Thursday, March 31, 2005

The Power Of The Group

Some people are joiners and others are not. I tend to fall into the joiner category and belong to a number of different organizations. As a writer and editor, I’ve learned a tremendous amount from these organizations—but I do more than simply learn. I take an active role of involvement—by choice.

This week a news item broke which showed once again, the power of the group.  I’m convinced in certain situations, a group can accomplish much more than any single individual.

Here’s the first paragraph of the news release for writers:

“New York, March 29, 2005 – The American Society of Journalists and Authors, the Authors Guild, and the National Writers Union today announced the filing of a motion for court approval of an $18 million settlement in a class action suit they and 21 freelance writers filed on behalf of thousands of freelance writers whose stories appeared in online databases without their consent. They expect preliminary court approval of the settlement within the next month.”

What does it mean for writers? I love what my friend Jim Morrison said in the release:

“ASJA has long preached to freelancers that they demand extra pay for extra uses,” said Jim Morrison, ASJA’s president from 2001 to 2003 and the organization's representative in the settlement negotiations. “Today, we have an $18 million validation of how valuable electronic rights are to publishers. Freelance writers should remember that when negotiating their contracts.”

I know this news wasn’t instant but involved literally years of volunteer work for Jim Morrison and others to bring it to this point for writers.  We should be grateful for the power of the group to take up the cause of fair payment for writers. It’s one of the many reasons that I’m a proud member of the ASJA.

There are many reasons to join groups, but my greatest learning has come from my active involvement. For example, I serve on several ASJA committees and work behind the scenes in a volunteer fashion. A number of years ago, I served on the board of the Evangelical Press Association and formed long-lasting relationships with numerous editors. Some of those editors have gone into book publishing while others remain in the magazine area.

If you belong to several organizations (or even one), I encourage you to consider taking a more active role. What can you volunteer to do that will help the overall good of the group?  Yes, it will take a bit of your time from writing. From my perspective, it has been time well-spent.


Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Not Just for Beginners

This morning, I returned to Right-Writing.com and looked at some articles which appeared for the first time months ago. At a certain point in your writing career, you may decide that you are an “intermediate” or an “advanced” writer. Does that mean you don’t read the material for beginners? I continue reading this material because the reminders are excellent—and often I see a new perspective that I may have missed the first reading.

For example, Jenna Glatzer has written an article called The Beginner’s Guide to Freelance Writing.  The article is loaded with advice and insight no matter where you are in your career. Whether you are trying to brainstorm an idea, write a query letter, interview someone or understand the details of a contract, a lot of information is built into this article.

None of us have the corner on editorial wisdom. There is always more to learn. I’ve built some excellent links into this post and I recommend following them for some more insight about the writing life.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

A New Look For Right-Writing.com

Since I launched Right-Writing.com over a year ago, about every three or four months, I’ve completely redesigned the site. This website includes many pages of articles and content yet in a matter of about 30 minutes, I had an entirely new look. While it looks like it would involve hours of creative work, it doesn’t because of the web tools that I’m using for this site.

For almost eight years, I’ve had a website. It took a lot of investigation and trial and error. Some of you may know that for about two years, I worked for a dot com. While the dot com failed (I was one of the last 45 employees), I learned a tremendous amount of information about what works and doesn’t work for websites.

To build any of the pages on Right-Writing.com, I’m using Site Build It. Behind the scenes, I have a number of different site templates to select. If I’m really web savvy (and I’m not), then I can even use my own pages and design. I’m not spending hours of site design and re-design. I’m using a WYSISWG (What You See Is What You Get) system—basically a point and click. Anyone can do it and if you are looking for a new system, I highly recommend it. The tool set is amazing behind the scenes. Plus the system allows you to build unlimited pages—and it automatically submits those pages to the various search engines. As a fellow writer told me recently, the search engine optimization package alone is worth the cost. The benefits far outweigh the expenses from my view.

I’m also trying to pull together the contents for another issue of Right Writing News. If you haven’t subscribed, please use this link. The link allows you to subscribe. The subscription system (built into Site Build It) is a double opt-in system which follows the international rules against SPAM. This welcome message will provide you with the link to my 16 back issues which are loaded with how-to writing content from a variety of authors.

Today I added a valuable how-to article from bestselling author Stephen Coonts. It’s on the front page of Right-Writing.com or you can use this link. Stephen encourages writers to start with what they know but takes this common advice into a bit more detail.

I hope you enjoy the new look for Right-Writing.com. Why change it? Because I can.


Monday, March 28, 2005

More About Out of Print Books

Last week, I wrote about the mysterious process of out of print books. A reader raised a clarification question about this process and I thought I’d answer it for today’s entry about the writing life.

Often a few people within the publishing house make the decision about when a book goes out of print. The decision is tied to sales over a particular period of time. The time period varies from publisher to publisher. The process of making this decision varies from publisher to publisher.

In most book contracts, the author is given the right to purchase books at a substantial discount before the title is declared out of print and removed from the publisher’s inventory of books.  A typical book contract includes the right for the author to purchase the books. The actual discount for those purchases is negotiated with the publisher at the time of the contract. It varies from contract to contract.

When a book is about to go out of print, the book isn’t selling and the author is the key person with interest in the remaining books. The publisher has made the decision to declare the book out of print so they will contact the author and offer a “deal” to purchase the remaining books.  As an example, when your book is in print, you can purchase the books at a 50% discount plus shipping costs. Yet when your book goes out of print, the publisher wants you to purchase the remaining stock and remove the books from their warehouse. They offer you the ability to purchase the remaining books at their cost plus 10% and shipping costs. (It’s just an example and varies from offer to offer.). The discount is substantial because it is like the last gasp for the publisher to have this particular book.

Contractually you are supposed to have this right to purchase the remaining books before it goes out of print.  For the publisher part of this situation, they are supposed to monitor their inventory and give you this right. In practice, I’ve had problems with this situation several times—and not just with one publisher.

I’ve received a letter of apology from the publisher saying, “Our computer program was broken and we only have five copies of the book remaining. Here’s the copies to you without cost.” It’s a disappointing and extremely unsatisfactory solution to the author. Imagine my surprise when I received the next mailing from Discount Christian Books. I spotted a listing for my out-of-print book with a discounted price.

What happened? Some times the communication within the publishing house fails. Sales moved these books to the discount sales channel—all of the books—instead of informing the author. It violates the details of the author contract and the little guy—the author—is stuck without books.

In a completely different case, I had a series of four books. Two of the books sold through their printing. When the decision came to reprint, the publisher decided to take these books out of print (all four titles). They only offered me the two titles that didn’t sell for discount purchase.  And the other two titles? They were long gone. Again, as the author, I was stuck without recourse.

This situation isn’t true with every publisher. Several of my publishers have solved this situation with honor and grace.  One of my publishers took a book out of print. They had already sold the remaining stock to a discount house. They called and asked how many copies I would like to purchase (typically several cases of the books). They went to the discount house and recalled these boxes so I could have the books.

What can you do as an author about this situation? Not much from my view. You need to be aware of the potential problems and negotiate wisely when you sign your book contract in the first place. Also keep a steady stock of your books. In addition, you can regularly work to market your books which are in print. Remember it’s sales (or lack of sales) that will drive a publisher to make the out of print decision.


Sunday, March 27, 2005

A Productive Time Filler

For the Easter holiday, my house is filled with family visiting from out of town.  Almost everyone (I’m the exception) loves shopping so yesterday afternoon we headed to Fashion Square in Scottsdale, which is one of the largest local malls.  I connected with the family for a movie, then we planned to head further south to Chandler for a bar-b-que gathering. While the family headed off to shop for clothes, I found the location of the nearest bookstore, a Brentano’s bookstore. It was the perfect choice for me.

