literary agent or instant rejection. As I've mentioned before in these entries about The Writing Life. Some experts have estimated that at any given time there are millions of manuscripts and proposals which are in circulation.

Just yesterday I was talking with a publisher at a major house. He told me that they have been pressed internally to find anything fresh and different--even with the agent proposals which they have been receiving. It's all in the pitch and positioning. If you haven't listened to Secrets About Proposals. I recommend you get this resource because through one workshop you can hear the perspective of eight different leading agents and editors about what attracted them to a particular book idea.

I hope you will seriously consider the opportunity to learn in Atlanta. Hope to see you there. Follow this banner to learn more:

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Friday, September 12, 2008

What Is the Platform & Book Proposal Connection

On a regular basis, writers will ask me, "How can I build a platform to increase my visibility in the market?"

Throughout my over 20 years in publishing, I've learned one simple truth. Traditional publishers make powerful books. They have great distribution and attractive covers. Ready for the simple truth? Most of them are lacking in the ability to help their authors sell books. Authors can't delegate that responsibility to their publishers. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you still need to be building your platform. Fiction is based on a great story and nonfiction is based on a great idea, careful research and storytelling. Both types of writing need to have excellent storytelling--but my contention is that every author will be better positioned to actually reach customers and sell books if they have built an audience or platform which is hungry for their work.

Maybe you have questions about this process and where to start, then I've got a resource for you. Next Tuesday, September 16th, I will be talking with Rosey Dow about this matter and answering your questions. Follow this link to sign up and attend the live event. If you can't attend the event, then still sign up because the session will be recorded and you can listen to the replay.

But wait a minute because there is more. I've pulled together a number of my entries from The Writing Life into a free 31-page Ebook called Platform Building Ideas For Every Author. The links inside this book are active (clickable). I put it together so each reader can have a useful resource.

Next week's teleseminar is a preview call before the Spread the Word conference in Atlanta, Georgia. I will be speaking on this topic of platform and book proposal creation.

I hope you can participate in next week's teleseminar but I also hope to see you at the conference in Atlanta. Click the banner to learn more:

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Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Charged To Promote

Last week a savvy author contacted me about possibly reviewing his book. Over a year ago, this author published a book about the Presidents and had read the customer reviews of some of the presidential candidates on Amazon. Now I wrote one of those customer reviews so he contacted me to see if I would be interested in possibly reviewing his book. That's a smart idea worthy of your attention and possible imitation. You could look at books similar to your title and directly contact some of the people who have written customer reviews about possibly reviewing your book.

As I looked at the Amazon page for this book on the Presidents of the United States, I noticed the publisher released the book outside of the election year cycle. Like many Amazon pages where the author isn't actively involved, the book had scant information. The Search Inside The Book feature wasn't turned on and it had less than five customer reviews and no information about the book or the author.

In my email to the author, I encouraged him to proactively change the missing elements on the book page of Amazon. He instantly bounced back that he wanted those features to be activated but to turn them on was the publisher's responsibility. Yes, maybe sometimes the publisher will handle this matter but I hear authors large or small complain about the limited marketing and promotion efforts from their publishers. Instead of complaining, I recommend you roll up your sleeves and get involved in the promotion process--and not just for a season. I encourage you to spend a regular part of your writing life doing something to promote yourself and your book. It will pay off for you.

If you are concerned about your book sales (and every author should be concerned about continuing to sell books), then I encourage you to actively work on the pages where your books appear on Amazon.

1. Join Amazon Connect and create an Amazon blog and a connection to your website.

2. Take active steps to implement the Search Inside feature on the Amazon page. If your publisher hasn't activated this feature, you may have to take matters into your own hands (and that's OK--the publisher should applaud your proactive efforts to sell books).

Working with a small press for Book Proposals That Sell, this feature wasn't turned on for my book. I printed and signed the Amazon permission form, then mailed them a physical copy of the book. After several weeks, they scan the book and get the pages into their system and the Search Inside feature will be activated for your book. Customers make buying decisions every day by looking inside the book online, then purchasing the book. If you don't have that feature turned on, then you are potentially missing some sales.

