Sunday, June 30, 2019

What Writers Can Learn From Songland

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Some of my friends have grown tired of television and rarely watch it. While I'm involved in reading and many types of publishing, I continue to watch television.  In the last few weeks, NBC has launched a show called Songland. The premise is to find a hit song for a top recording artist. Each week the artist changes and have included John Legend, will.i.am, Kelsea Ballerini and the Jonas Brothers. Four song writers come into the studio where they sing their new song in front of the artist and three legendary music producers. Then the artist narrows the four songs to three and these songs are improved with the producers. At the end of the show, the artist picks one of the three songs to record and include on their next album (the prize for the song writers).

Here's a short video clip from the program:

I know almost nothing about the music industry but I've been fascinated to compare the process for Songland with book publishing. I've been aware of several lessons:

1. The best music like publishing is a collaborative process. Yes a self-published book can become a hit but from my experience the ones that do had a sharp professionally designed cover (not from Fiverr.com), used a professional editor to create an excellent manuscript and used a launch team process to get the book attention and out into the market (among other things). Can you come up with a hit by yourself and your own resources? Yes it is possible but very unlikely because of the benefits of working with a team and the great things that happen from this collaborative process. It's why the best agents from my experience work over their proposals and greatly improve them before pitching them to publishers.

2. The artist selects the winner for their listeners—just like a publisher selects which books they will invest and publish. You might not agree with the song they seleft but the final decision is in the hands of the artist. I hope the national exposure for these song writers opens some great doors of opportunity beyond the television program—but I have no idea if this is happening.

3. You are only seeing one piece of the process. Like with book publishing, I suspect with song writing there is a great deal to the process. You have to write a great book proposal and pitch to get into the pub board room where your book is pitched to publishing executives. I assume the process is similar with song writing. Each song writer has to work hard on lyrics and melody to get selected to be one of these four possibilities for the artist.

Have you watched Songland? What lessons have you learned about song writing and other types of writing? Let me know in the comments below.


Discover Three Lessons for Writers from the TV Show Songland. (ClickToTweet)

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Sunday, June 23, 2019

Three Reasons to Write Devotions

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Recently at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference I spent some time speaking with Susan King, who for many years has been an editor at The Upper Room. If you don't know about this devotional publication (a bi-monthly), it reaches six million readers. Each devotion has a particular format and are less than 300 words. I have been published in The Upper Room but it was years ago. In the early days of my writing for publication, I often wrote devotionals. Susan told me they continue to need more devotions from men and in particular from the Old Testament (except Psalms). These pieces of advice are important so I write something that meets their publication needs. As a writer, you can go in many different directions so this focus was very helpful.

After speaking with Susan, I decided I would write some devotions and submit them for consideration. During the conference, I went to the freebie table and collected a sample magazine and their guidelines. Whenever you want to write for a magazine, studying their publication and guidelines is always the first step to getting published.

With a publication and writing target in sight, I began to think about writing some devotions. It is a different type of writing than I have done in a while. I decided to write several devotions for the same publication to increase my possibilities for getting published.

Here's three reasons to write devotions:

1. Different can be good for your writing. Sometimes we get in a rut with our writing. Devotional writing is a connection to the spiritual and applying these lessons to your writing. For me, writing a devotional is different from writing a chapter in a book or a book proposal or other types of magazine writing. As a writer, you still get to practice your storytelling craft with devotionals.

2. Devotions are short. They are often 300 words or less. This type of writing can be a challenge to say something meaningful with only a few words. The Upper Room guidelines give insight into this area encouraging you to look at snapshots of life in the stories that you include.

3. Looking for devotions to write puts you in touch with the “God moments” in your life. It is easy for life to drift past if you aren't in touch with these spiritual moments in your life (at least it is for me). I began to consciously look for these moments and grew more aware of them in my life.

Bonus reason 4. Devotion writing is another way to serve others with your writing and also a way to gain your own exposure. If my devotion gets published in The Upper Room, I will reach millions of readers.

Do you write devotions? What are your reasons for writing them? Let me know in the comments below.


Learn Three Reasons to Write Devotions from this prolific reader and writer. (ClickToTweet)

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Sunday, June 16, 2019

Interview Others to Grow as a Writer

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

For many years, I interviewed authors about their books and the craft of writing for magazine articles. Sitting with these bestselling authors and asking them about writing taught me much more than I could pour into a 1500 word or even a 1,000 word magazine article.  Interviewing others is a critical skill for any writer.

If you don't interview others for your magazine articles, I recommend you write some query letters and pitch writing personality profiles. These profiles are magazine articles focused on a single person and many publications love these types of stories. After you get the assignment from an editor, you can secure your interview with the person. If they are well-known and you don't know how to reach them, go to someone in the publicity section of their book publisher. These publicity people book interviews for journalists to reach their authors.

These publicity people will track down the author, nail down a time for your interview. I always ask for 45 minutes to an hour for the interview to make sure I get what I need for my profile. Also these publicity people will send you review copies of any books and background that you need. Gather all of this information from the publisher ahead of time. Then read the books and look for unique insights and questions you can ask the personality.

If the person you are interviewing is well-known or has been interviewed often, your preparation and creating unique questions is a critical part of your preparation.  If you don't prepare, you will not gather unique stories and information from your interview. Instead the person will tell you their “stock stories” or material that they always tell journalists during their interviews.  For your article, you are looking for stories which have not been told or are rarely told.