Writers are readers. I decided to look for Robin Lee Hatcher’s new book, Veteran’s Way to see if it had released yet. Almost immediately I was speaking with one of the bookstore employees.  They searched their computers and learned that Veteran’s Way wouldn’t be available until next month.

Since they were looking on the computer, I decided to see if they had Running On Ice, my latest book which released February 1st. They located the book in their computer but didn’t have any physical copies in the bookstore. They could order it but it would take several days to get the book. I declined. As typically happens, my name wasn’t on the computerized entry—despite my name is on the cover of the book. I couldn’t do anything about it since this information comes from the book distributor and is handled several layers away from an individual bookstore.

I introduced myself to the bookstore manager and it gave me an opportunity to tell her about Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). This trade paperback is currently at the printer and will soon be available.  As I suspected the manager was interested to meet an author, learn a bit about the book and also understand that Write Now Publications is a Phoenix-based publisher (notice how I made my book into a relevant local connection?).

It turns out this manager was a Christian and we talked about the rise of spiritual related books such as Joel Osteen’s Your Best Life Now which has remained a fixture on the nonfiction bestseller list.  Or we talked about the Purpose Driven Life and it’s impact on bookselling. Retailers such as Brentano’s aren’t concerned as much about the content as the impact on their bottom-line. Because of the large interest in these books from readers, the bookseller carries the book—even though most of them have no idea about the contents. This situation is the same for The Rising and the other Left Behind books. The rise of Christian fiction continues to be remarkable to the individual bookseller.

Toward the end of my brief conversation with the manager, I learned about the corporate side of Brentano’s. She said, “You know that we’re a part of Waldenbooks and Borders. Right?” I wasn’t aware this singular bookstore in one of the largest malls in Scottsdale was connected to these other enterprises. It added to my on-going knowledge about the bookselling business.

We exchanged business cards and I walked out of the store. It was a productive way to spend a few minutes on a Saturday afternoon.



Saturday, March 26, 2005

Ya Gotta Read It

In yesterday’s mail, I received a magazine contract to sign and return. I haven’t written for this particular magazine for many years.  I’m unsure if they even had a contract or not the last time. Some of the smaller publications operate without contracts. Often the deadlines and magazine business moves quickly.

I’ve learned the hard way in the magazine area to understand the payment for the article and the timing (acceptance or publication).  Years ago, I pitched an article to a fellow magazine editor, got an assignment and wrote the story. I neglected to ask about payment.  The article turned out to be a cover story for this particular magazine and I was paid on publication and to the tune of about $25 if I recall. I never pitched another article to this publication nor wrote for them again with that type of treatment to their writers.  You have a choice whether to write for the magazine or not. Never forget that fact.

The contract that arrived yesterday was again after the fact. I’ve written the article and turned it into the magazine. The magazine pays when they receive the signed contract.  I noticed the editor’s signature was already on the contract. I negotiated with the editor who turned the issuing of the contract to an assistant editor.

Imagine my surprise when I read the contract included a different price (slightly lower) than negotiated. It’s not a great deal of money but the principle that matters to me. Also I was surprised to see the publication takes ALL rights.  Usually in the magazine business, you sell first rights. Then the writer retains the rights to the article and material to potentially use it some other place.

I didn’t sign and return the contract (as I had planned). Instead I picked up the phone and tried to call the editor (who I have known for more than twenty years). It was too late in the day and their office was closed.  Instead I sent a short email questioning the details and how to fix it. I expect this situation will be resolved early next week. As for the price, it will return to the correct one—since I have a letter in my files from the editor with the original payment price.  I’ll listen to the rights issue and we’ll work out something. I’ve got a position (first rights) but I’m also open to listening to their position. It’s a wise stance for any writer to take in these matters.

First lesson from this experience is to read your contract. You would be shocked at the number of writers who don’t read their contracts—magazine or book contracts. It’s not your literary agent or anyone else whose name is at the bottom of the contract. It’s the author. You should understand the various details before you sign. I’ve negotiated as a writer and as an editor for book contracts and it’s been a great learning experience. I don’t have all the answers and still have a great deal to learn but I read the fine print. It’s saved me more than once from difficulties.


Friday, March 25, 2005

Out of Print / Out of Luck?

It happens rather frequently as an editor. Someone will send me their out of print book as a possibility for me to acquire. Many writers don’t understand the uphill battle they will be fighting in this area—and how they need to put their out-of-print title in the best possible light—and not some half-hearted marketing effort.

Books fade out of print--some times quickly and some times after several years with a publishing  house. As someone who has written more than 60 books with traditional publishers, I know this fact firsthand. I have a number of titles which have gone out of print. I have my share of the author horror stories about this out of print process--and the lack of availability for these titles for purchase prior from the original publisher. Despite what you have in your contract, it's a pretty consistent problem with publishing houses--as I know firsthand from major publishers.

Once a book goes out of print, it can be brought back into print with a different publishing house. As an acquisitions editor, I've acquired and contracted several of these types of books. It doesn't happen very often--and often the author receives a minimal amount of advance for such a project. It has to have a compelling reason why it didn't sell the first time successfully and a specific plan how to bring the book out with a new twist. In fiction, maybe the entire story will be reworked, updated and expanded to a longer length with some new books in the works. In nonfiction, maybe the book is given a new title, a new format (hardcover instead of paperback), a new marketing push from the publisher (and author) or the reissued book is repackaged with some other books within the publishing house. It has to be compelling.

Why? Ultimately the publishing decision will be driven by the sales and marketing potential. There will be plenty of skeptics within those areas of the publishing house. These individuals will wonder (and project often without data) about why it didn't sell the first time. They will briefly discuss this aspect, then make their decision about investing in the project or not. Most often the answer is no.

My personal tendency with the bulk of my out of print materials is to simply press on to a new project. I see authors who remarket (almost to death) these out of print projects. From my view, I'm thrilled that the book was in the market and had an opportunity to reach the public. For many different reasons, that project didn’t reach the audience and is no longer in print. Now I'm looking for my next book to write. It’s something to carefully consider if you are devoting a lot of energy to market something that has fallen out of print. 


Thursday, March 24, 2005

Knock A Successful Series of Books?

Numerous times in recent years, I’ve been in these discussions inside publishing houses. Whether in a group setting such as a break in a publication board meeting or one on one with various publishing insiders, I find they often like to talk about the Left Behind series. The series has sold over 62 million copies since the first book, Left Behind, was published in 1995.

I’ve heard a variety of responses to the series and most of them have been negative. One vice-president of sales told me, “I gave up on Book Four. The plots were too predictable.” Another says, “I started it and never finished the first book.” Another person gave up at Book Eight.  In general, these individuals love to rail about the predictable writing, the cardboard characters and other such comments.  Everyone shakes their heads and don’t understand how the series has caught on and why it continues to have such success.

Earlier this month, The Rising was published and last week was #1 on The USA Today bestseller list and # 2 on The New York Times bestseller list. Tyndale House Publishers printed 1.1 million copies for their initial release.  My review of The Rising appears on FaithfulReader.com. As I mentioned in my review, I’ve read every one of the thirteen books—cover to cover. I’ve enjoyed the experience and believe it is the characters which have caught my attention.

