Friday, April 29, 2011

Competitor or Colleague. Your Attitude Is Critical

At first, the slogan seemed confusing to me. Within the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the leading nonfiction writers group in the U.S., I would often hear, "We train our competition." Why would someone train their competition?

I've been an active member of the ASJA for many years and I've seen the truth of this statement. Our members freely give information about how they snagged a magazine assignment at a top publication including the name of the editor and the details fo their query letter. We readily help each other to land a hard-to-get literary agent or a top book publisher.

Why? Because instead of seeing the world as competitive, we see the world that needs good writers. Plus underlying the slogan is the understanding there is plenty of work for everyone and the greater need is to help as many people as possible to achieve their dreams. Your attitude about the work is critical. In my view, there is plenty of work for everyone. It's more important to view others as colleagues than competition.

Seven years ago, I wrote Book Proposals That Sell which has 97 Five Star reviews on Amazon and continues to sell as an Ebook and a paperback. I often receive emails from authors who have used the book to get the attention of a literary agent or a book contract. Recently I heard that one of my agent friends, Marilyn Allen and her partner Coleen O'Shea released Book Proposals & Query Letters which is a part of mega-selling series, The Complete Idiot's Guide.

I read the book and wrote a five star Amazon review plus I sent the notice of my review out to my network. Why would I do that? Aren't I undercutting my own book sales and audience if I encourage people toward Book Proposals & Query Letters? Aren't they competitors? Not really. There are millions of people who need book proposal help. I would rather work with people as colleagues than consider them competitors. See the difference in attitude?

Here's what I wrote about Book Proposals & Query Letters:

I’ve been in publishing more than 20 years in many different roles (author, magazine editor, co-author, acquisitions editor, literary agent and publisher). If I’m going to read a how-to book about the creation of book proposals and query letters, I want to make sure I’m learning from someone who has the authority and experience on this topic. Marilyn Allen and Coleen O’Shea are publishing experts and this book is written with honesty and authority. It resonates with the undercurrent, “we know what we’re talking about here.” The pages of this book are packed with wisdom and sound counsel—whether you have just decided to write a book or whether you are writing your 31st book. Every author can learn something from reading –and re-reading this book. It deserves your careful study—then most importantly—taking action on their advice and applying it to your submissions.

Here’s the problem: some publishing experts estimate there are six million proposals and manuscripts in circulation at agents and publishers. You only have seconds to make a good first impression. The authors emphasize this important need in their fourth chapter about The E-Mail Query Letter: “Some publishing professionals estimate that only 1 percent of all queries ever result in representation. Put another way: for every 100 queries an agent reads, only one author has a shot at becoming a client. Yes, that means the odds are against you—but they aren’t impossible. As the adage goes, ‘You gotta be in it to win it.’ Increase your chances of getting into that coveted 1 percent by following a few simple ground rules before you even keystroke the word ‘Dear.’” (Page 43-44)

The authors begin with queries but make a clear preference to writing your proposal before you write your query letter. As they explain in a section called “Agents’ Advice”: “This might sound like a no-brainer, but don’t send out a query letter before you have written your book proposal. The query letter might go to the agent or editor first, but you need to have the proposal ready to be sent out as soon as possible when requested. Keep in mind, too, that the query letter might look easy because it’s a short document, but in fact it can be the hardest piece to write.” (Page 40)

Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you can improve your queries and book proposals if you take action on the advice in these pages. I read it carefully with a yellow highlighter and found myself nodding and highlighting many sections of this book. THE COMPLETE IDIOT’S GUIDE TO BOOK PROPOSALS & QUERY LETTERS packs a power punch. I highly recommend it.

Ok, that was my review of this terrific resource that I posted on Amazon. In recent weeks, I've invested a great deal of energy to put together the lessons and details of my online course about book proposal creation: Write A Book Proposal. One of my bestselling fiction author friends called it a "bold new effort." I've not seen anything like it in the marketplace which teaches this step-by-step approach to creating an excellent book proposal. From my perspecitve, there is no competition in this area. I see a massive amount of need from people who would like to get published but haven't a clue how to properly approach a literary agent or book editor with their ideas. The critical element is your attitude and how you see the world around you.

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

It Won't Fly If You Don't...

Hopefully you've heard the saying, "If won't fly, if you don't try." Many writers grow frustrated with the publishing world. They pitch their idea to a series of agents or editors at a conference. Return home and send the follow-up material to those professionals. Then several months down the line, they get rejected and decide, "Guess no one wants to publish my idea."

That is not necessarily the case.

There are many reasons why your book idea was rejected. Some of those reasons have to do with you and your pitch. Yet other reasons have nothing to do with you and everything to do with timing. Because most agents and editors use carefully worded form rejections which tell you nothing about the specific reason, you are left to guess. Most people speculate that it's something to do with them. Maybe the editor or agent came to the office and got wrapped in some crisis. They could not handle the submissions on their desk so they rejected everything. Yes, they do this routine rejection just to clear off their desk and give themselves some space. It had nothing to do with the author's proposal.

While you think your proposal is unique and different, there are many similar ideas in the marketplace. As an editor or an agent, I've seen those similar ideas come into my mailbox. I already have one of those in the works so I reject the ones that arrive after it. It has nothing to do with the value of that pitch or the writer.

Agents and editors are looking for the right book at the right time and the right place. Your proposal is important and something I can't emphasize enough. You have seconds to make the right impression. It is your responsibility to give your proposal the best possible chance so someone will accept it. How can you improve your chances of acceptance?

First, craft an excellent proposal and sample chapter. I've written many proposals and sample chapters plus I've reviewed thousands of these proposals. It is not simple or easy but it is a skill you can learn. In the last few months, I've invested a great deal of energy to write an online course for writers called Write A Book Proposal. Step-by-step I teach writers how to put together the best possible pitch for their book. The course is unconditionally guaranteed so if it is not right for you, then I will refund your small investment. One of my bestselling novelist friends called my course "a bold new effort." I've not seen anything like it in the publishing world and I'd love for you to consider it. Grow in your knowledge about publishing and proposal creation is my first suggestion.

My second suggestion is to persist. Often writers send their proposal to an editor or two, and then when it is rejected, they decide there is no market for the idea. That is not necessarily true. The writer hasn't found the right connection so they quit trying. Each Monday I look forward to the column from bestselling author Harvey Mackay. While I read the column in my newspaper, I also subscribe to his columns from his website so I receive it a second time via email later in the week. This week, Mackay wrote a column called, If you believe you are sure to succeed. You can follow the link and read the entire column, but notice the first sentence which is a quote from Henry Ford, "Some people succeed because they are destined to, but most people succeed because they are determined to." Do you believe your proposal or idea will succeed in the marketplace? Then take steps to make that happen.

Finally you need to persevere looking for the right connection for your idea. Maybe it's not a book but a magazine article. Or maybe it is both a magazine article and a book. Some of my writer friends have a 24 hour rule to handle rejections. If their proposal is turned down, then they give themselves 24 hours to send it back into the marketplace. It's how they persevere and is an example that you can also follow. Do make sure you are using a current name and contact information for that agent or editor. I continue to receive submissions for Howard Publishing (a company that I've not been with for five years and one that has not had that name for seven years). Just the use of this name on the outside of the envelope is a dead giveaway that the writer is using an old resource.

It will not fly if you don't try. It will never sell in your computer or file drawer. You must get it out there. Take action today.

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