Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back On the Road Again

Last fall my travel and speaking schedule was intense. I did six conferences in seven weeks. It was a wonderful experience and I met some fascinating new people and saw other long-term friends. I enjoyed my time on the road yet I was also relieved not to be heading to the airport each weekend.

For the last four months, I've been home at my desk working each day. Yes I've made some day trips to Los Angeles and other local places but I've not been traveling to conferences. This pattern is going to change tomorrow.

I'm headed to the airport, catching a flight to Houston, where I'll change planes then go to Orlando. I'm headed to the Florida Christian Writers Conference in Leesburg, Florida. 

Each conference is different in terms of the amount of teaching that I will be doing. For the Florida conference, I will be teaching one workshop about book proposal creation (one of my specialties). For the bulk of the conference, I will be meeting with individuals about their writing and see what I can do to help them. I enjoy these impromptu and individual sessions with authors to learn about their work.

I return from the Florida conference on Sunday and I'm home for three days. Then I drive to Los Angeles for Author 101 University. Rick Frishman, the publisher at Morgan James is the creator and host of Author 101. Several weeks ago I hosted a teleseminar with Rick. You can have immediate access to the replay and a free Ebook, Agents Pitching Insights. If you haven't heard this teleseminar, I encourage you to get the replay and listen because it is packed with information and insight about the importance of a writer's conference.

I'm going to be out at a number of events this year. I hope our paths cross at one or more of these events. Follow this link to see my schedule.

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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Get WordPress Help & Much More

Are you frustrated with working with Web people who take too long to build your website?

Would you like to take back control, and run things yourself?

My friend Christina Hills (who teaches non-techie people how to build their websites without a webmaster) just had a great webinar showing how you can (and should) have a life without a webmaster. Yes, even us non-techies can do this.

The feedback on the call was just amazing, she has just decided to do another LIVE webinar.

Don't miss this chance to join Christina, a WordPress expert to learn how!

————- Webinar Info ———————

Event: Fire Your Webmaster & Create Your Site in WordPress
Date: Wednesday February 20th
Time: 3:00pm Eastern /12:00pm Pacific
Duration: 75 -90 minutes

(You can listen by phone or computer)
To get registered for the webinar, go here.


Christina has taught hundreds of non-techie people how to easily build their websites themselves in the Website Creation Workshop.

You can build virtually any kind of website you want with WordPress.

Here are some examples of the kinds of websites that people can build:

-Coaching/Consulting Websites
-Personal Passion Websites
-General Business Presence Websites
-Ecommerce Store Websites
-Sales Letter Websites
-Squeeze Page Websites
-Membership Websites
-Hybrid Blog + Static Page Websites
- and Straight up Blogging Websites

This call will have visuals with lots of pictures for you to follow along during the call.

So many entrepreneurs already learned from Christina how to be in charge of their websites. Join the webinar and learn it yourself.

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Monday, February 18, 2013

Seize Your Opportunity

Last week a writer told me about working on her book project for months at a stretch. I asked a few questions about it and learned it had not been published. 

Our correspondence was on my personal email address and not my work email. I seized the opportunity and told her about my work at Morgan James. As an acquisitions editor, I'm actively looking for well-written nonfiction and fiction to champion to our publication board. We receive about 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 to 200 books.

If you look at those numbers, you can see there is a limited opportunity for you to succeed and a 97% chance your material will be rejected.

Yet if I champion your book (that means I promote and pull for it with the publication board), then you “could” get a book contract from Morgan James. One of the exciting aspects of my work is each week I send book contracts to authors and help them through this aspect of the publishing process.

For the writer in my opening paragraph, I moved our interaction from my personal email address to my work email. Then she would have my Morgan James information and it would be clear where she could send her manuscript. I found her response “interesting.” She wrote, “Let me think about it and get back to you.”