When the Left Behind series was first published, writer Jerry B. Jenkins sent me a copy of the first book. I’ve known Jerry for about twenty years in a variety of settings. I took the book on a trip to East Texas where I was working on a book project.  The first book opens with a stewardess knocking on the pilot’s door of a transatlantic flight of a 747. She tells the pilot they have a problem. Half of their passengers have disappeared. Their clothes are in the seats but their bodies are gone.  It sets off a chain of events. My first thought was “How hokey.” Then I was hooked and had to complete the last page of the book about 2 a.m. I’ve been hooked ever since that first book.

Many people have tried to explain the sales of the series.  If people within publishing could explain it, then they hope to duplicate it with another book.  For me, it’s unexplainable except a movement of God which draws people to read these books—Christians and non-Christians alike. Many people forget that Jerry B. Jenkins had written over 100 other books (many of them quite successful) before he wrote Left Behind.

Many people within publishing would love to duplicate this effort—if they could figure it out. In the meantime, I have no doubt they will continue to discuss their fiction problems with the series. As for me, I celebrate the success of this series. I know it has improved and changed the spiritual condition of many. If you want to know more about these changes, I recommend you read These Will Not Be Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins with Norman B. Rohrer (Tyndale, 2003).

I’ll continue to listen to the discussions about Left Behind but you won’t find me knocking this series.


Wednesday, March 23, 2005

It Sounds Simple

One of the email groups where I participate has been discussing the value of networking. I’ve taken some of the information I sent in a post and reworked it. I hope it will help some others in this area.  When I consider the topic of networking, one key is to treat everyone with respect and professionalism. You never know where a contact will be important to you.

Years ago at one of the Christian Booksellers Convention, I recall explaining to a young publicist about how I couldn't get on their publisher review list--despite regularly writing reviews for different high-profile publications. She gently listened to my story, took my business card and promised to do something about it. I was added to their review list. About a year later, the publicity department at this publisher totally changed and this same publicist became a Vice-President of Publicity.

Or consider a more recent change--and this time I'll add the names. Many years ago, Gary Terashita was on the sales staff at Cook Communications, then he moved to the sales staff at Lifeway in Nashville, TN. Then he became an acquisitions editor at Broadman & Holman (the trade division of Lifeway). In the last month, Gary moved to Warner Faith as a Senior Editor. If you had met him years ago when he was in sales at Cook, could you have imagined these changes? It's a basic principle of good business to be professional and treat everyone with kindness.

You would be amazed at the rude reactions I receive as an editor from writers. Remember them? You bet. If you want a sample, check out this blog entry from a few days ago. Or here's another one about snappy comebacks--please don't use them. Whether in person, on email, or through the mail, you are making an impression as you interact. Never forget it.

Craft is critical as we write. Your writing has to shine to the editor. But never forget the importance of the interpersonal relationship. Last week I was talking with another editor. He told about acquiring a book and getting it to the contract stage (i.e. the project had been approved by the publication board of the company and they were ready to issue the writer a contract). If you don't know publishing, this action of getting an approved contract is huge. Apparently when the editor called the author, this writer was so arrogant and demanding--as an unpublished author--it made this editor wonder what the author would be like after the book was contracted. He made a decision to protect his company and never issued the contract. The loser from the arrogant behavior? The author--and likely he never knew the reasons. The deal suddenly fell apart.

It sounds pretty simple but treat the editors and professional writers and new writers and anyone else who crosses your path with the love and kindness of Jesus. It will make a big difference to your networking possibilities.


Tuesday, March 22, 2005

Wherever I Can Find It

Reading, learning and growing is a constant part of my writing life. If you’ve read anything in these pages, you know these words are built into my daily actions and fiber. It’s part of how we grow as writers and editors and continue to improve in our craft and business practices.

Today I stumbled across a little free booklet called How to Find an Agent and $ell Your Writing. It is geared to fiction writers but the truth rings throughout these pages for any type of writer.  Consider these points on the opening page:

“Seven Tips for Breaking Into Print

  • Always listen to industry pros; even if they wind up being wrong, you’ll learn from the experience.
  • Seek criticism, not praise. Knowing what’s wrong will help you improve.
  • Be ready and willing to rewrite and edit, a lot.
  • Read what’s currently selling, and come up with comparable ideas.
  • Don’t take rejection personally. This is a business, so be businesslike.
  • Make the Work free from typos, spelling errors, and formatting problems.

What are you writing today? A magazine article? A children’s book? A website? A nonfiction book proposal? A Thank You Letter? A Resume? Or a Newsletter

No matter what you are writing, make it your best, then check it again before you send it out into the marketplace. Your writing could be exactly the project that a particular editor needs.  As for me, I plan to continue looking for wisdom and writing insight wherever I can find it.


Monday, March 21, 2005

Raise Your Stakes for Success

In a few hours, a high-profile author is going to call my office phone for an interview.  I’m working on assignment and looking forward to this interview.  You never know how they will go.

Over thirty years ago, I conducted my first interview as a writer.  After hundreds (maybe thousands) of these experiences, I know firsthand about the unpredictable nature of the interview.  I’ve had many things go wrong with an interview. Such as:

  • my tape recorder malfunctioned and I didn’t get a single quotation recorded
  • the person “forgot” about the interview and we never connected in person or on the phone
  • the celebrity didn’t stick to the schedule, called late and shortened my planned interview time so I wasn’t able to gather the story material that I needed to write the article.
  • the personality was completely exhausted and answered my leading questions (not yes / no questions) with a “yes” or a “no.” They had no story content to their interview and it involved a lot of creative work to pull together the eventual article.
  • the personality was so brilliant they were thinking five or six steps ahead of me. One author and I were exploring some fascinating material—and he would interrupt and say, “But why are we talking about this? The reader doesn’t care anything about it.” Well, I cared about it (as the person conducting the interview) but I changed gears to a different topic. It was a situation where the personality took over the control of the interview—and something to guard against.

To improve the possibility for success with an interview, I recommend several steps:

  • gather the greatest amount of background material ahead of the interview and carefully process all of this material. The material may be a new book, a press kit, interviews with other publications and a number of other sources for background information. Go through this material and use it for your preparation.
  • prepare a list of questions and possible directions for the interview. These questions aren’t the firm way the interview will happen—but they give you some possible directions.
  • during the interview always listen intensely and follow-up with a question if you don’t understand something

Interviews involve interaction with another person.  It’s beyond everything that you can control. I’m unsure how today’s interview will go. I’ve prepared for a successful interview and hope this will be the case.

Personally I love the “anything can happen” element in these interviews. Over the years I’ve heard it repeatedly from the people that I’m interviewing, “I’ve never said this _______ to anyone but….” Then they tell me an original insight into their character or personality.

I’m eager to see what happens in this interview.


Sunday, March 20, 2005

Pitch Preparation for Conferences

Yesterday I spent most of the day at a small writer’s conference in downtown Phoenix. As an acquisitions editor, I was meeting in short appointments with different writers. These types of meetings are often a standard feature at various conferences.

It’s easy for me to recall my early days attending these conferences, I was petrified to speak with the editors but I knew I needed to get to know them. These brief sessions are important because you are making your first impression on the editor. How do you come across? Organized and confident? Disorganized and unsure? Do you ask questions or plunge ahead into your pitch (not knowing whether you are talking with the right editor or not?)?

As I thinking about the series of people, I met yesterday—the contacts were the entire spectrum.  Some people confidently shook hands with me and introduced themselves. They had a concise project to pitch to me. Others were simply coming to explore an idea or a concept.  Others were shy and I had to coax them to tell me their idea.