As a part of your preparation, write down a list of specific questions. Take time to imagine yourself doing the interview and how you are going to ask different questions. As you specifically write them down, it will help your preparation for the interview. Then during the interview, use your questions but also be flexible to ask other questions as they happen. At the end of the interview, ask if there is something else you should have asked. It gives the individual a chance to sell you something they wanted to tell you.

Whether the interview is on the phone or in person, I tell the other person that I'm making a recording of our conversation and get their permission on the tape. As a practice, in general, I do not transcribe this tape (which from experience seems like a waste of time and energy). Instead I write from my notes but use the tape as a back up tool—and for expansion of information. I can't write fast enough to get down everything (at least in a format so I can read it after the interview). I have found this method of recording and using the tape for additional information as the most effective way for me to use the recording.

Also as a part of the interview, I ask the person how I can check the facts of my story with them before I send it to my editor. The editor may edit and change around the story—but I can protect the accuracy and integrity of what I'm sending. Most journalists never take this step in the interview process. Then if you publish something inaccurate, it will potentially ruin your relationship with the individual. If on the other hand, you check the details with the person, then you are taking steps to preserve your relationship with the person—and can easily return to them for something else in the future (even the distant future).

Last week instead of interviewing another person, Patricia Durgin interviewed me on Facebook Live. I loved Patricia's preparation and questions for this hour-long interview. You can follow this link to watch the interview.

Do you interview others? Has it helped you grow as a writer? Let me know your experiences and tips in the comments below.


Discover interviewing others is a way to grow as a writer. Get insights from this prolific journalist and author. (ClickToTweet)

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Sunday, June 09, 2019

What Is Your Publishing Agenda?

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

In the early days of my writing life, I wanted to be published in as many magazines and other places as I could publish. I met editors, studied their guidelines and wrote for their readers. I didn't always succeed and get published but it happened frequently and I grew as a writer (still learning). I wasn't focused on the financial rewards from publishing back then but I was focused on writing credits and getting into many different publications.

Through the years, I've seen many magazines begin and many magazines close their doors. There is still great opportunity for writers to publish in magazines. It is a stance that I encourage others to do and something I actively do as well.

At a recent conference, I picked up some of the free magazines and took them home to study them. As I looked at these magazines, I was thinking about their audience and focus. Did they use freelance material? What information was included in the author bio? Did they even mention any details about the author such as a new book or point to an author's website?

As you ask and answer these specific questions, you will learn more about the focus of the publication and their agenda. I noticed several of these publications had material that I “could” be a possible writer. Yet as I studied the author bio section, I noticed several didn't even have a single line about the author. Others included some information but nothing about an author's book or website. I figured out the agenda of the publication (which the editor's establish) was not a match for my own publishing agenda. My agenda is to reach new readers and point toward my recent books or a website. Your agenda has to match the agenda of the publication otherwise you are wasting your limited writing time and energy.

One local editor has been teasing me about writing for her publication. At my encouragement, she sent me a few issues of the magazine. I studied it and noticed this differing agenda (the magazine's agenda and my goals). Instead of blindly crossing them off my writing possibilities, I wrote this friend about what I observed. She can correct my misunderstanding or confirm it. It's the type of communication work we need to do as writers and something I've not written about in these articles. I hope it helps you.

In the comments below, let me know if you have a publishing agenda? What steps to you take to see if your agenda matches a new publication for your work? I look forward to your thoughts.


Do you have a publishing agenda for your writing? Get some ideas from this prolific writer. (ClickToTweet)

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Sunday, June 02, 2019

Control Your Social Media

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

In recent years, I've gained a large social media following with over 200,000 on Twitter, over 4,900 Facebook friends and over 12,000 connections on LinkedIn. In other articles, I've provided details about what I am doing and how I am doing it. Today I want to talk about a different aspect of social media: control.

All of these social posts are something I personally do. I don't have an assistant or someone else doing it. I realize several things:

--consistency is important

--people are reading this information and at times responding to it

--the information will be online FOREVER (yes I understand that all CAPS is shouting but I want to make sure you see these posts are around for a very long time)

The words matter. I begin each day with an inspirational quotation and an image of this person. Today on one of these social networks, someone added a comment about the person I quoted and flamed this person because of other actions they have taken. The comment was inappropriate and very public—and I've watched these types of things escalate on social media to move in a strange direction. I immediately deleted the comment. Then I took further action: I blocked this person from this network so they can never again make such a comment on my posts. I'm in control of my own social media so I took immediate action. Yes I believe in free speech but I also understand that I can control my own social media.

When you read something you don't agree with, you can post a comment or you can move on in silence or you can write the person directly (not public). Each of us have choices in this area. The person who puts out the social media post has a choice and the person who responds (or doesn't) also has a choice.

Several points in this area:

1. Take control of your social media

2. Monitor the comments so you can respond and engage with it. Engagement is a huge reason for being active in social media and the more your audience is engaging, the better in my view.

3. Use tools like Hootsuite and others to help you easily monitor the responses to your social posts. For example, people try to send me direct messages often on Twitter and I don't read those on Twitter because of the time involved (mine is limited for social media because of other things I do throughout the day—a choice). Instead I read these messages and at times respond through Hootsuite. Find your own way to handle this aspect of social media.

4. Always look for ways to expand your readership and grow your social networks. I'm not talking about doing it artificially where you buy Twitter followers but organically where you connect with more and more people. As you increase your reach, you will increase your interest from editors and literary agents and others in the publishing community.

OK, that's my view on the necessity for us to take control of our social media. Do you agree or not? Let me know in the comments below.


Are you in control of your social media? Get insights here from a prolific editor and author. (ClickToTweet)

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