It was a fair response and hopefully she will send me her material for consideration. It is not the response, I would encourage you to do as a writer. If you get an opportunity and request from an editor to submit your material, I encourage you to seize it.

You should be aware when you send your material out into the market, you will get rejected. Welcome to publishing because it happens to everyone. I love this article from bestselling novelist James Scott Bell called Rejecting Rejection. He makes four solid points in this short article and it will help you get over rejection and move forward.

To succeed in publishing, you are looking for the right connection at the right time and the right place with the right material. I understand I overused the word “right” in that previous sentence. If you aren't in motion, then that connection will never happen. The old saying is true: you can't sell a manuscript that remains in your desk drawer or in your computer. It only sells when it gets into the right hands.

One of my writer friends wants to find a literary agent. Into his busy schedule, he has researched and located 46 possible agents. He individualized each submission and in early January sent out the submission packages. As of about a month after that submission, he wrote saying he had received 22 responses. Twenty of those responses were rejection. Two agents requested his manuscript and 26 agents had not responded.

I admire the tenacity and persistence of my friend to find the right agent for his novel. He doesn't have it figured out yet he continues to work toward his goal.

Are you seizing opportunity? Are you knocking on new doors or old doors with new material to get the attention of an agent or an editor? If you are working on a book, are you also writing shorter magazine articles and seizing that opportunity to reach an audience?

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Another Strange Submission

I find some authors amazing. They react in just the sort of way where you shake your head and wonder if anyone could be more “different” or “strange.”

From my years in publishing, I've met many authors who stand out in a crowd and are “characters.” Some of these characters stand out in a positive way and actually sell lots of books because of how they stand out. Then there are the other types of characters who are just way outside the norm—and that's who I'm writing about in this entry.

Several weeks ago an author called the founder of Morgan James and left a voice mail message. He didn't have a chance to return the call so he passed it along to me. I called this author and listened to his hot book idea. 

I was open to whatever he wanted to send and asked him to send it via email. He didn't have an email address. This fact should have been my first clue about his submission. Instead the author asked for my mailing address so he could send a hard copy. I gave him my address.

Today I opened a certified, return receipt package—with a completely handwritten submission. The author didn't include a cover letter in the package but even the title page had several misspelled words. The entire package was handwritten on a legal pad paper—front and back. Each chapter was carefully stapled together.

The only address on the package is the return address on the outside. There is no contact information or phone number. I've reviewed thousands of submissions but never seen one of these in the nonfiction category.

Many years ago when I was running my literary agency (which has been closed for several years), I did receive a handwritten novel submission but it was in a large notebook and came with the return postage. The submission which arrived today had no return postage or self-addressed stamped envelope. I'm tempted to set this package aside and hold it for several weeks—under the assumption the author will call me and want it back. Then I can give him a chance to send me the return postage. 

I will remember this author's submission—but not for the reasons that he wants to be remembered. In other entries, 

I've written a great deal about the proper way to send a submission. Here's some of those basic details:

1. It should always be typed and completely error free (without typographical errors or spelling errors).

2. Check with the editor or agent to see how they want your submission. Most of the time these days at some point they will want an electronic version of it. The key is to read the guidelines on their website then send it in the format and fashion that it is requested.

I've created a book proposal checklist which gives the essential ingredients in a submission to an agent or editor. I would encourage every author to review this list before they fire off their prize idea to an editor or agent. It will help all of us in the publishing world receive better submissions.

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Follow Your Ideas for Submission

The idea pops into your head. “Send this article to this editor.” Or as you are reading a magazine, you think, “I could send this editor an article about this personal experience or this how-to idea.” Or you are reminded about a connection you made months earlier at a conference and you haven't followed up with the agent or editor.

In each of these cases, how do you handle it? Some people shrug it and the “nudge” disappears. Others will take action and get their idea into the marketplace for consideration.  Without action, nothing happens.

From my years in publishing, I've learned the importance of taking action on a thought or idea. For example, I will call or email an author about their book proposal or manuscript, it will happen just on a day when they need some encouragement or direction.