The best pitches are practiced pitches. These writers have prepared a short statement (usually in writing) and read it several times. (They don’t have to read it to the editor—not usually a good idea.) Also these writers have some familiarity with the editor and what they publish. They are confident in their pitch because they know they are pitching something of interest to this particular publishing house or this particular magazine. Also the writers with the best pitches come prepared to take notes and listen to the editor.  When the editor speaks, they are taking brief notes and they ask relevant follow-up questions. For more insight, take a look at the guidance in this article.

At most conferences, I am listen to these pitches as an editorAt some conferences, I’m a writer who is pitching to other editors. I’m going to take a personal lesson from these experiences. Then next month my own pitches will be more on track as I briefly meet with some editors. Preparation is key.


Saturday, March 19, 2005

A Lesson In Persistence

In the last few weeks, I stumbled across an article filled with wisdom for writers who want to get published.  Like a lot of things I read online, I run it through my filter and experience. I don’t agree with everything but the words ring with truth and should be read and processed through your own experience.

When someone gets a six-figure advance and that news goes out to the publishing community, it is like they have been “discovered.” J.A. Konrath writes about his First Deal released last May in hardcover. He says, “How did a guy with no publishing record get both an agent and a big book deal? Was I a Cinderella Story, being at the right place at the right time? Did I know some industry big shot who made a few phone calls? Did I use blackmail, bribery, or extortion? No, no, and no-no-no. I’m actually a slush-pile success–a guy who got noticed by writing unsolicited queries. But much as I’d like to say that my very query letter catapulted me to success, that’s not the case. The truth is, I’d written nine previous novels, and garnered over four hundred rejections, before getting my big break. Throughout twelve years of writing and marketing, I’ve made every mistake a writer could make.”

Then he details some of his experience and how he found a literary agent. Here’s the key phrase in this article which caught my attention: “So after twelve years and over a million written words, I’m an overnight success. The turning point in my career can directly be traced to one event: my change in attitude. When I stopped thinking of writing as a dream, and began thinking about it as a business, I landed my agent.”

Persist and learn your craft. Whether it is nonfiction, fiction, children’s writing, magazine articles or anything else.  If you want to get published, you have to treat this business like a business. It will show in your attitude.



Friday, March 18, 2005

Multi-Task or One At A Time?

People regularly tell me that I’m a great multi-tasker. It’s true that with my natural wiring, I can juggle many things at the same time. I can tell when I get overloaded because I am not as productive and I crawl into bed at an early hour. I had one of those nights last night. Normally I operate on about five to six hours of sleep but last night I got eight and a half. It’s a way I can monitor my own workload.

From my view, this whole multi-tasking thing is over rated. Driving down the freeway, I often will talk on my cell phone or I’ll be reading some email when I’m talking on the phone in my office.  Recent tests in the news have proven the danger of such actions because it divides your concentration and waters down your effectiveness.  Multi-tasking as you drive a car is one of the common ways that accidents happen. It’s made me more cautious about using my phone in the car.

As a writer and editor, I get things done one task at a time. Whether I am reading a stack of fiction submissions or writing a short magazine article, it’s all one task at a time. Yesterday I took a chunk of time and headed over to a major league team’s spring training ball park. I caught up with one of their pitchers and interviewed him. My experience was a good one and I pulled off the interview getting what I needed for my magazine article. While the material was fresh in my mind, I took the time and drafted this magazine piece. I hope to look at it again soon and see if it’s done to the specifications of the editor—then send it off—ahead of the deadline.

Each of us in this writing / publishing world have our own challenges. Whether you are writing a children’s book, a novel, a nonfiction book proposal or a magazine article, write it with excellence. Don’t send off something half baked or incomplete. If you do, it will influence the editor about you—and not in a positive way.

It’s my challenge as an editor and writer—to select the right tasks and complete them with excellence. They will be completed one task at a time. I hope it is your challenge as well.


Thursday, March 17, 2005

Phone Calls and Interviews

Last night my office phone rang about 7:30 p.m.  Yes, I was in my office—working. I looked at my Caller ID and it said “private.” No information about the caller. I could have let it go to my voice mail but I answered it.

It was a writer who had received a form rejection letter (maybe even that day). I continue to receive a large number of fiction submissions for my part-time acquisitions editor position at Howard Publishing.  Without any secretarial assistance, I processed a number of these submissions in recent days.

This author wasn’t objecting to my decision. He wanted his submission returned. I said, “Returned?”

According to his explanation, he had submitted other paperwork and included postage and only received the rejection letter. I had no idea what he was talking about and almost no recollection of his submission. My office is a small room and any paperwork quickly goes into our recycle bin for the city to haul away.

“I’m a struggling writer and the postage was on my envelope and I need that submission returned,” he explained again. 

Since I didn’t have it, I apologized and explained that it was already recycled. When our call ended, I could feel the perturbed attitude from this writer about his submission. Immediately after the call, I opened my submission log (yes I have one) and looked to find his name and when I returned his submission. He made a definite impression.

As an editor, I value writers and try to carefully handle their submissions. I’m not always perfect in this process but I attempt to handle these issues in a professional manner.  For example, since September 11th, the mail has grown more complex. Manuscripts can be returned, but if they are beyond a certain weight (and most of these 90,000 word manuscripts are heavy), then they have to be hand delivered to the post office. If you don’t hand it to a postal employee, then it is returned to the editor with a green government sticker—and I have to make another attempt to return it. In a word, it’s an extra hassle. If you are sending your entire manuscript to the editor, I recommend you include a standard envelope for the response. If it’s a positive response, you will be receiving a phone call.

Also always make sure you include an email address if you don’t include an SASE. I’ve received several submissions recently with no SASE and no email. Publishers normally don’t respond in these cases—so the writer never knows what happened from the submission. Publishers don’t have budgets for postage to return these manuscripts. Just imagine returning 3,000 to 6,000 unsolicited manuscripts and what that would do to your budget.

As a writer, I understand what it was like to be new in this business. It’s one of the reasons, I’ve invested such energy into creating a place like Right-Writing.com. In these cases, I mark the rejection letter with encouragement to send an SASE in the future or an email address for a response—or they will not be hearing from me a second time. I hope this serves the writer and helps them understand a tiny bit more about this business.

Beyond the phone calls as an editor, I also write. For the last several weeks, I’ve been trying to get credentialed to interview a major league baseball pitcher.  Persistence is one trait that I’ve learned the hard way in this area. I’ve called (almost daily) and faxed (several times) and my assigned magazine has also faxed to this public relations officer. Yesterday it appeared to pay off (I never know until it happens).  This morning, I’m scheduled to interview the pitcher and gather the information for my short magazine assignment.  I should learn a great deal through today’s experiences.

Hopefully as writers and editors, we are constantly learning—and improving. We’re not perfect. We do make mistakes.  And the next time, you feel like calling an editor and verbally beating up on them for not returning something—think twice. You are making a lasting impression with your phone call. 


Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Ever-Changing Publishing Landscape

You’d think after my years in this business that I would get used to the changes. I’m not.  Some times they still hit home to me.

In the early days of my writing, during the 80s, I took a class from the Writer’s Digest School called Writing Fiction to Sell. My instructor was science fiction author Ardath Mayhar.  In light of my present body of work, it might seem like a strange pairing.  One of my cherished autographed books is Carrots and Miggle which Ardath signed to me saying, “To Terry, who will one day have books of his own.”

When I took the course, I had not published any books. The Writer’s Digest School paired you with a personalized instructor who critiqued each lesson and responded with a personalized letter and specific instructions about your lesson. It was a great experience and I enjoyed my interaction with my instructor. Ironically I received a top grade for the course but never published my short story from the course.  Why didn’t it get published? Too busy with other things at that time and I never devoted the marketing energy to get it into the right editor’s hands so it was published.

