Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Different Type of Biography

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

I love biographies. As a young reader, I would get stacks of biographies from my library and read each of them, then get some more. Now as an adult, I continue to read biographies and hear biographies on audiobooks.

As editors look at book proposals and pitches, they are looking for different—but not too different. This week I found an example in the book, Life Isn't Everything. Well-known director Mike Nichols resisted writing a memoir or autobiography despite his remarkable life and amazing experiences. Nichols died in 2014 so the memoir opportunity disappeared. Authors Ash Carter and Sam Kashner instead wrote Life Isn't Everything with insights from 150 of his friends.  The result is a book with fascinating stories and full of insights.

Jeffrey Wright gave quote with the title for the book. According to Wright, Life Isn't Everything was an expression that Mike Nichols used often. As he worked on the set of plays and movies, Nichols told stories about himself and the news and other things to guide the actors. His background in the theater helped him in film and television. From the opening pages, this book is constructed with a series of quotations from different people who knew Nichols. The result is a bunch of lessons for anyone in theater or movies or television about the behind the scenes work. The stories are filled with insights.

While I’ve read numerous biographies and written a number  as well, I’ve never seen a book like Life Isn't Everything. In some ways it is like gathering 150 people in a room and recording their thoughts and words about the life of Mike Nichols then piecing those conversations together into a cohesive biography—not how I assume it was actually done. The result is listening to well-known people talk about different aspects of Nichols' life. The insights and stories are an incredible listening experience. I loved listening to Life Isn't Everything and highly recommend it.

While this book was different, it still falls into the biography category. The construction and format is unlike anything I've ever seen (read or heard). It shows me why it was published and why the editor found it engaging to bring it into the market. It's the same sort of unique work we need to do with our own pitches to editors and literary agents.

Have you read (or written) a book which is different yet still in a particular category of book? Tell me about it in the comments below.


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Sunday, May 24, 2020

Productive Writers Are Organized

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

During my years in publishing, I have been through many different changes. At times, I've been a pack rat saving all sorts of things gathered in piles in my office. I've interviewed more than 150 authors and saved interview tapes. I've written many books and saved various versions of the manuscript and all sorts of things—many of them unnecessary. There is a basic principle that I've learned: the more chaotic my working space—the less productive I become. The chaos weighs on my writing.

When we move, this situation often helps me. Especially when you use a moving van and pay for the weight, it makes you review everything to see if it comes with you or you give it away or toss it. Especially when we moved from eight years in Arizona a while back, I tossed a lot of things I was keeping. Over the years I kept complete magazines of the different articles I had written. That amounted to boxes of magazines. In some ways, I wish I had taken the time to scan those articles (which I didn't) so they got tossed. But to be honest, I don't need those articles.

These days I'm much better organized in my office space and also electronically. I've discovered the increased organization has a number of benefits:

1. You are in touch with your priorities and meeting deadlines (large and small one). The majority of writers miss their deadlines. I've been the editor they call for extensions with their excuses. In book publishing when you set a deadline for a contract, it sets off a chain of events inside the publishing house that writers never see—but are critical to the success of the book and its release. When you ask for additional time, you disrupt that schedule—and unknowingly affect the sales of your book (which you will not know or experience until months later). It's not a wise step to extend your deadline and instead set realistic ones you can achieve from the beginning. Again it harkens back to organization—the theme of this article.

2. You can easily find projects and pieces of paper and bits of information. As an editor and writer, you would be surprised at the random emails and phone calls I get from my colleagues asking about some book or author. If I am organized, then I can often give a quick answer. If I am not organized, then I have to take time to dig for it (which could consume a lot of time).

3. You take a few minutes here and there to keep things organized and you will be much more productive and accomplish more in a single day than in the disorganization.

It is not easy to be organized in my view and takes continual effort and work—but the payoff is worth it. I have much more work to be done in this area but my encouragement to you with your writing life is to continue to this organizational effort. Once everything gets organized an in place, it takes continued vigilance and maintenance to keep it that way. If you ignore it, the piles of paper and disorganization tends to grow and get out of control again—or so has been my experience.

How does organization play into your writing life? What tips can you give us? Let me know in the comments below. 


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Sunday, May 17, 2020

How to Fight Publishing Ignorance

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin
Last week I turned in my judging sheets for the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. I've been judging this contest once a year for at least five years. The good news is the overall quality of the books I've been seeing are improved. The bad news is that I still receive terrible entries that show publishing ignorance. In many ways I wonder how these books even got produced because they are poor on many different levels. The covers are poor. The interiors are strange. The title of the book does nothing to draw me into the book. The writing is average. The layouts are odd. Yet someone believed in the concept enough to publish it in the first place and then enter it into an awards contest. Each year the judging experience makes me do a bit of head shaking about the publishing ignorance.
Successful publishing is not simple. While I've been in this business for many years, I understand it has many twists and turns. Each book and author has to find their own audience and readers. Yes there are some best practices in the process. As you learn and execute these practices, you give your book the best opportunity to succeed and sell in the marketplace. I continue to learn new aspects.
Here are some ways to fight publishing ignorance:
1. Have high standards for your writing. Excellent writing is the foundation of every book—whether you self-publish or traditional publish. If you can't put it together with excellence yourself, then get some training or hire an outside editor or ghostwriter. If the writing is poor or even starts poorly, it will affect how your book will sell in the marketplace.
2. Use an interesting title. The author is the best person to title their book so put some energy toward this aspect. I've titled many of my books which have been traditionally published. If the title is boring, it will not draw readers.
3. Have a well-done cover. You've be shocked at the poor book covers I saw in this group of books. We judge books all the time by their covers. It's an important aspect of the publishing process.
4. Write an interesting back cover. Several of these books had no back cover (zero). It's a huge mistake because even if you self-publish and speak at an event. People will read the back cover to see what the book is about and make a buying decision. Do you have endorsements from someone well-known. It is work to get these endorsements but anyone can get them with the right efforts.
5. The production details matter. Do you have a logo for the publisher on the spine of the book (at the bottom)? Look at the books on your shelf from Random House or Simon and Schuster or HarperCollins—and follow every detail. Many of the barcodes in this batch of books did not have the price of the book built into the barcode. Even if you self-publish, these details matter.
6. Keep learning and reading how-to books then applying them to your book. Whether you get these books from your library or buy them used or buy them new or borrow them from a friend, read these books and apply it to your own publishing journey.
7. Get to a writers conference and meet professionals. Often it is who you know as much as what you know that will make the tipping point with your publishing. Yes many events have moved to online or been rescheduled but they are still going to happen and are terrific resources.
I have probably missed something in this list but it gives you an idea of some solid steps to take to fight publishing ignorance. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.


