Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Right Fit Takes Persistence

By Terry Whalin

Change is the only constant in the publishing world. Its like playing the childhood game of musical chairs. The players are constantly in motion and change positions and roles. Its one of the reasons for writers to read the trade publications which report significant personnel changes. Editors become literary agents. Literary agents change and work for a publisher or they become a freelance editor. These examples are just a couple of the continually shifting landscape. 

As a writer, you have a dream and a desire to publish your words. It takes a lot of perserverance and persistence to find the right publisher for your work. The Chicken Soup for the Soul series is one of the bestselling series in the English language. Most people have forgotten their challenging beginning. Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected 140 times before they located a publisher. That is a lot of rejection in the search to find the right fit.

There is only one way your book doesnt get published or your story doesnt appear in print or your book stops selling. Its when you as a writer give up on your dream and stop. 
* You stop meeting new editors at a conference or on LinkedIN or through an online group.
* You stop reading about new publishing houses and new publications. Change can mean opportunity for your book and your writing--if you dont stop.
* You stop pitching your writing or your book to literary agents and editors
* You stop writing a book proposal and query letter. If you havent read my Book Proposals That Sell (The Revised Edition), I encourage you to download the free ebook then read it and take action on the information. 

I dont encourage anyone reading these words to stop but instead to choose to keep going until you find the right fit for your writing. 

Last week I heard a published author with an agent tell about her devotional going out to numerous publishers (40 is the number I recall) and getting rejected. The agent and author could not find the right place to publish this idea. Then one of the editors moved to a different publishing house. This editor remembered the authors pitch and asked for the proposal. It was published along with three additional books. Her persistence paid off with four published devotional books. 

Also last week I met a new magazine editor. One of my friends had written an original story for that magazine and never received a response. Her experience was a common one. When I asked this editor about another editor who attended last year. I learned he was no longer with the magazine. I asked if my friend could resend her article to the publication. The editor said this friend should send it directly to her and use my name with the submission. Will it get published? I dont know if it will happen but now my friend has another opportunity. As with the book author, it takes persistence to find the right fit.

In these articles, Ive mentioned how books pour into my mailbox for possible review and from other authors. The volume is way more than anyone could possibly read but Im grateful for each one and the opportunity. I was sorting books which is an ongoing process to keep them organized and limited so it doesnt overwhelm. In the sorting process, I realized that I had two copies of a book. I reached out to another writer asking if she wanted it and she did. Then I packed up the second copy and put it into the mail. I tell you this little story to ask what is sitting on your bookshelf unused that you can pass along to someone else. No matter where you are in the publishing world--a beginner or a seasoned professional--each of us have opportunity. I encourage you to be aware of it and take action. 

Many writers are following the “Field of Dreams” action plan. Im referring to the movie where they build a baseball field then players and people come to it--even in an Iowa cornfield. Writers believe if they pitch to the right literary agent, their book will get traditional published. They believe if they build a great website, people will come. Or writers have many other fantasy ideas which are not based in reality. You have to actively be looking for the right connection and the right fit through your email, phone calls and much more. When you locate a possibility, take action and explore it. For example, last week I spent a chunk of time reaching out to the writers I met at a conference. One of those people emailed me back which was great. She pulled my email out of her spam or junk folder. What is sitting in your spam folder that could be an opportunity?

Do you see the opportunity in publishers and publications when the personnel changes? If you seize the moment, change can provide a fresh opportunity. How have you learned that it takes persistence to find the right fit? Let me know in your comments.

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Sunday, March 24, 2024

Preparation To Teach

By Terry Whalin

From the opening sentences, the workshop looked like a disaster. The speaker began with a story about their computer and how it crashed on the way to the conference. They had a detailed presentation but could not get their laptop and their powerpoint to work. It was disappointing and the content of the workshop went downhill from that moment. As a member of the audience, it was painful to see this workshop leader struggle with their topic. Throughout my years in the publishing community, Ive been in a number of these types of sessions with technology issues. Sometimes these glitches consume the entire workshop and Ive walked out regretting the wasted time. I could have chosen to go to a different workshop but didnt make that choice. Recently on Jane Friedmans blog, author and book coach Andromeda Romano-Lax cautioned writers about workshops and retreats. 

Because Ive been attending and teaching at workshops for years, I've heard some remarkable speakers, stories and information about the publishing world. I celebrate each opportunity to learn and listen to these leaders in our industry. For my own speaking and teaching, Ive made a number of decisions.

