Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Watch Your Subject Lines

Over a year ago, I attended the annual American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference. I moderated a panel on how to get on the New York Times bestseller list during the conference. Because I was at the event, I was able to attend a terrific workshop from Sree Sreenivasan (@sree). He is a remarkable instructor in the area of social media and someone that I recommend you follow his wise advice. 

Sree called to our attention that a Senior Feature Writer for the New York Times has his email address in his twitter profile. Why does he publicize his email address? Sree answered, “It's because he wants to be accessible to the public and if you have a feature story idea, he wants you to be able to reach him through his email.”

I thought it was a great idea. I want to be accessible to others. During this workshop I added my email address to my twitter profile. It did make me more accessible and on a regular basis (almost daily and sometimes several times a day), I receive emails from writers who wonder what type of help I can give them. Some of them ask for a specific type of help such as in marketing or promotion. I answer each email and send them to material in my blog or free teleseminars that I've done or other resources. It does not take much of time because I have a ready answer for these questions.

I'm delighted to help these people and it's one of the reasons I wrote these resources on the first place—to help these writers.

Recently I got one of these requests and it got me thinking about the subject lines in email here the email I received:

Subject Line: Important
Hello Terry,
I hope you are well.
My name is ________, I am a student at ________________. I live in _____. I would like you to call me at ______. To discuss a book that I am writer.
Respectfully yours,

Sent from my iPhone

Yes that is the actual email and subject line. I took out the specifics and left blanks. I wrote back to this writer and said “As important as you believe your email is, I will not be calling you to talk with you about your book.” Then I pointed out my various online resources for this writer to use. Calling on the phone might be something they want but most editors and literary agents are difficult to get on the phone and then they limit their time on the phone because they are focused on their work.
A random phone call may or may not (usually not) develop into a publishable project. This writer didn't look promising to me—especially with the ungrammatical sentence that she concluded her email.
Here's several tips for crafting the words in your subject lines:
1. Make Them Specific & Interesting. Give me a reason to open your email. I get a lot of email. Many people get a lot of email so you have to be mindful of this fact when you write your subject line.
2. Do not Be Generic because you are “asking” for deletion.
3. Think about the person Receiving the Email. As you craft the subject line, ask yourself if they get a lot of email or a little bit? How can you help them to be eager to open your email? It's with your few words for the subject.
4. Use Power Words That Demand to Be Opened. Begin to analyze your own email and notice which subject lines catch your attention and which ones do you automatically delete? It will help you with your own emails.
At the end of the day, I'm delighted to have would-be writers email me. My email address remains in my twitter profile. I have met some amazing people through my work on twitter.

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Thursday, May 15, 2014

When You Hit A Bad Day

Let's face it head on. Everyone has a bad day. You know what I'm talking about. 

When you walk out to your car and see the tire is flat—and naturally you are trying to rush off to some important meeting.

Or your computer crashes in the middle of an important rewrite on an article or book and you lose hours of work because you didn't back it up. 

Or you get sick and land in bed. Or someone in your family gets sick. Or a dear friend suddenly dies.

Or a friend or a co-worker promises they will do something—and they don't. So it creates huge amounts of unexpected work for you or a project you were counting on completing didn't happen.

These various possibilities that I just listed are a fraction of what happens to everyone. The unexpected happens to each of us with our writing and publishing lives. 

Here's the critical question for you: when you meet one of these difficulties, does it totally derail you so you don't complete what needs to be written. Or do you rise to the challenge and continue forward with your writing?

Something derails writing for a day. Do you shake it off and return to it the next day? Or do you set it aside and say, the time must not be right? There is a time and place to persevere. 

This month many publications and programs have been celebrating the storied career of journalist Barbara Walters. At 84, she is retiring this week from 17 years on The View. This week I read an article about Barbara Walters in AARP magazine, which claims have the world's largest circulation at 24.4 million (more than three times the circulation of Reader's Digest).

In the AARP article called What I Know Now: Barbara Walters, she shares the secrets of her success saying, “I think the secret of my success is that I persevered. I didn't give up. I didn't say, 'This is a lousy job, and I'm unhappy, and I'm going to quit.' I went through the tough times, and they were tough. And I was fortunate that I came out the other end.” I admire Barbara Walter's perseverance.

Recently my agent friend Steve Laube wrote an article What to do when technology fails? I did feel bad for the author who lost the entire manuscript on a computer the day it was due at the publisher. As a result the book was canceled. Buried in the story was the fact the author had missed the third extension. What happened in the case of the first two extensions? This story wasn't told.

About ten years ago when I started working as an editor on the inside of publishing houses, I learned that writers are notoriously late. I've often been the editor who the author calls and tells about their bad day then asks for an extension. Publishers know about bad days so they often build some flexibility into the deadline.

Yet writers should not count on that flexibility or extension. Here's how to distinguish yourself as a writer and make editors love you: turn in your writing when you promise to turn it in—with excellence.

It's one of the elements that I've done over and over with my writing deadlines—met them. I recall writing one section of a book where I stayed at my computer all night in order to meet the deadline. At that time, I had a full-time editorial job and I had taken on a book project to write. 

When I didn't come to bed, in the middle of the night my wife came down to my office to see if everything was OK. Everything was fine except I had to meet a deadline and did not make it to bed that particular night. I fired off my deadline material to the editor, cleaned up and went off to my full-time job. Yes, I drank some extra caffeine that day and was tired but I delivered what I promised to the editor and put in a full day at work. I've only done it once so I don't make a regular habit of such actions. 

How do you handle bad days? Does it derail you so you don't complete what needs to be written or do you shake it off and continue?

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