In the 90s, I taught at the Institute of Children’s Literature as one of their instructors. It was a great experience and I learned a great deal from it and commonly recommend this course to people who want to write children’s booksThe Institute has a quality, first-class set of instructors and instructional materials. I believe their current teaching system is mostly online.

In recent days, I’ve been doing a bit of marketing preparation for my new how-to book—which will be available next month.  Two new excerpts from the book are also available and give you a taste of the book’s contents.

And the change, I mentioned in the opening paragraph? I learned the Writer’s Digest School is not accepting any more students for their printed course.  Everything has shifted to their online course. It means their printed publication for the students will also be ending in another couple of years.

While the publishing world continues to change and shift, I want to encourage you to recommit to learning your craft of writing. Whether you are trying to publish children’s books, magazine article, nonfiction or fiction books or any other type of writing, there is always room for quality writing. It’s my on-going commitment and hopefully yours as well.


Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Conference Envy

It’s the time of year when many are headed to a specific writer’s conference.  Actually some wonderful conferences are held throughout the year and in many different areas of the United States. It’s been my privilege to attend and teach at a number of them.  From each conference, I learn a great deal, meet many new friends and catch up with long-time friends. These conferences are valuable experiences—particularly if you prepare and use your time wisely. I know they are large investments for each person in terms of the time and financial expense.

Later this week, many of my editorial and writing friends are headed to the Mount Hermon Conference. For the first time, the conference didn’t issue a printed brochure but simply have their information on their website.  It’s the oldest Christian writer’s conference in the country and a place where I’ve had some amazing personal experiences over the years.

Walking among the redwoods, a children’s book editor and I connected. At the time, I was with a missions organization and this publisher had world missions as a part of their mandate for their book line. She asked me to pitch some ideas.  I responded with several possibilities. The follow-up conversations resulted in my first book in 1992.

To my shock and surprise in 1989, I received the Writer of the Year Award at the conference. It’s one of my few writing honors and a treasure to me.

I love walking the grounds at this particular conference. Often I take a short hike to see some large redwood trees in a state park.

This year, I’m not going to this conference. I hope my friends have a wonderful experience at the conference. I’ll admit to a bit of conference envy because this one holds such special memories and experiences in my life as a writer and editor. If you are going, I wish you well.

If you are one of the readers who is not attending the conference, here’s some things to keep in mind:

  • Not everyone within Christian publishing is at this conference.
  • Even the people who are at the conference are some times easier to reach in their offices.
  • I’ve been to this and other conferences and as an editor, you don’t fill your schedule only at these conferences. There are many ways to find books and magazine material the publishing houses.
  • Conferences are for much more than selling product. They are for relationship building and personal growth and other aspects. This type of learning happens at conferences—and many other places.

I’m over my momentary conference envy. I’ve got many other things absorbing my attention—including going to a last minute addition to my schedule: The Ice Escape Conference in Phoenix. I’ll be attending on Saturday and look forward to it.



Monday, March 14, 2005

Discouraged or Determined?

Some times the odds of getting published can be daunting—even for someone like me who has been around this business for some time. Just look at some of these publishing statistics:

2002: The five large New York publishers accounted for 45% of the market (made 45% of the sales.) They grossed $4.1 billion.
  --Publishers Weekly, June 16, 2003. 

2004: 2.8 million books in print.
  --R.R. Bowker as reported in The Wall Street Journal, April 24, 2004. 

With the volume of new books being produced, it’s a pure wonder that any one of them are purchased and read.  Also I’ve read that at any given time there are an estimated six million manuscripts and book proposals in circulation in different publishing houses. It’s pretty easy to feel like a small fish in a huge ocean.

Last week, I was talking with one of my author friends who has written for the children’s book market for more than twenty years. This successful author has more than six million books in print.  I’ve never seen this author have her own website. Her books are promoted on her particular publisher’s websites.  On a personal level, I know this author works hours and hours selecting the perfect words for her board books and preschool writing.  She has labored and rewritten her manuscripts over and over. Here’s the news she told me, “I’ve never seen the children’s market so flat. We went through a dry spell several years ago and I thought it was over but it’s back.”

You can look at this information in two ways. It can discourage you to the point that you leave your writing and move on to a different arena. Or you can grow in your determination and become better at your craft. I’d encouraged the second response.

Here’s some ideas how to increase your determination:

  • Join a free writer’s newsletter and read the material and apply it to your craft. I’ve produced 16 issues and they are only available to subscribers.
  • Join a book club like the Writer’s Digest Book Club. Get the books (and read them—brilliant) then apply the material to your writing life.
  • Join a writer’s critique group. It will force you to write and also improve your skills. If you don’t know what I’m talking about or how to start one, then follow this link.
  • Try a different area of the market. If you’ve been working on a long novel, then try writing some shorter magazine articles. It may get you in a different mind set. As Bob Bly writes, “Do something.”
  • Invest in a writer’s conference. There are many good ones out there—but prepare and get ready for it. Follow the links in this bullet for more information.

Finally look at your motivation for writing. Why are you doing it? If it’s to make money or get rich, then you may have a long road ahead. If you are trying to help others, tell a good story and produce quality material, then welcome. May your tribe increase.


Sunday, March 13, 2005

Their Questions Are Amazing

On my Right-Writing.com website, I have a submission form. People can use this form to ask me any question about writing or editing. I make no guarantees that I will answer them.  As much as possible, I try to send short responses.

Here’s a recent example of what I’ve received, “Where can I get it done at and for a book that only has two pages how much would they pay you?”

From the question, I assume that I’m dealing with an unpublished writer and likely a young person (but it’s hard to tell). The question is valid but shows such a lack of education about the publishing world that I hardly know where to start and could easily write a lengthy answer that no one would read or care about.

Here’s what I sent the author, “A traditional book publisher is going to invest between $50,000 and $100,000 in pure production costs to produce a book and get it into the distribution system (at the bookstores). No one is going to produce a two page book with that sort of investment. As far as what they pay--it varies. The more experience you have the higher the paycheck. It's negotiated. Hope that helps you understand--publishing a business--a huge one.”

Each day, we are involved in the business of publishing. Because writing is a key part of the education system, it’s something many people feel like they could do—if they were given the right opportunity. Publishing is a business. The more you learn about it, the more you realize you have to learn. I’m constantly learning new aspects and techniques for this business—and I’ve been actively working at it for many years.

Some people may wonder, Why do you bother answering these questions from the new writer?  Each of us have to begin somewhere.  Not too many years ago, I didn’t know anything about the magazine world, then I started writing magazine articles and eventually became a magazine editor.  Years ago, I didn’t know much about writing children’s books, then I had the opportunity to write a number of them and I’ve learned a great deal in the process. My writing moved into the adult area of nonfiction and I gained additional experience. Finally I’ve grown in the area of fiction writing. Have I completed my education in these areas? Not even close. It’s a part of the journey and why I’m committed continuing to answer the most basic of questions.



Saturday, March 12, 2005

Snappy Comebacks Leave Lasting Impressions

In recent weeks, I’ve received a number of fiction submissions for my part-time position as a Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Howard Publishing. These query letters, proposals and sample chapters come from individual authors and literary agents.

