Saturday, May 25, 2013

When You Send Out Gibberish

During the last five years, I've written over 1200 entries in The Writing Life. Besides continuing to expand my reach with these entries, I've arranged for readers to receive my writings via email and almost 500 people receive the information through this tool. If you want to subscribe, go to my blog then scroll down and in the right hand sidebar, you can subscribe.

I subscribe to my own writings and each day I look at the email. Imagine my horror when I opened the one for today and it was pure computer gibberish (see the screen shot to see part of what I'm talking about). It was pages of weird stuff which made zero sense.

Because of my work as an acquisitions editor at a New York publisher, Morgan James, I don't have a lot of time for writing these entries. For yesterday's entry, I worked hard at crafting some insight about the publishing world search for excellence. I added links to additional information and (here's my mistake), I included one of my personal photos from my recent trip to Seattle.

For some reason, I could not get the photo uploaded into my blog. I tried resizing it and then I realized that I could copy and paste it into the site. That worked on the actual site, but not on the email version. That email version was entirely garbled and nothing came through to the reader.

The minute I saw the errors, I went into a “fix it” mode. I went to the site where I sent the emails to my readers and arranged to resend this single post—right away. I received the corrected entry in my email. Whew.

I have several lessons from this experience:

1. Every writer makes mistakes. The important skill in my view is to own that mistake then work to resolve it as soon as possible.

2. I handle my own technical issues. I'll admit it is a pain some times and not everything gets done quickly because my focus is elsewhere. Yet there is no one to blame for mistakes or inaction except myself. I know all about outsourcing and how I can hire others—yet I also understand the speed and value of doing something myself (besides the cost savings). I own a number of websites. If something isn't working right or handled properly, it falls back on my own responsibility to correct. I accept that responsibility.

What action steps are you taking if you make a communication mistake? Do you shrug it or work to resolve it right away? These skills are important in the writing community and I hope my transparency helps you.

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Friday, May 24, 2013

The Constant Hunt for Excellent Writing

The view from  Lake Washington
Last weekend I was in beautiful Seattle at the Northwest Writers Association Conference. I've been privileged to speak at this conference several times over the years. I always find it invigorating to get away from my computer and phone for a bit to meet face to face with writers and talk about books and publishing.

In today's connected world, we seem to rarely get away from our computer and phone but at least we can grab the face to face time. Several years ago at this conference, I met retired surgeon Lloyd Johnson. In recent years, Lloyd has been writing fiction. We've kept in touch and when I joined Morgan James, I reached out to him to him and discovered he had a great novel called Living Stones. I championed his novel to my colleagues at Koehler Books, the fiction imprint of Morgan James. If you click this link, you can read a sample of the book and see the attractive book cover.

Lloyd's passion is about telling stories about the Middle East and he has taken that passion into his storytelling and novel. Lloyd and I had dinner at beautiful Lake Washington (see my photo) and talked about book publishing. He is excited about the forthcoming publication of his first book and has connections to some great nonprofit organizations in this part of the world. I was encouraging him to include in his launch plans some ideas to sell his books large numbers.

Most writers are thinking of selling books one book at a time. What if you could sell boxes of books with one connection? It can happen with the right mindset and planning. To learn more listen to this free teleseminar. It's an interview that I hosted with Ted Rogers and Vickie Mullins (use this link). Lloyd has an excellent novel and now needs to reach as many people as possible with his new book. If you have a book, I encourage you to spend some time in strategic thinking about how to reach new audiences.

All day Friday, the Seattle conference had a series of group pitching sessions. Each one had five or six or seven writers. Often these conferences have individual meetings so it was different to hear the pitches in a group. I am actively looking for excellent writing. Morgan James publishes nonfiction, fiction and even children's books (a challenging area for any new writer these days).

In this group setting, I focused on one writer at a time and heard their pitch. Yet everyone else in the group also heard the pitch and could learn from what worked or didn't work. It was a different dynamic than one on one pitching but the participants seemed to enjoy the interaction and learning experience. 

Since meeting these new people, I've been writing emails and encouraging these writers to send me their material. Morgan James receives about 5,000 submissions a year and only publishes about 150 books. Yet you can't have your material considered if you don't send it. During the conference, I participated in a panel discussion with all of the faculty (several other editors and literary agents). We agreed that often we encourage writers to submit their material. It was confirmed that many times, we ask for the submission at a conference and the writer never sends it. Talk about a missed opportunity! Yes no one likes to be rejected—but you can't get into the consideration process if you never submit it.

As editors and agents, we are on a constant hunt for excellent writing. Yes we are looking for authors who are connected to the marketplace. Yet good writing is always important. Are you a good communicator? How do you become a good communicator? Practice. Good writing will result in more good writing.

Several weeks ago, I attended an excellent workshop at the American Society of Journalists and Author Conference in New York City called Book Publishing: Making It in the New Frontier. Unfortunately this session was not recorded. The panelists included Jon Fine, the director of Author & Publisher Relations at Amazon.com, Amy Grace Loyd, the executive editor of Byliner, and Jofie Ferrari-Adler, a Senior Editor at Simon and Schuster. Moderator John Rosengren organized this excellent event.