1. Dont Depend On Technology. I do not use a computer or powerpoint or any other technology which could crash and not perform for the workshop.

2. Use Old School Handouts with a Twist. Instead, I use paper and online handouts with the information. Also I make a point to include website links to information which is not in my presentation yet will be valuable to the various members of the audience. My goal with each handout is to make it the most valuable piece of information they take home from the event.

As I write this article about preparation to teach, Im preparing for a couple of workshops. One workshop is online and I will be traveling to another one for a live event over several days. Because I often teach on a particular topic, it would be simple to pull out my folder with my handouts and teaching notes. I could cut down the preparation time and use my previous materials--but that is not what I do. Im writing this article to show that I do much more than this minimun preparation. To show you the creative energy I pour into my handouts, heres a recent example.

For each workshop, I think through what I will be teaching. Have I had a recent experience that I can add a story to the workshop? Your personal stories add interest to your audience and keep them engaged in the workshop. Is there a new resource youve learned about which you can highlight as you teach? 

Finally I review my handout. Is the information what I want to teach? Do my links to additional information work? Is the additional information updated and current? I keep this online information on my own website instead of pointing to one which someone else controls and could instantly change. This decision reassures me that the information will be available and accessible to the workshop participant. 

While each conference is different, I will send my updated handout to the conference coordinator. Often they have a place on their website for workshop handouts. Sometimes this place is password protected and other times anyone can access it. What they do in this area isnt a concern to me. Im eager to get my information to as many people as possible. Some conferences print copies for their workshops. Other conferences will estimate your audience and ask you to bring these handouts.  I print a number of these handouts, put them in my teaching folder and bring them to the event. For each handout, I include my email and other contact information so I can be easily reached. It is always interesting to get handouts from other instructors who barely have their name on the handout--much less their contact information. Its all a part of the process of pouring creativity and thought into your handout.

I encourage you to have high expectations and goals for your own teaching. My personal goal each time is that my workshop will be one of the most significant experiences for that participant during the event. I understand that it costs time and money to attend a workshop. I want them to feel like their entire investment in the conference was earned through my single workshop. 

Often these sessions are recorded and through the years, writers will email and tell me they have listened to my recordings and taken action from my teaching. Whether you are aware of it or not, there is a long-term ripple effect from your teaching. As others have taught into my life, Im passing along my experiences and insights to others. Its our way of serving and helping others which will last beyond anything you will ever know about--which is remarkable to me. 

Do you teach other writers at workshops or conferences? What is your preparation process and what insights can you add to this article? I look forward to your comments.

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Sunday, March 17, 2024

How To Handle Editorial Feedback

By Terry Whalin

It may be strange to make this admission. As a writer, I dont enjoy getting editorial feedback--especially the most helpful kind. The most useful feedback is when your manuscript isnt published and is still being improved and refined but will often take a lot of work on my part to adjust it.  

When I work with an editor, they often use the tracking changes feature of Microsoft Word, which in general is a standard program within the publishing community. Yes, there are other programs like WordStar and WordPerfect but in general writers who use these older programs are stuck and dont want to learn to use Word. One of the most famous authors in this category is George R. R. Martin who writes the Game of Throne novels. Follow this link to see the extent that he is maintaining his old writing pattern. Most of us dont have such an option. 

Several years ago, I was contracted to write a book. This particular book involved working on a short deadline and multiple editors reviewing and making editorial suggestions on my manuscript. If you have a single editor, the Word changes appear in a single color. If you work with multiple editors, each editor has a different color and the manuscript looks like a rainbow of colors with many things to address in each paragraph. Multiple editors and a short deadline to review and return this material made this book a challenge. At that time I was not just a freelance writer but also working a fulltime day job at a publishing house. With a dose of persistence, I completed the book and it was published but the editorial process was grueling.

When you get editorial feedback, there are basically two ways to handle it. Initially when I get this feedback I fume and mutter to myself that I dont want to do it. Ive learned not to respond but to give myself a day or two to think about it. Usually during this cooling off period, I determine the truth in the feedback and the need for revision. I decide to do what the editor asked me to do.

Because Ive worked in publishing for many years, Ive seen the opposite reaction. Authors write lengthy retorts about why they wrote something the way it was written. Some authors will battle over every single word changed in their original work. These authors do not endear themselves to the editor or publisher or agent. Instead of an author you want to help, they become someone to delay, avoid and reject because of their lack of teachability and being coached. 

