Archive for January, 2005

More Info About Endorsements

January 21, 2005

Recently I wrote about the importance of endorsements with books.  Today in an email, I received the link for a free report called, How to Get Celebrity Testimonials for Your Self-Published Books, Part 1. It may be a useful bit of additional information for some writer. I wanted to pass it along to you.

Play With Words

January 21, 2005

Don’t you just love reading a familiar phrase in a new or different way? I do. Occasionally I am able to slip it into my own writing or my own editing work. It has to be done rarely or it becomes a cliche.

I love to read the comics (a habit I acquired as a child and it’s stuck). I know some of my colleagues say they read the newspaper but never the comics.  From my journalism days, I learned the love/ hate relationship about the comic pages in a newspaper. In one sense, comics sell newspapers but in another sense they are not selling anything. In my local Arizona Republic newspaper, there is no advertising on the comic pages. Certain comic strips love to turn a phrase in a different way and it captures a smile or chuckle or possibly some new insight.

One of my personal favorite comic strips is Shoe. I’ve been a longtime follower of this comic which covers different themes but often circles around to something for the writer/ editor. About five years ago when I was living in Colorado, the local newspaper dropped Shoe. I wrote my letter of protest to the editor but it didn’t change anything. It forced me to read the comic online—a habit that I’ve maintained for years. I’ve even collected Shoe books of these comics—many of them out of print.

Take a look at this Shoe comic strip. Yes, follow the link then come back for the rest of this thought. As I read it, I recalled the book by Franklin Graham with Cecil Murphey, Rebel With A Cause. The play on words struck me as I read it and I enjoyed what Chris Cassatt and Gary Brookins put together.

As writers, we need to play with words or to get the right words in the right order. It’s not easy for any of us and involved a great deal of hard work. In the middle of the hard work, take the time to unleash your creativity and work at your writing.

Yes, They Are Different

January 20, 2005

Last week a couple of my published author friends referred someone to me. Some times it takes several email exchanges to figure out why I was corresponding with this person. This individual had a proposal for a publisher. If it’s a fiction project, then I want to be corresponding with the person through my Howard Publishing email address. If it’s a nonfiction project, then I will probably correspond with them through my personal email address. My work for Howard is part-time and the rest of my schedule is filled with primarily nonfiction projects. Sometimes I help people get their nonfiction proposals into shape to show a publisher. On other occasions, I will co-author a project with someone and other types of combinations. It takes some exploration to determine what a person needs and if I can help or not.

I was exchanging emails with this unpublished writer. This person had received a sample book proposal from my published author friends. The writer followed their example and submitted it to a major publishing house. It was rejected. This person wondered if he needed my help or not with the proposal creation. To sort out what needed to be done, I asked to see both proposals. Within a short amount of time, I had both proposals (the one from the published author friend and the unpublished proposal).

First I looked at the proposal from my published author friends. I was a bit surprised at the simplicity and lack of completeness of that particular proposal. I’ve seen many nonfiction book proposals over the years and can quickly evaluate them. The reality for some published authors who reach a particular level of sales and success is they don’t have to produce a complete nonfiction book proposal in order to get a publishing contract. Their process is much more simplified because of their track record than the unpublished author.

Next I looked at the unpublished author’s proposal to see if it needed to be reworked before he sent it out to other publishers. Looking at this proposal, I quickly determined what happened. He used a nonfiction proposal format for a fiction proposal project. He was certainly wasting his time, energy and postage as he was marketing the wrong project in the wrong format. When I wrote and asked him about it, he quickly responded, “Is the proposal different for a fiction proposal from a nonfiction proposal?”

Yes—radically different. You can’t follow a nonfiction book proposal for a fiction book. As a fiction author (first time–I assume) you need to have written the entire manuscript (if you haven’t then you need to do this step). Publishers have horror stories where they have contracted a fiction book from a great chapter or two and a terrific plot, then the inexperienced storyteller writes themselves in a place where they can’t finish and don’t know the ending. The situation turns terrible for the author and the publisher. From these types of experiences, publishers have learned to ask for the entire manuscript from first-time fiction writers.

Besides your manuscript, you need a dynamic synopsis and outstanding marketing plan (that explains how you are going to personally sell your book (and don’t say, “I’m willing to appear on Oprah”—but you should create something much more personal to what you can do for your book). Finally you need to tell the editor a bit about yourself with a short personal bio. You send out these shorter pieces (a couple of well-done sample chapters, synopsis, marketing plan and bio) and ask if the editor wants to see the entire manuscript. An excellent book on this process is Your Novel Proposal From Creation to Contract by Blythe Camenson and Marshall J. Cook.