Or my entry about The Writing Life will land in someone's mailbox on exactly the day they need the encouragement to move forward. Some people would call these accidents but to me, these actions from the still small voice of the Holy Spirit. As a Christian I believe God is guiding my daily actions and steps. Certainly I fail to follow that guidance but I've discovered remarkable things happen when I take action on those ideas.

For example, I've been wanting to attend a large conference in a couple of months yet I wondered how to budget for the conference fee.  One morning I got an idea that maybe I could do something else at that conference to help out such as volunteer to work registration or some other task. To follow through on my idea, I called a leader in the organization which sponsored the conference and pitched my idea of working the registration in a voice mail message.

The exact day of my call, this leader got a message that the person who was going to teach the publishing workshop was not going to be able to attend the conference.  My voice mail message and this cancellation arrived on exactly the same day. Was it coincidence? I don't believe so. I was asked to lead the publishing workshop at this conference. As a workshop leader, my fee for the conference is waived and I have a much larger opportunity than I could even have imagined.

Notice what happened in this story: I had an idea and I took action and made a phone call.

What ideas and possible actions are whirling in your writing life? Are you writing them down then crossing them off as you execute each one?   I appreciate the necessity of having dreams and ambitions for our writing—yet at the same time we must be taking consistent action for those dreams to turn into reality.

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Sunday, February 10, 2013

Lead With Your Strongest Info

It is something I learned early on as a journalist: your writing must begin with strength. What is the most intriguing question or strongest quotation or provocative sentence to start your query letter or your pitch to the editor or agent?

In pitches and proposals from unpublished writers, I often see critical information buried. As a reader, I know many agents and editors will never discover this information because they gave up after the opening paragraph.

Last Fall, I met an author with a strong gift book proposal. While Morgan James Publishing doesn't produce this type of book, there are many well-respected publishers who make gift books. This author had something unusual in her proposal: a strong endorsement from a well-known author. Yet it was buried on the last page of her proposal.

I reviewed her pitch letter or query and while she referred to the endorsement, it did not contain any of the actual words. I suggested she start with a small portion of the endorsement because it would catch positive attention.

Here's the critical fact that many people forget: agents and editors receive a high volume of submissions. They have many factors tugging for their attention besides submissions which makes them skim through the submissions making quick decisions about reading it in depth or rejecting it.

It's always surprising to me what a little reorganization can do to strengthen a pitch. The quotation from the well-known author catches attention and pulled the editor or agent to take a more detailed reading of this author's work. Something simple like this can be the difference between acceptance and rejection.

The first step for any writer is to get their material into the marketplace and in front of the editors. Many writers are missing this critical step and not taking action to send out their work.

If you are taking this step and collecting a number of rejections, I suggest you take a fresh look at your pitch or query. Ask a few questions:
  • Do I have the strongest material in my pitch in the first paragraph or the first sentence?
  • Can I read my pitch with fresh eyes and see how the editor or agent is reacting to it?
  • Am I missing something critical that I've left out of the package? One of the most difficult things to see in your own work is something that is missing.
  • Can I add an endorsement or provocative quotation or something to get additional attention?
There are many other methods to gain the editor's attention but these questions will give you some direction in this area. In our busy world, the writer has to take action and lead with their strongest information.

If you make these changes, write me and let me know how it worked out or helped you. I'm always eager to read your comments and feedback.

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Saturday, February 09, 2013

An Insider's Look at Book Publishing

At 92 years young, Sterling Lord is a living legend among the publishing community for his work as a New York literary agent. LORD OF PUBLISHING provides an intimate look at his work with some bestselling authors like children’s writers Stan and Jan Berenstain or novelist Dick Francis.