The editorial process is designed to produce an excellent work for the reader. Some authors forget this important detail in the back and forth process. Admittedly the process is subjective and has room for dialogue and discussion but at the core is the search for an excellent book.

One of the best ways for every writer to get editorial feedback is to join a critique group. Early in my days as a writer, I joined a small group of four people who met every month for breakfast. We wrote something each month for the group. Maybe it was a short magazine article, a query letter, part of a book proposal or a chapter in a book. Each person got the manuscript at least a week before our meeting date. As a member of the group, your task was to print the material and mark it up with editorial suggestions for improvement. During the meeting, we quickly ordered our breakfast, then took 15 minutes with each person. The focus of our time was not to visit or chat about anything other than the work that we were critiquing. At the end of the meeting, each person went home with three versions of their work.Then you can take the input and see if you agree (make the change) or ignore it. 

As writers, we grew in our writing and learned from each other in this editorial process. I found it gave valuable insight. If you are not in a critique group or want to improve your group process, I have much more detail in this article

As an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, every day Im involved in this editorial process. Recently the feedback for one of my novel authors was she needed to get a developmental editor then resubmit her work before getting a contract. This particular novelist had published a number of nonfiction books but this manuscript was her first novel. She needed some professional help before the foundation of her story would be excellent for publishing. Its not easy to tell authors such decisions and encourage them to move forward to get an excellent book--yet it is all part of the process of producing excellent books. 

Another option for writers to get editorial feedback is to hire an outside editor before sending your material to an agent or publisher. If you use this option, it can be an expensive way to get an excellent manuscript but if you learn from the editor as they make suggestions, it can be a valuable part of your growth as a writer. 

Its not easy or straightforward for any writer to handle editorial feedback but it is a necesary part of the process of producing an excellent book. How do you handle this process with your writing? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

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Sunday, March 10, 2024

A Critical Creative Decision

By Terry Whalin

Within the publishing process, there are a number of critical decisions such as which story to write, what market or audience to reach, and many other details. Today I want to write about an aspect that Ive not seen discussed very often: cover selection. 

In Ecclesiastes 12:12, King Solomon had it right when he said, “Of making many books, there is no end.” Recently in the publishing community, Ive read that over 8,000 new books enter the market every day. This large number includes the self-published books but it shows that many authors are going through the critical decision of selecting the cover for their book.

Important to Sell Books

The cover for your book--the image and the title are important if you want to sell books. Does your cover include a few words of endorsement from someone with instant name recognition? It takes additional work to get these endorsements or a foreword but it will produce increased book sales. I encourage you to pour lots of creative energy into this process. Its not just for your readers or potential readers. Your publisher, your marketing team, the bookstore people, librarians and many others will look at your cover. Are they drawn to open the book or order the book? Many of these important decisions are made at a glance and in seconds.

As an editor, Ive been in numerous cover design meetings where we talk about what images will go on the front cover of a book. In a traditional publishing situation, the author isnt on the call but can give their input in writing to the publisher. The editor meets with the designer to talk about possible images, the type or words on the cover, the size of the book and other details. Depending on the publisher, this creative meeting can also happen on a conference phone call and ideally includes the author who know the content of the book better than anyone else. 

Often it will take a week or two before the designer will send some sample covers for feedback. Years ago I worked with this remarkable designer. During the call, she would be listening to our ideas about images for the cover but as we spoke she was seaching through her image database. Several hours after the call, we would receive three or four remarkable cover designs and it was difficult to select the best one. This designer had an unusual gift and talent to listen carefully then create imcredible designs.

How to Look at Sample Covers

However you publish, it is normal to send the cover to the author. The level and degree you can offer feedback on the cover will depend on your method of publishing and level of experience (read book sales). Typically you will get this cover as an email attachment. If you are working with a traditional house, the publisher will often only send one cover and they will not be too concerned about your opinion or feedback because “they” are in charge of such things.

One of my worst experiences in this area came with a major publisher. I was writing the book for my co-author with a large five-figure advance in our contract. The publisher changed the name of the book between what appeared in their catalog as an announcement and what was on the printed book. Although I was working in detail on the inside of the book, this publisher never showed me the cover before the book was published. I dont know if they sent it to the subject (my co-author) or not. He never told me but a large photo of this author was on the cover of the published book. My co-author was embarrassed with this photo and did zero promotion for the book. The publisher took the book out of print after six months. The returns are destroyed. I have a few copies of this book but I expect Im one of the few who have these copies. In my view, the roots of this cover design experience are poor communication from the publisher to the author and co-author.