If you are writing nonfiction, don’t write your manuscript but instead write a nonfiction book proposal. I explain step-by-step about this process in my ebook, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. There are a number of excellent books to teach you this procedure. I have an annotated list of them in the appendices of my book.

As I work with both types of writing—fiction and nonfiction—it’s clear—yes, they are different. If you want your project (either fiction or nonfiction) to be seriously considered at a publishing house, please take the time to learn the differences. Otherwise you simply glut the system with your submissions, waste your time and energy and continue to be frustrated wondering why you are not finding a publisher.

As you can see I have some pretty strong opinions about this matter. I hope today I’ve helped clear away the confusion about the differences for the writer.

Credibility Matters Even If You Write for Free

January 20, 2005

I found Jon Bonne’s commentary on MSNBC fascinating tonight. It’s called, Blog nice, everyone, Why Credibility Matters Even if You Write For Free.

Here’s an interesting quote highlighted in the article:

A credible reporter should remain credible no matter where he writes, or who is paying her (or not).
 
Many thoughtful people are writing on these issues. It’s worth a look.

Fixing My Fax

January 19, 2005

No writer or editor seems to have a perfect record without mistakes in this business. I know I’ve made my share of them. It’s odd to me how you can spend a large part of some days simply straightening out one of those mistakes—like yesterday.

Some of you may not know this information about my writing life. Last August our family moved from Colorado Springs, Colorado to Scottsdale, Arizona. As a part of that move, I tried to carefully eliminate anything that didn’t need to be moved. One gadget that I thought I could eliminate was my fax machine. It’s a rare day that I receive a fax these days—or send one.  When I purchased a Dell laptop last year, it came with one of these all-in-one machines (fax, scanner, color printer, etc.) I decided to sell my old plain paper fax machine to the used computer store. I was fine with it until recently.

I tried to get the fancy all-in-one machine to work as a fax—and couldn’t seem to get it working. In the last week, I’ve had several situations where I needed to receive a fax or send one.  After doing a bit of online research, I went to Officemax and picked up a new fax machine.  It was fairly simple to install yet one of the things that took some unexpected additional time was locating a dual phone jacks. I was certain I had one at home so I didn’t purchase another one. I probably should have purchased one and it would have saved the “digging through boxes” time but I persisted and came up with it.

This afternoon I was pleased when I was able to easily send a fax.  I hadn’t received one. Then I remembered my youngest son in Colorado Springs wanted to fax his grades from the last semester to me. For the first time, he made all A’s  (You can tell I’m a proud father).  I sent him an IM and asked him to fax me his grades. I set the new fax machine right beside the all-in-one machine that I couldn’t seem to get to fax several months ago.

My son’s fax arrived right on schedule—but came out on the all-in-one machine—not my new fax machine. Both machines are hooked to the same telephone line. At least I can fax out and receive faxes. Of course, I could spend another large chunk of time trying to get them to work like I expected them to work (nothing on the all-in-one machine and send and receive from the new fax machine). Since now I have a working fax machine, I believe I’m better off leaving it alone.

Oh, the things we get involved in as writers and editors. Some times the truth is stranger than fiction.

 

How To Locate An Agent

January 18, 2005

I’ve learned that many people ask this question before they are ready for an agent. These authors want to have their books published but have learned almost nothing about the business or how to craft an idea for the market. One of the best things you can do for yourself to find an agent (or a publisher) is to get published in magazines. The experience of writing for magazines is invaluable and will help your writing career—and help an agent be interested in your work.

No matter where you are in your writing career, whether you are advanced or beginning, it’s difficult to find an agent. Having a connection with that agent is critical. One of the key factors is whether the agent charges you for the services or whether he gets his income from selling your book manuscript. If the latter, then it’s more likely they are a solid agent. If they are charging you to market your book, then I’d be suspicious because they could be making their money from simply charging you (and many other would-be authors).

Have you ever seen the ads for literary agents in writing magazines who charge reading fees? If you wonder if people prey on unpublished authors, then you need to read Jim Fisher’s book, Ten Percent of Nothing, The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell (Southern Illinois University Press, June 2004). Fisher is a former FBI agent and this book reads like a fascinating novel. You will learn about a frustrated science fiction novelist, Dorothy Deering, who was burned by two fee-charging literary agents who did nothing to locate a publisher for her work. As an ex-con, Dorothy saw the money-making potential in starting her own fee-based agency. She believed there were thousands of writers who had stars in their eyes about publishing and who couldn’t get the attention of traditional publishers. These writers would be willing to pay money to have their work marketed to publishers. This simple concept of fee-based reading and marketing of manuscripts began one of the biggest publishing scams in American history.