As a writer, it’s been fascinating to me because these packages arrive full of hope and in all types of formats and shapes. Each of us as writers have a lot of dreams and ambitions. We want other people to like and enjoy our writing and we are looking for an editor who connect with our material and will champion our book internally within the publishing house. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the writer (or agent) has to convince this editor—but then the editor has to convince another room full of people (some times repeatedly) to take a particular project and get it into print. Sales, marketing, other editors, leaders in the publishing house are a few of these specific people—before a writer will get a publishing contract. There is a long chain to get a book from idea to printed book that gets into the reader’s hands. If any part of it is broken, it creates problems. (another subject some day)

As an editor who also writes, I understand the writer who wants to push on their particular project. It is nerve-racking waiting for a response. Instead of pushing, I encourage writers to begin another project. Get something else in motion while you are waiting—then the waiting will be less tense and you will be more productive as a writer.

When I approach these fiction manuscripts, I’m looking for excellence yet it’s highly selective. Last year, I received over 350 submissions from literary agents and individual authors. Only three or four books were actually contracted from those submissions.

And the rest? They were rejected. I have a gracious rejection letter (at least it is from my view and I’ve tried to craft it in that manner). It’s been an education about how people respond—even agents. One agent didn’t like my form rejection letter that I sent each time for his clients. He said he gets personal responses from secular editors and form rejections from Christian editors. I’ve been sending him one or two personal sentences since that comment.

I wrote a different agent a personal note recounting the volume of submissions and he snapped back, “Yeah but all those other submissions hadn’t sold millions of copies like my author.” Or something with that sort of content. It didn’t change my decision—except to realize this agent didn’t need a personal note. He’s getting no reason—just a form letter from here on out.

As an editor who cares, some times I try and add some extra to the form letter—just to encourage the writer. Unfortunately, it’s often not worth the effort. Here’s a couple of examples from yesterday. One submission had no text in the email. There was only a cover letter—with my name spelled wrong (another pet peeve of mine). The pitch was a nonfiction children’s book. It used an email which labels in the subject line: Re: Fiction Manuscript. Because I’m the fiction acquisitions editor—it’s all I can acquire. I added the personal note that the publisher doesn’t do children’s books. Because of the format for the submission, most editors would have hit the delete button and never opened it. Instead, I opened it, read it and responded. Many submissions never receive a response from the editor.

Here’s the author’s comeback note: “Thank you for your kind consideration, but my book _______________ was neither a child’s book nor fiction.....but thank you for your consideration....I am sure that I can find a publisher that will actually read the book...your loss.”

It made an impression—not the right one.

Or this submission (a Christmas story for children) began: “I am a highly motivated disabled guy from __________, who can either goof off all day, or come up with timely, highly profitable book ideas. Mostly, option two is my choice of the day! ***To the point: I am asking you, who has the uncanny ability to spot a can't miss/money making project, to take a look/see...”

I sent my standard rejection note with the personal addition that we don’t publish children’s books and that he was better sending it to a place that handles children’s books. Within a few hours, I got this reply, “Terry, I never meant to send this to any rude, snob _________ (insert a curse word) bless you too”

It’s a response I will remember for many years ahead. It’s not the type of impression you want to make as a writer. Without a doubt these writers were disappointed. It’s not my intention to disappoint anyone. It’s not personal, it’s business.

Some writers wonder why the only response they receive is a form rejection letter. There is no explanation or reason or way for improvement. Some times writer will press me for a reason. I’m reluctant because it’s not a part of my job description and there simply isn’t enough hours on the day. Find a critique group or pay for a critique service if you want the details. Or attend a writer’s conference, sit with an editor and get some specific help and insight.

When you receive a rejection note, you can press on to another publisher or send a little note like, “Thanks for taking a look.” or “Thank you for considering it.” Anything snappy only makes the wrong impression. It’s like the old rule your mother may have told you as a child, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” It works for editors too.


Friday, March 11, 2005

Learn From Everyone

A number of my writer friends are preparing for writer’s conferences.  Several of my editorial colleagues have also mentioned getting ready to attend a writer’s conference.  Some terrific conferences exist around the country. I’m going to be teaching the continuing class about the nonfiction book at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference in Asheville, NC from April 17–21. Follow the link if you want to know more about this one.

It’s eye opening for many writers to come to a conference and learn how much more they need to learn about publishing and crafting their manuscript. Some people come to conferences because they have a book manuscript to sell or a magazine article or a children’s book. These people latch on to the editors because they have something to thrust into their hands. Please don’t be one of those people.  As an editor, I can tell you that I remember them forever—and in 99.9% of the cases, these people are not ready to be published and have come to the conference mostly to learn they have a lot to learn.

If you have decided to attend one of these conferences, here’s my encouragement. Learn from everyone at the conference.

Many years ago, I attended a small one-day conference at Chapman College in Southern California. I recall asking a woman who was also attending the conference, if she had a manuscript to show the editor. She proudly proclaimed, “I’m a published author.”  At the time, I was also a published author (probably way beyond the publishing experience of this author), yet I didn’t wear my credits on my shirt sleeve. I had decided ahead of time to learn from everyone.  Unpublished writers have amazing stories about their journey, their hopes and dreams. The published authors may not be able to actually contract your book manuscript or magazine article or children’s book. But you should be talking with them because you can learn from their experience in the business. They will sit up until the late hours in the night chatting with you. Networking is a common term to what I’m writing about. Follow this link and this one plus this third one to be fully prepared to attend.

Then go to the conference and see what happens. Be prepared for surprises. They are always around the corner.


Thursday, March 10, 2005

Professionals Do It

What’s your attitude when you turn in your book or your magazine article or your children’s book?  Just so we’re clear, I’m speaking of contracted projects where the magazine or publishing house have signed a contract with you.  The editor is expecting your manuscript on deadline.

Most beginning writers are surprised when the editor adjusts their words and they try to fight over every single nuance and change in their manuscripts. After years in this business and being the writer and the editor, I have one word of advice: don’t. If you balk and scream over the minor changes, then you will only irritate the editor and maybe become a one-hit wonder.  Just remember, you are looking for an editor where you can have an on-going relationship.  This on-going relationship translates into a steady stream of work and assignments and payments.  The constant movement of editors in this business never ceases to amaze me (and I’ve also contributed my part to this movement).  One week an editor will be in one place and the next week, this editor will assume a different role some place else.

No one likes to rewrite with instructions from the editor. At least, that’s my initial reaction. I rail and holler and scream (some times even out loud in my office)—but I never tell this information to the editor. If I’ve drafted a snappy response, I do it on a blank sheet of paper or a blank screen—and never send it.  If you send it, you will regret it and you will position yourself as an inflexible writer.  The editor and the writer have the same goals—to produce excellent writing and meet the needs of the reader or audience.

Several years ago, I contracted a book with a best-selling nonfiction writer. As a part of my responsibilities, I had to read his manuscript and see if it was “acceptable.” In book publishing, acceptability is a major step for the writer because it’s when the second portion of their advance (against royalties) is released. In other words, the writer gets a paycheck.  When you get this feedback from the editor to rewrite, instead of fighting against it, your goal should be to handle everything as professionally and smoothly as possible.

What do professional writers do? When they turn in a manuscript (whether book or magazine), they offer in their cover letter to rewrite. It’s no shame to rewrite and follow the editor’s rewrite instructions. When I prepared a series of questions for my bestselling nonfiction writer, he immediately responded with the positive statement, “Terry, you are making me a better writer.” He understood the process. It’s the mark of a professional in this publishing business.


Wednesday, March 09, 2005

The Road Few Travel

I shouldn’t be surprised when someone asks me the question, but it always seems to catch me off guard. It happened again a day or so ago. Someone filled out the submission form at Right-Writing.com asking something like, “How do I get published? How do I take my pile of paper and turn it into print?”