3. Actively work to gather five star customer reviews for your book on Amazon. The five stars portion of my previous sentence is important because Amazon averages the stars. You want to have many reviews of your book on these pages. As readers send you little notes of appreciation for your book, when you thank them for their encouragement, take several additional seconds and suggest, "Could you cut and paste those kind comments into a Five Star Review on Amazon? I'd really appreciate it and here's the link to take you right to exact page on Amazon."

The Amazon links tend to be really long--so make sure you send them a short cut link. You create a short cut link using a free tool like snipurl.com or tinyurl.com. The short cut link almost guarantees that they will have an active link from your email they can use to go to the Amazon page for your book. This simple suggestion works and when you notice they have added their Five Star review, don't forget to send them a little email of appreciation. All of these steps work into the bigger picture for your promotional efforts.

While I've been talking about Amazon in this post, I encourage you to continually look for new promotional avenues. Raleigh Pinskey has some terrific new resources on her blog. Raleigh is the author of 101 Ways To Promote Yourself (another book I recommend). I wrote about her work earlier this year in this link.

The key point that I'm making in this entry is not to wait on someone else to promote your book. You should be charge to promote your own book.

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Health Insurance For Writers

If you are a freelance writer, where do you get your health insurance? It's a challenging question and there are nearly 47 million Americans or 16 percent of the population without health insurance in 2005 (the latest government data on this question).

Many people have a spouse that works a "day job" and that is their method to get insurance. My family wasn't in that situation so we had to pay for our own individual policy.

For years I've looked at different writer's groups and in particular watching for the health insurance benefit. I never found it--until the American Society of Journalists and Authors launched a nationwide health insurance benefit.

For more than 10 years, I've been a member of the ASJA. It's different from most other writer's organizations. For the majority of them, if you are living and breathing and will pay their dues, then you can join the group. It's different with the ASJA. You have to qualify for membership. There are many people who qualify for membership yet they have never considered joining--but I believe this nationwide health insurance benefit will be a draw to many people.

If you read this entry in the Writing Life and decide to join the ASJA for their many benefits (including health insurance), please do me a favor a add my name to spot on the membership application where it asks for a "referring member." Why? Because I will get 10% off my next year's dues and it's something that I've never had happen in my years in ASJA--even though I'm certain I've brought people into the organization. You can be the first one.

I want to celebrate this great new benefit for writers: a group health insurance policy.

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Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Shrinking Book Review Space

Space in printed magazines and newspapers for book reviews continues to shrink. In my local Arizona Republic newspaper, I have to search to find the information about books. They are not alone as the same pattern is happening across the country.

Publishers and book authors use the reviews for additional promotion. I've found some of the sentences from my book reviews show up in future press releases and even on book covers. It is a shame that such information in print continues to shrink.

In the August 25th issue of Publishers Weekly, Laurence Hughes write an interesting Soapbox column about this matter.

There is little the individual can do to combat the shrinking book review space. Instead they will have to turn to other sources for recommendations related to books such as blogs, online newsletters, online forums, and other means of promotion. It's just one more encouragement for every author to continue building that one on one connection to their audience.

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Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Unique Book Promotion

I am always on the look out for some unique book promotion techniques. Why? Because they stimulate ideas which I can possibly apply to my own books or the books of others where I have some involvement.

One of those promotions is starting today for a book called Click Here To Order by Joel Comm. It's just the type of book which I would read without the extra promotion because it profiles or tells the stories of successful Internet Marketers.

Click Here to Order

In fact, Joel Comm really ticks me off. “We’re living in the good old days,” he says. What the heck does that mean?

I thought the “good old days” are what people try to get back to… but can never quite get there.

How “good” is it, really, when:

- Half the country is in debt up to their eyeballs and just one missed paycheck away –or one mortgage rate reset away-- from being kicked out into the street.

- Gas is priced at over 4 bucks a gallon, forcing the average Joe to cut back on driving or use grocery money to fill the gas tank.

- And speaking of groceries, they cost more every time we go shopping; then there’s out of control health insurance costs, and all the rest.

When you think about it, there are always those who seem to do well despite the conditions in the overall economy.

No doubt about it, thousands or even millions of people are at the mercy of their employers or the government to keep them out of the poorhouse.