Thousands of would-be writers paid millions of dollars to Deering, a former bookkeeper who had no professional experience as a writer, editor, agent or publisher. Fiisher who worked for the FBI for over twenty years, was drawn to this story after learning of a friend who lost money in this scam. The author exposes an ugly side of American publishing and the book emphasizes the warning signs to any would-be writer so they will not be drawn into such practices.

I recommend anyone in publishing get a copy of Ten Percent of Nothing, The Case of the Literary Agent from Hell to help their own education about the importance of using common sense and also avoiding fee-based agents. You will learn from Jim Fisher that Dorothy Deering ran a publishing hoax. She never sold a single manuscript to a major publisher and bilked millions of dollars from her clients that were spent on personal cruises and expensive cars and homes. Dorothy Deering went to prison for her scam but others have taken up this confidence game within publishing and writers need to know about this little talked about aspect of publishing.

I work with a number of terrific agents—as an editor and as a writer. It’s interesting to me the depth we go to when we check out a good car dealership–yet how we don’t do our homework sometimes with an agent. I understand part of it–as writers, we want anyone who wants our work–but that might not be the wisest route. Anyone can suddenly become an agent and that agent might not be the right one for you.

I’ve got some great basic information about this topic on Right-Writing.com including: The Safest Way to Search for An Agent and Do Literary Agents look for new authors? These two articles will give you a start in the journey to locate an agent. I hope it helps.

A Personal Reflection on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

January 17, 2005

Since I don’t work for the federal government or a financial institution, it’s pretty easy to forget that today the United States celebrates Martin Luther King Day as a national holiday.

During one of my lay-overs last year in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport, I noticed a Martin Luther King exhibit. Almost no one stopped and looked at it since they were rushing on to their next plane.  That particular day, I had plenty of time so I stopped and read the exhibit. I noticed one of Dr. King’s suits and his Bible along with a brief accounting of his life and death. If you look at my photo, you may wonder what I know about civil rights and why I would take time as a writer to reflect on Dr. King and what it’s meant to my life.

I grew up in an all-white town in eastern Kentucky and spent my first twelve years in such an environment. I was aware of race. My dad was a railroad employee and we often rode the trains to Frankfort, Kentucky to see my grandparents. African Americans worked on the train and other places so I didn’t live in a totally isolated environment—just almost. Then our family moved to a suburb of Baltimore and tensions were high about the issue of integration. Again I attended all white schools but I began to learn about other races.  In college, I recall one spring break where I invited an international student from Sudan home with me. We took him to church and while they were polite to him, he stood out as different in my all-white Indiana church. I was keenly aware that this different-looking guy was a leading journalist in his nation and wrote a full-page article (in Arabic) in the capital city newspaper about his life as an American student.

Skip ahead to about fifteen years ago, when I began writing books. An editor gave me the opportunity to write a book about Samuel Morris. From my research I learned a great deal about this African Prince. This opportunity was quickly followed with two books about Sojourner Truth, another remarkable figure in American history.

Then with the explosion of a group called Promise Keepers, Charisma magazine assigned me to interview their chairman, an African American Bishop in the Church of God in Christ, named Bishop Phillip H. Porter, Jr.  During the first meeting, Bishop and I hit it off relationally and ultimately I wrote two books for Bishop Porter and one of them is still in print, Let the Walls Fall Down. The book uses Bishop Porter’s personal stories about how he’s been working in the area of racial reconciliation throughout his life. It was my privilege to have spent the time and energy on those books with Bishop Porter.  As a writer, I learned more than can be built into this post but it feeds into my own personal involvement in this important issue.  I could have lived in isolation and not ventured into this territory yet as a writer, I grew in many ways from the experiences.

Last fall, I had the opportunity to be the writer for another African American, Vonetta Flowers.  When Vonetta and her partner Jill Bakken won the Olympic gold medal in the 2002 women’s bobsled, Vonetta became the first African American ever to win a gold medal in the Winter Olympics. Our book is at the printer and will soon be available called Running On Ice.  

The lessons from Martin Luther King’s life for me involve choosing to live in a different way. Race isn’t an issue in my life and doesn’t play a factor in the choices I make in my writing life. I’ve not arrived and have many more lessons to learn in this area. Today I celebrate the opportunity to have served as a writer for some outstanding African Americans. They’ve taught me a great deal from the journey.

How To Gain A Hearing

January 16, 2005

A writer wrote me this week saying, “The quest for a reputable agent who is passionate about my work, is far more challenging than writing the manuscript. When you’re an unknown commodity, doors don’t open that easily.”