Because we have to write papers within the school system, many people figure they will turn their love of storytelling into print. Unfortunately they are lost where to begin the journey. Many of them decide to write a children’s book. Others decide to write a novel. Yet another group begins a nonfiction manuscript. Because they have persisted enough to begin, they figure someone should publish the material. They’ve done nothing to think about the market for their particular writing or who would publish it. It’s a key mistake on their part. Before you write one word of material, you need to focus on your reader. Who will be interested and how can you write your material so the editor for those readers will take your material?

Often these individuals believe they can write their novel and the first editor who reads it will love it and publish it. Then they will be on the bestseller list.  This common belief should not surprise me. We live in an instaneous world.  If you don’t reach someone on their phone, then you call their cell phone number.  Something must be wrong if you don’t get a 24 hour response to an email.  The publishing world doesn’t move fast and often it takes a while to receive a response—particularly a “yes” response.

It’s the road few travel but I strongly believe in the principle of apprenticeship.  Instead of planning on writing the next bestseller, you learn to be an excellent storyteller. You practice your craft with the shorter magazine articles or in your local newspaper. Instead of writing an untargeted novel (believe me there are plenty of them out there), you learn to craft a short story with a page-turning plot and realistic dialogue and characters that make the reader want to know more.

Instead of planning on writing the next nonfiction bestseller, you learn to write different types of magazine articles for a small publication.  You aren’t concerned about the royalty rate or the amount of payment for the article.  You celebrate whenever anything appears in print and gets out to others where they can read it and appreciate it. Often beginning writers get hung up on things like royalty rate and what rights are they selling instead of a focus on quality work.

To me, the journey isn’t a one time experience. It’s a matter of building a body of work—solid writing over a long period of time. As you get published in one publication, the experience gives you the opportunity to be published in another area of the market. You learn how to meet the editor’s needs (and as a result the reader’s needs). 

I’ve read the stories of people who catapult on the bestseller list with their first novel. It has happened and will happen in the future. It’s simply not the normal experience in publishing.  I encourage writers to learn their craft, work hard at their storytelling and eventually they will be published—and not just published once but many times and consistently. It’s a journey worth the trip and one filled with learning every step of the way.




Tuesday, March 08, 2005

If In Doubt Communicate

As an editor and writer in the publishing business, communication is key. It’s one of the basics which many writers fail to handle properly.

At the moment, I’m writing this note from a motel room. Over the weekend, a situation called for us to make an immediate trip. I had a number of editorial responsibilities which were pending and would be left hanging with this sudden trip. I could have ignored everything and traveled then handled the fallout when I returned.  It’s what many writers do but it’s not the best way to handle the situation.

Instead, I carefully thought through my various pending deadlines and obligations. Then I sent short to the point emails to each party and informed them about my sudden change and what it meant for their project. Like any business, good communications is important in the publishing world.  I didn’t communicate my change of plans to everyone—only the important, current and critical projects. You can carry your communications to an unnecessary extreme so you have to choose carefully and wisely in this process.

When you don’t communicate, then people figure you’ve missed the deadline or you have forgotten their project or you are unreachable or any number of other things where their imagination gets away from them. A short to the point email handles all these fears and keeps you on solid footing with the editor.

From my perspective, your communications needs to be straightforward and proactive. It’s my word for today about the writing life.


Sunday, March 06, 2005

More Take An Educated Shot in the Dark

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been working on some promotion for my forthcoming book.  Often in this process, I’m working in faith that something will actually sell from this promotional effort. I’ve done several things to help this unpredictable process:

1. I created a quality and tested book manuscript. None of the other things I’m doing will have merit if the book isn’t well done. Currently this book is only available as an ebook but I’ve received emails from a number of writers about the contents and how it has helped them. Next month, my ebook, Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success, will become a trade paperback. My original ebook (currently on the site for another few weeks) has been greatly expanded and improved. My forthcoming manuscript has been professionally copy edited.  Quality is a key element for any product which will be successful—or so it seems to me.

2. The book has an appropriate title and outstanding cover design. The outward package looks attractive.

3. Over the last few months, I’ve utilized my publishing network to gather endorsements for the book. These endorsements are the type which will hold weight with my potential readers and were thoughtfully and purposely gathered. I asked 17 different people and to my surprise 15 of those people sent endorsements.  These promotional blurbs are helping the publicity process—on the front cover and the back cover (I’m working on getting a better image for the back cover). Plus the endorsements fill two pages on the inside of the book. Also I’m using them with the press materials and other places. It took some preparation and planning to secure these endorsements but they are important to the process.

4. I created some quality Advance Review Copies (ARC) of this book. In some cases, the publisher will create these ARCs. I’m working with a small press and I created these copies. I made 16 copies and because the cover is designed and the interior of the book is at the printer, the ARCs are essentially the finished book.  I’ve received many of these types of galleys or advance materials in the past. I know my book will stand out in this process because of what is typically received. It’s another way I’m using my educated publishing experience into this process.

5. I created a relevant and topical news release with the largest possible target audience in mind. I worked and reworked this news release before sending it. I made sure every word was spelled right and the release made sense and would draw the readers plus contain all of the relevant information about the book. For ideas in this process, I used various promotional books I’ve mentioned in my previous post.

6. I created a personal cover letter for each of these press kits. I collected the person’s current name and address to make sure I was sending the package to the right person. I slanted each cover letter to the particular person (magazine editors, book reviewers and editorial directors of book clubs).

7. I made each of these packets to the absolute best of my ability. They looked as professional out of the packet as the many that I have received over the years and in some cases much better.

8. I took them personally to the local post office. Each one was weighed and mailed.  Some times they are delayed and return if they don’t have the right postage.

9. In addition, I’ve been creating a unique website for this book. I used a short and relevant domain name and I’ve been working on key elements for the website. If you go to the link, it’s a work in progress.

At the end of the day, I’ve taken an educated shot in the dark with the book promotion.  I’m hopeful that it will open some amazing doors and people will learn about my new book. I’m absolutely certain that if I had done nothing, none of these people would know about my book. There are many books produced with little of this type of promotional effort. Now at least I’ve knocked on the door and shown them my excellent book. At the end of the day, it’s still a shot in the dark and the results are unpredictable.

Here’s my advice for you, work with excellence yet make sure you get it out of your head or your file drawer and into the marketplace.  It’s through your continual venturing out that something is able to happen. 


Saturday, March 05, 2005

Take An Educated Shot in the Dark

As an editor, I’ve received the blasted submissions.  If you don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s when a writer determines their manuscript is ready to go out into the market.  Then the writer researches online or using a market guide or some other resource with the names and email addresses of many different editors. He writes his open line something like, “Dear Editor” then blasts out the exact same submission to a variety of locations at the same time. The effort is totally legitimate because he mentions in the body of the letter that it’s a simultaneous submission. I’d be surprised if the blasted submission approach gathers much interest except a pile of formula rejection letters.

Instead my preference is to use the educated shot in the dark method.  You will notice that it still is a gamble and nothing is definite—but it’s an educated and calculated program.  I use this method whether I’m submitting a book proposal, writing a query letter or pitching an idea to an editor.  Also I use it in the marketing area for my new book.