On the other hand, there are those who are seemingly able to rake in the cash despite the gloom and doom on the ten o-clock news.

Hmmm…maybe it is possible to stand apart from the crowd and imitate the “gurus” who have cracked the code and dialed in the system for generating serious money.


John Carlton – who learned copywriting after practically being *dared* to do it by a hostile co-worker. His copywriting education began by stealing the co-worker’s copy of John Caples’ Tested Advertising Methods. By the time she stole back the book, John had embarked on a self-education program that has resulted in him being one of the most sought after copywriters in the world.

Another John – John Reese – though smart as they come, college couldn’t hold his interest. After flunking out, he labored in a video rental store while building his business. He owed over $100,000 in credit card debt at his lowest point, and his friends and relatives may have thought he would fall through the cracks like so many other dreamers. Once he put all the pieces together… he became the cash generating machine that we know today.

Keith Wellman’s story is oh-so-familiar. Deep in debt and a family to support with his dead-end job, Keith was desperate. He even blasted Mike Filsaime publicly on Filsaime’s blog for taking advantage of his own desperation and hope. It wasn’t long before Wellman had to eat his words in a big way, as he is now a very successful entrepreneur with a lifestyle that others only dream about.

Hey, if you can’t beat ‘em, why not join ‘em?

In his disarmingly illuminating style, Joel Comm profiles these individuals plus more than 30 others in his book Click Here to Order: Stories of the World’s Most Successful Internet Marketing Entrepreneurs.

With the same intensity that produced his New York Times Best Selling book The Adsense Code, Joel dissects the paths that dozens took to jump on the internet marketer’s bandwagon.

While Joel is no John Grisham (yet), his book reads like one of Grisham’s novels; Joel’s subject matter is just so darn fascinating.

If you’re one of the guys or ladies mentioned in the book, you may wish the Joel had kept his mouth shut.

You don’t want to miss getting your copy. Joel Comm’s new book is the first to put over forty internet marketing entrepreneurs under the microscope. All the cool kids will be getting their own copy.

Click Here to Order

After you order the book, Joel offers a series of bonus gifts for $1--including an extra chapter which is not in the book and a series of MP3 interviews with people who are profiled in the book.

The overall promotion strategy is well orchestrated--yet with a bit of energy and planning, it could be imitated.

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Monday, September 01, 2008

A Valuable Writing Skill

About 15 years ago, my phone rang and it was an editor for a publishing house in Chicago. He asked, "Can you write back cover copy?" The back of a book contains enticing words which sell the reader on the contents inside the book. To write these words involves a specialized writing skill that I have learned.

"Absolutely, I can write back cover copy," I said yet inside I was trembling because at that point I had never tried it. I received the assignment and the publisher sent the manuscript for the book. I had several days to skim the contents of the book, and then craft the words for the back cover. The payment was a modest $50 per book and in that period I wrote several dozen back covers. There was no publishing "by-line" or credit for my work but I gained valuable experience and increased the diversity for my writing.

Many writers have never tried copywriting or considered it. Possibly you are one of those writers and in this entry of The Writing Life, I want to give you some encouragement to learn this skill and a free resource with some additional instruction.

Brian Clark, known as copyblogger, defines copywriting as, "one of the most essential elements of effective online marketing. The art and science of copywriting involves strategically writing words that promote a person, product, business, opinion, or idea, with the ultimate intention of having the reader take some form of action. So, whether you’re looking to sell something or to build traffic by earning links from others, you’ll need to tell compelling stories that grab attention and connect with people so that they’ll respond the way you want."

Whether you are writing a book proposal or a query letter or an ad for your website or a sample back cover for your book or any number of other types of writing, learning copywriting will help you put power and persuasion into your writing.

I hope I've given you enough encouragement to understand the necessity for every writer to learn this skill. Yes, if you are a fiction writer you need to learn good storytelling skills--and nonfiction writers need to learn to tell stories. In addition, every writer needs to learn to add the power of copywriting to their set of skills.

This weekend I ran across this site from Alex Mandossian. It's been up for several years and some of the internal links do not work but the information in the Ebook is timeless--and well worth reading and studying.

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