When you work with a hybrid or self-publisher you are much more involved with the look and feel of your book. Often with these publishers, you will be three different options for cover. Look carefully at them. What do you like and what elements don't you like? What is often not said but possible is that you can mix and match the elements of one cover with another one. Maybe you like the typeface on one cover and the image of another one. You can suggest a change to the color of the typeface or you can suggest an enhancement such as a thin black outline for the type. To manage expectations often you will get one or two rounds of cover design before they begin to charge you for these changes. I encourage you to make thoughtful and yet detailed suggestions to get the cover and image that will represent your book and be something as an author you will be excited about promoting into the market.

This creative decision about your cover is a process and yet an important one for every author. What am I missing in this process of creating an excellent cover for your book? Tell me about your experiences in the comments.

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Sunday, March 03, 2024

The Value of Mentoring

By Terry Whalin

Whether we like it or not, the publishing world is constantly in motion and changing. As an example, recently I had lunch with a long-time friend who years ago led a communication team but now is retired. I told him about a few hours earlier when I recorded a podcast interview. He asked, “What is a podcast?” 

I explained a podcast is like radio yet online. With the massive numbers of people podcasting and guest podcasting or listening to podcasts, his question surprised me. Podcasting began twenty years ago. I include this story to remind us the tools of book promotion and getting out our message, continue to evolve. As someone in publishing, we need to be constantly learning and experimenting. Im not encouraging you to chase the newest aspects but we need to be aware of them and use them if appropriate. 

In these articles, Ive often encouraged you to be learning new aspects of the writing life and publishing. Its important for each of us to have a healthy dose of curosity and eagerness to improve our writing. 

Lets move beyond learning for your own sake and ask what you do with this information. When you learn a new aspect of the writing life, how to you pass along this information to others? Some people dont and that is certainly your choice.  Teaching others is a firm part of my DNA. As Ive studied my ancestors, I discovered a long line of teachers. My great grandfather was a teacher. A number of his children including his oldest son (my grandfather) worked in education. In fact, my grandfather was a principal and superintendent at a Kentucky school.

While I didnt study education in college, for many years, I have been teaching others.  Since 2008, the articles in this blog have been one of the places to write the stories and give insight to others. Many of my editor colleagues work with authors on their books yet do not teach at conferences or blog or write how-to books about their craft or any number of other ways to mentor others. Each of these actions take time, energy and on-going commitment.

Some people have become editors and others have started a coaching business. During the editing or coaching process, they mentor others. Others have started or joined a critique group as a way to give valuable insight to others and help their writing craft. Other writers have started a local conference or taught at writers conferences. Mentoring and training happen throughout a conference. Later this month I will be at the Blue Lake Christian Writers Conference (use the link to learn more) which is a smaller event with great opportunity. Others have become university or community college instructors about writing. Im suggesting there are many different ways for writers to pass along what they are learning to others.

Online groups is another way to mentor and teach others about the writing world. In particular, I want to tell you about a Christian group called The Writers View which Suzie Eller started in 2001. She created a unique format for this group. A series of professionals in different areas of the market became leaders or panelists (editors, publicity people, authors, literary agents, etc.). Each week this group will focus on a partiocular topic and discuss it for several days. Then a new topic starts the next week. In over 20 years, a wide range of writing and publishing topics have been explored. The process has created a rich database of information for anyone interested in publishing--whether a beginner or a professional. The panelists / leaders and the participants have varied through the years. Ive been a panelist with this group since the beginning and stayed with it. The size of the group has varied but currently there are about 500 people participating.

Behind the scenes, some of my colleagues have been critical of my involvement in The Writers View. They have viewed my participation as a “waste of time.” Instead Ive seen this online forum as a way to invest in others and pass along some of the lessons and insights Ive learned from my many years in publishing. My continual participation is part of the consistent writer that Ive encouraged in these articles. 

The Wild Card of Mentoring

There is a giant unknown for each of us who mentor or teach others. What is the impact and who have you touched in this process? From my experience after teaching and traveling for decades, it cant be measured or known this side of heaven. Even this past week a much-published author and professional peer thanked me for helping her years earlier during a meeting at a writers conference.  I havent been to the event she mentioned in years so this meeting was decades ago--yet she recalled our conversation. Its part of the joy and value if you teach and mentor others. I encourage each of you to find some method of helping others in their writing journey. 

A common saying is “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Actions speak louder than words. What actions are you taking to begin passing along what you have learned about the publishing world to others? Let me know in the comments below. 


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