Publicity and promotion is a constant for any writer (and if you aren’t doing it, you should be).  You have to be promoting new ideas or telling people about your latest project. As you get work, it initiates more work—or so it seems from my experience. In the area of book promotion, you can promote your book over a long term period (and you need to do so).  The fragile and critical areas for book promotion are in the beginning. It’s particularly critical the weeks before the book is released then for the first six to eight months of the book’s release. When you turn in your manuscript to a publisher, you should be thinking about promotion.  It may be another six to nine months or even a year before the book appears in print. As the author, you need to be proactively working on spreading the news about your new book. Whether your publisher creates a marketing plan or not, as the author you need to be creating and executing a plan. Publishers are looking for authors who understand the necessity of book promotion and are willing to use their own resources to sell books.

There are some great books to teach writers in this area such as Beyond the Bookstore by Brian Jud. You learn that more than 50% of the books sold are sold outside the traditional bookstore market. Jud teaches you how to tap into that market and includes a marketing CD in the back of this book which I highly recommend.  Another book to teach you about this area is Publicize Your Book by Jacqueline Deval. It has excellent tips about how an author can come along side the publisher and support their efforts and not be a pain or high maintenance. Deval has worked as a director of publicity inside various major publishers and understands the limitations of a publisher.  The book has a unique perspective. Another excellent title is from Tom and Marilyn Ross called Jump Start Your Book Sales! Some of the information in this 1999 release is dated but it contains excellent and powerful ideas.

I’ve been reviewing these books on my shelf because I’m working on marketing a forthcoming book. I understand the exact results from my efforts are difficult to measure. It’s part of the uncertainty that comes in the publicity/ marketing area. There are many factors which go into why a person will purchase a particular book. Maybe the endorsement on the cover of the book will attract the person. Possibly the subject matter or the reader’s history with this particular author. I believe I’ve read that you have to hear about a book or a product something like six or seven times before you purchase it (on the average). Publicity is a part of creating this buzz around your book or product.  In some ways, my publisher is charged with working on these aspects.  Also the author needs to dig into these aspects.

And the specifics about how I’m personally taking an educated shot in the dark? This post has grown too long. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have the details.


Friday, March 04, 2005

Why Change Is Good

“Oh, no another editor change,” the writer groans. “And I really had a connection with ______.”

It’s inevitable in the business of writing and publishing. The editors and agents and writers continue to move. In the early days of my writing life, I used to make the same comments whenever anyone moved around.  Why can’t things stay the same?

There are many reasons for these moves.  Possibly the editor or agent has plateaued with their work at a particular place and wants to make a switch within publishing. Maybe the company has shifted and decided to cut back on the services of the editor. Possibly it’s for an improved financial situation or a new challenge the individual has decided to make a change. It happens across the writing world—within the magazine business and book publishing.

Some writers have made a career of tracking these changes. Sally Stuart is one of those writers. Each year she spends a great deal of energy and effort to update the annual Christian Writer’s Market Guide, the Reference Tool for Christian Writers (Shaw Books).  Besides the book, Sally writes a regular market column in several publications about the various editor shifts and changes.

There are many ways to keep up on these changes. Here’s a few ways to track changes:

  • Read the trade magazines like Publisher’s Weekly and others in your area of the market
  • Read magazines and especially study the mast head to see who has changed in the last month
  • Watch for change with the various online groups
  • Keep your eye out for changes when you attend writer’s conferences. Pick up on the latest news in the industry.

When you read about one of these changes, you can groan but I suggest another course of action. See that change as a possible opportunity for additional writing. Each editor takes their own sphere of contacts and experiences with them to the new position. Where did your old editor move? Did they become a literary agent? Maybe they are open to new clients. Did the editor change from one magazine to a new one? Did they switch from magazine editing into book editing? Did your children’s book editor move into the adult book arena? Maybe they are needing new writers for a particular project. Did they leave book publishing and become a book packager? Again it’s an opportunity for you to follow that former editor. Reach out and be in touch with this person. You may be surprised at what happens for you—maybe nothing. But definitely it will be nothing if you don’t try it.

Also think about this new editor or new agent.  What is their mandate within their company? Are they looking for a new direction or a new stable of writers? Could you be one of those people if you pitch the right idea? 

Opportunity abounds—only to those who understand the significance of change.



Thursday, March 03, 2005

Get Your Writing Unstuck

Over the years, I’ve listened to a lot of writers (or would-be writers) tell me their story and talk about their dreams and aspirations. It’s always fascinating to me. I learn a great deal from the interaction.

Yesterday a writer told me about his on-again/ off-again experience with writing. Let’s call him Mark (not his real name). He’s been to a number of conferences, knows some agents and editors, and has a solid basic understanding about the industry (in my opinion from listening). This year Mark decided to return too his writing with a set word goal for each day and at first he made it. Then life got in the way and Mark decided he needed to spend some of the precious writing time in research and other things.  As I asked more questions, it turns out that he’s working on a long novel project.

My suggestion? This person has rich life experiences from years of working with people. I believe he could write some strong personal experience stories which would have a single point (called a take-away). These nonfiction articles would give him credibility when he gets around to marketing his novel project.  Many people are stuck in their particular writing desires—poetry, fiction, children’s books, etc. Maybe they’ve never sent anything into the marketplace because in their mind it’s not good enough.  Maybe they have sent it into the market and get rejected a ton. Yet they persist on in their task (admirable in some ways) but they are stuck.

You don’t have to be stuck in that long-term project. You don’t have to abandon it but simply set it aside for a short time. Turn to some short nonfiction magazine articles or try writing some query letters and getting a magazine assignment. Why?

Magazine writingfiction or nonfiction will help you in several areas:

  • when an editor sees your longer work (fiction or nonfiction), magazine credits help your credibility as a writer.  It shows you have a basic understanding of how publishing works.
  • magazine writing teaches you to meet deadline with quality material
  • magazine writing teaches you to write to a specific word count
  • magazine writing teaches you about the editorial process. An editor will work on your words (hopefully improving them—some editors are admittedly more skilled than others at this aspect). You will learn to rewrite (if requested).
  • plus you gain a multitude of other important skills for the publishing process.

If you are stuck, then be aware that you are making a choice. You are choosing to stay in a particular type of writing. You can break out of that mold. It might be the boost that you need for your writing life.


Wednesday, March 02, 2005

Several Ways To Get It Done

I’ve used a computer for many years. I’ve tried off and on to teach my wife some simple aspects of the computer such as using email. She carefully makes step-by-step notes. I don’t recall the steps I’ve taught her and often when she tries it again (after weeks of not trying it), I create unconsciously create some different parts of the process. It’s because on the computer, there are often many different ways to accomplish the same result. It’s similar in the writing life. If you are looking for one way to write a book proposal or a novel or a magazine article or a query or a children’s book, then you are looking the wrong direction. There isn’t one way. The creative process isn’t tied to a formula. There are certain expectations for each of these elements and professional requirements in terms of good storytelling, manuscript appearance, etc. But it’s as much craft as science. It is something you can learn—but you have to consciously work at improvement. If you want to know when this journal about The Writing Life, then I urge you to set up a yahoo account and add The Writing Life as one of your items of content to the page. (See this link to learn how it is done.) It’s one way to know when I’ve written something new. My plan is to continue writing each day—as often as possible. In the last few days because of travel my plan isn’t always working. Another way to receive this information is through my email list. Scroll down the page and look at the right hand side of it. I have an email list. If you add your name to the list, I will email you the new entry. It’s not fool proof. At the moment, I am pasting the new entry into an email and sending it out as a blind copy. These emails include the various links and it’s the only way I’ve discovered to accomplish this element. If someone has a better auto-responder means, please let me know. I’m celebrating the diversity and the different ways we can accomplish the same action—writing.