While this workshop had a lot of information about the future of publishing, at one point, each of the experienced panelists talked about the importance of excellent writing. Whether you are writing for Byliner or magazines or books, your storytelling and writing has to be excellent.

How do you learn to be an excellent writer? I believe it comes from constant practice and working in the publishing industry. So many authors want to publish a book so they work for hours and hours on a long 40,000 to 100,000 piece of writing—yet they ignore the magazine market. It is much better to learn to write with shorter articles than to “practice” with a longer work like a book. You are better to start a blog and begin writing short articles or to learn to write query letters to magazines and then write the articles than to work years on a longer book which finds limited readers. Thousands of people will read your magazine work so don't ignore those possibilities.

I continue to write for magazines on a regular basis—and have done so for over 20 years. It's where I can practice my storytelling craft on a regular basis—and you can do the same.

I'm speaking at a number of places in the coming months. I hope to see you on the road and we can talk about your book ideas face to face. I'm on the continual search for excellent writing.

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Wednesday, May 08, 2013

You Can Make A Difference

Do you want to make a difference in the lives of others? P.K. Hallinan, author of 90 children's books that have sold almost ten million copies, identifies a key need for people: to have a life which makes a difference in others.

Hallinan boils it down to five steps:

1. Work hard
2. Go in the strength you have.
3. Finish what you start.
4. Be patient.
5. Help others along the way.

Through a combination of personal stories, the stories of others and solid how-to information, Hallinan packs a punch in every chapter of this easy-to-read book.

As he says on page 24, "You have one life, and this is your time in the sun. Use it well."

In the section on “Finish What You Start” (a real problem for many writers), he writes, “Perseverance is often the key to success. We may need to stand up one more time. We may need to take one more step. We may need to fight one more battle…”My friend who made himself a millionaire twice over liked to say, “Success in business comes from doing a lot of little things right.” I agree. In life, as well as in business, it's often the little things that make the biggest difference.” (Page 99–100)

I enjoyed reading this slim volume and recommend A LIFE THAT MATTERS, FIVE STEPS TO MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

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Tuesday, May 07, 2013

The Power of Teaching

While it was many years ago, to me, I can remember it as though it was yesterday. I was a sophomore in high school, my English teacher Mr. Smith suggested that I might like to join the high school newspaper. He noticed something in my writing and recommended this extracurricular activity.

I took action and became a sports writer on the paper. This sports position was the only one available. I wasn’t active in sports so had to learn everything such as the terminology and the most basic of writing skills. Yet I loved it. I enjoyed observing the games and interviewing the players and the coach and getting quotations then putting that information into the article.

That sports writing experience introduced me to writing stories and headlines and learning how to pull the reader into my story. This introduction to journalism took my life in a focused direction. I ended up being the editor of my high school newspaper, then studying journalism at one of the top schools in the nation, Indiana University. Each step has built a lot into my life and writing life. 

Stop for a minute and think about an influential teacher or mentor in your own life. Who is this person? Can you reach out to them and express your appreciation?

Years ago I tried to reach out to Mr. Smith. I called my old high school to see how I could find him. It turns out he passed away a couple of years earlier. I was too late in my expression of gratitude. 

Don’t wait too long to express this gratitude to others. Do it today and you will bless the people who have guided your life decisions. I encourage you to watch this 2.5 minute video on the power of gratitude (just follow the link).

This past week I received a review copy of a children’s book from a new author. I met this author seven years earlier when I was teaching at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference near Asheville, North Carolina. In the cover letter, she thanked me for my words of encouragement years ago. I’ve forgotten the specifics of what I said. I’m out at a conference about once a month. You can see my schedule here. I encourage you to look it over and plan to come to an event where we can meet and talk about your writing.

Today take action. Pull out a card and write a note to someone expressing appreciation. Then do it again and again. The power of gratitude can be life changing.

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Saturday, May 04, 2013

Laugh Out Loud Funny

I love reading about unusual experiences and occupations. You learn the inside of the hotel industry in HEADS IN BEDS. Tomsky started in the New Orleans hotel business and during this lively book moves into New York City.

The book is peppered with advice and yet the writing is exceptional. Yes, at times a bit profane but still fascinating writing.

On my way to New York, I was reading HEADS IN BEDS. Many people try to use a story to get an upgraded room when they check into a New York hotel. According to the author, these stories do not work. He worked for years as a front desk manager and heard all of the stories about birthdays, special events and first time experiences. What works? Cash.

I used the advice in my recent trip to try it. When I checked into my hotel, I didn’t ask for any upgrade. When I gave the clerk my driver’s license and credit card, I also gave him a $20 bill (called a baby brick in the book). 

The man at the desk said, “Mr. Whalin, thank you very much. You need a better room. I’m going to upgrade you to a junior suite.”

I don’t know where they planned to put me in this 16 story hotel but I was moved to the corner room on the 15th floor. 

My view of the city was outstanding and I had a little larger room—all without asking and for a $20 tip. Remarkable. The advice in HEADS IN BEDS works. I recommend the book and the practice

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