Early in the book, he details his decision to become a literary agent saying, “The agent has to know good writing and what is a good, interesting-to-the-publisher idea not only in order to judge what he can sell and what he can’t, but also because often writers tried and untried will seek his advice. And he must know what to tell them. An agent is successful if he can attract and hold effective writers; these are two different talents. You have to know and understand the lives and problems of writer and devise how to help them with their lives.” (Page 40-41)

I appreciated Lord’s honesty and transparency when he writes in some of the final pages, “Although I’m immersed in literature and the art of the book, and enjoyed the personal and professional rewards that came with being an agent, I recognized that the literary agency, like other businesses, has to its peaks and its valleys. Perseverance helps. While I am better known by the bestsellers I helped launch, I did not always have an easy time convincing publishers of the value of the manuscripts I was selling.” (Page 288)

There are many valuable insights and lessons for writers, editors and other literary agents in the book business. I enjoyed reading LORD OF PUBLISHING.

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Thursday, February 07, 2013

A Revealing Look at Submissions from Writers

The subtitle for LITERARY FAILS: TOTALLY (SIC)! shows the contents of this little volume: "101 Crazy Query Letters Sent by Writers in their Quest for Publishing Fame." As an acquisitions editor and former literary agent, I've seen similar submissions from writers so I know the truth of these strange submissions.

These writers have forgotten the truth in what humorist Will Rogers said years ago, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression." The authors of these letters have definitely made an impression and not the one they wanted.

As an example, here's #20, "I'd be honored to have one of my most cherished poetry books/ 600 pages appx represented by you. In this hour of gory terrorism, this poetry book of mine irrefutably proves that no matter how sacreligeously (sic) terrorism has stung the face of our society; love conquers everything…" Then literary agent and author Sharlene Martin's witty response, "Indeed it does, my probably intoxicated friend! So wait right there while I run to the nearest coffee house and search out the commercial audience for 600 pages of poetry by an unknown author. Order yourself another round. This could take a while." (page 27)

Reading this book will provide tons of head shaking amazement at what writers actually send to literary agents wanting them to sell their book ideas. It will also validate your belief in the "over the transom" submission process. 

Literary agents and other publishing professionals read their email. Why? They are on a constant search for good writing and the next big breakout book.

If writers will only study the final portion of LITERARY FAILS, they will see three successful pitches which Martin turned and got writers book deals. I loved LITERARY FAILS and if you require some extra encouragement to polish your submission, this book is just what you need. 

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Monday, February 04, 2013

Everyone Who Writes (And That’s Most of Us) Needs This Book

As a journalism professor at the University of Delaware, Ben Yagoda has years of experience of reading student assignments. That experience is sifted and poured into HOW NOT TO WRITE BAD. This entertaining look at language is informative and everyone who reads it will profit from this book.

As he writes in the introduction, “Words are the building blocks of sentences, and sentences are the building blocks of any piece of writing; consequently, I focus on these basics. As far as I’m concerned, not writing badly consists of the ability, first, to craft sentences that are correct in terms of spelling, diction (that is, word choice), punctuation, and grammar, and that display clarity, precision, and grace. Once that’s mastered, there are a few more areas that have to be addressed in crafting a whole paragraph,: cadence, consistency of tone, word repetition, transitions between sentences, paragraph length. And that’s all there is to it! (I know, I know. That’s plenty.) I’ve mentioned students but this book isn’t just for classroom use. It’s for everyone who wants to improve his or her prose.” (Page 3)

You will want to keep your yellow highlighter handy as you read this book. I enjoyed Yagoda’s pointed look at different aspects of writing such as spelling: “Spell-check programs are great. Spell-check programs are a disaster. Let me explain…” (Page 59) or “The cliché is the poster child of bad writing. And that, my friends, is a cliché. Clichés are bad because they are tired, overdone, unoriginal, dull and mindless. They make you seem like everybody else, not like an individual with an interesting perspective and a voice that deserves to be listened to.” (Page 124)
HOW NOT TO WRITE BAD is a book that I recommend.

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