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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