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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Where To Begin Publishing

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Recently I got a direct message from someone working on a Master's degree with an interesting topic. She wanted to know where to start the process of publishing. I'm fairly certain when she asked this question, she was thinking about how to get her thesis published as a book. I'm going to answer this question in this article but first let me say sending a direct message is often not the best way to reach me. I have my email address in my twitter profile and prefer email to direct messages. I may miss a direct message but do not miss my emails.

I understand the confusion about where to begin the publishing process. There are many options. My go-to option is to suggest you begin with a magazine article. Anyone can publish anything online like in a blog and the standard of excellence is higher for a print publication. Magazine writing is a great place to learn the skill of publishing. You learn to choose an intriguing title. Also you have to have an interesting first sentence to pull the reader into your article. Magazine articles have a structure and form and expected length. In the process of writing a magazine article, you craft a beginning, solid middle and an ending with a single point for the reader. This point is often called “a takeaway” because it is what you as the author want the reader to take away from reading your piece.See all the various writing skills you gain writing for magazines? And in this process, you are working with a 1000 to 1500 word piece of writing instead of a 60,000 to 100,000 word document (a typical book manuscript).

In general, the print magazine community has a high standard for publication. Online has a lesser standard. Anyone can write a blog or a piece online but it takes work and effort to craft a magazine article. Those of us in the publishing community understand this effort and respect the work involved in getting published in magazines.

There are many possible magazines. Like any submission, I recommend you google their submission guidelines, read the publications online or write for the guidelines and a sample of the publication. Then write a query letter or complete manuscript and send it to the appropriate editor for consideration.

Here's several other action steps besides selecting a few magazines to pitch.

1. Persistence and consistency counts. If you get rejected (and everyone including me gets rejected), try again. The people who only try once or twice typically don't get published. Persistence will pay off for you with magazine editors.

2. Be learning about book publishing and one of the best places I recommend for you to have a realistic expectation is in my most recent book, 10 Publishing Myths. Visit my website and get it from one of the several different options I give on my website. Beyond getting the book, read it and study it and apply the lessons to your own writing goals. I have a number of books on my shelf that I've purchased and never read. 10 Publishing Myths will help you more if you read it and apply the lessons.

Where do you suggest people begin the publishing journey? Where did you begin? Are there other tips you would suggest? Let me know in the comments below.


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Sunday, May 03, 2020

How To Handle the Perfect Storm

By Terry Whalin @terrywhalin

Last week I got an unexpected phone call. The project I was spending hours on every day suddenly was cancelled. The same day a literary agent called me to cancel a book contract with Morgan James. Yes it was the perfect storm. From my reading in publishing, I know this sort of thing is happening on many different fronts and places. 

I went through the different stages of grief—anger, looking for revenge, and finally acceptance and moving on. I went through the various stages pretty quickly. Why? Because I've faced these storms before—not recently—but in other parts of my writing career. I've had other books cancelled. I've been fired from companies and I've had an unjust senseless lawsuit to defend (which cost thousands). In the face of these storms, some days I wish I had selected another profession. Yet at my age and experience, it is too late to change. I've spent many years in publishing working with hundreds of authors on many different books. 

Not every day is easy and there are hard days in the publishing business. One of the best steps I've learned in these situations: to pivot to something else and keep going and keep moving. If you do nothing, then nothing happens. Even if you do a little bit on a project, keep that project moving.

I'm grateful for the diversity in my writing life. I'm still working with authors on their Morgan James books—something I've been doing for eight years. I'm still writing books for other people and still working on my online business. I recently wrote this article about the importance of diversity. Every writer needs multiple streams of income so when you face the perfect storm (as I did last week), you can still continue.

I'm refocused on other projects and other priorities. I'm also knocking on new doors every day and seeing if something else will open for my writing—as well as continuing on the projects in front of me. Also make sure you celebrate the victories. I received my 27th  review on Amazon for 10 Publishing Myths.  The review came from one of my long-term friends who has written a number of New York Times bestsellers. To my surprise, this author bought my book and wrote a five star Amazon review. I was grateful for this encouragement.

Sharon Jenkins & Terry Whalin on Facebook Live talking about 10 Publishing Myths.

Books changed lives and are essential. Last week I did about a 45 minute Facebook Live video with Sharon Jenkins about 10 Publishing Myths. We talked about all of the various myths including the 11th Myth. I hope you will follow the link and watch this free workshop. We covered a lot of ground about publishing in our conversation.

This season is a different one in our lives and writing life. We will get through it but keep going. In the comments below, let me know how you are handling the perfect storm.


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