With thousands of manuscripts in circulation with agents and publishers, it’s a challenge for anyone to gain a fair hearing—much less to locate the editor or agent who will champion your cause and get your book manuscript published. What steps can a writer take to find this hearing?

One of the absolute best things you can do for yourself in the meantime is to build a body of work–not unpublished but published–through smaller magazine articles (short stories if you only want to write fiction). In particular, I recommend writers look at the Sunday School take home markets. If you don’t know about this market, then you need to get a copy of Sally Stuart’s Christian Writer’s Market Guide and look in the section marked “Take Home Papers.” You will not make a lot of money with these markets, but you will be able to find a more open market to get published. These editors need quality submissions and they publish every single week of the year or four times more often than the monthly magazine editors.

Many people are focused on the long, full-length manuscripts. They miss building a reputation in the magazine market. And what’s the advantage of being published in magazines? When you are published in these markets, the editor or the agent will know you understand more about publishing than the other unpublished manuscripts on their desk. In magazine writing, you learn to write tight to a specific word length. You learn about the editing process and what editors do and don’t do to your words when you submit them. Plus there is simply the discipline which is built into a writer’s life from the regular experience of writing for magazines.

If you have no idea where to begin, then explore the articles on my magazine tab at Right-Writing.com because it has a wealth of information. As for the aspect of how to find an agent? I’ll be back to talk about it another day—promise.

Looking For A Reason

January 15, 2005

This afternoon I processed a number of unsolicited fiction manuscripts which have come into my office recently. I’ve seen a lot of this material over the last year. For six possible books to be published, I received over 350 submissions from literary agents (often good solid proposals from published or publishable authors) or individual authors. It’s been unfortunate that I can’t do more—but it’s a reality of publishing there are limited spots at the publishing house—and I have to follow that decision. My only hope is some of these titles will take off—and the line will expand. For now, I’m committed to search these submissions for the best of the best. When I find something that is really good, then I take it forward to the publication committee at Howard Publishing. The majority of the time, the manuscripts can be processed in short order.

Now look at it from my view as the editor, you have to be right on the mark to have me seriously consider and read a great deal of it. Otherwise I’m looking for a reason to say, “No” and return it to you.

Here’s some common reasons I reject fiction manuscripts:

Too much telling and not enough showing—leap into the action—don’t tell me about it. If the first quotation is over on page four, then it’s almost a certain pass. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then follow the links and learn about this distinction.

Another reason is the book doesn’t begin with a bang. If you take ten pages to get me into the story, it’s going to be returned.

Here’s some other reasons that I usually don’t detail to the author:

The manuscript is too Christian. Many authors are trying to write Biblical fiction—where they take some characters from the Bible and create an entire novel around it. Unfortunately many people do such storytelling poorly and in particular I’ve not found our publishing house eager to publish this type of material. It’s almost certain to get a glance, then returned.

Often the submissions are too short. The author proposes through a query letter or even a manuscript submission—one that is 40,000 or 55,000 words in length. A full-length adult novel is typically 80,000 words to 100,000 words in length. If it is shorter, it’s considered more of a novella. We aren’t publishing novellas—only full-length adult novels—and only six of them.

Less typical but sometimes the proposed length is too long—for example 150,000 words in length. This type of book causes another series of headaches in production—added costs for the publisher in terms of paper and other things. I read these submissions but they have a strong reason against them from the onset.

Other authors propose a series that is too involved—say a 10 to 12 volume set of books. Such a proposal will be difficult to sell to a publisher. I met an author last fall with a 15 book series—each novel at least 100,000 words—and they were all completely written. None of them had been published. You have to admire the tenacity of this novelist—to have written this volume of material without a single word showing up in print. Yet the economic commitment from a publisher would be enormous—and mostly out of reach. It’s not a practical proposal if you have one.

Other authors pitch the wrong type of book. They are convinced from looking at the publisher website that their juvenile or young adult novel would be perfect. Or their children’s book is just right for us. We don’t publish juvenile or young adult or children’s books. You are asking to be rejected if you try and pitch it—essentially wasting your postage and effort—which is a shame.

If you want to have some detailed insight into the evaluation process that editors use for manusripts, then I highly recommend Noah Lukeman’s book, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. It’s not easy advice to take because most of us want to believe the editor reads every line of your submission—reality is something different.

As a writer and an editor, I hate to say no to authors. I’m eager for people to succeed with their writing. It’s why I took a lot of my personal time and energy to develop Right-Writing.com. I have made an on-going commitment to add new content and producing an excellent newsletter. I get no pleasure out of saying, “no.” And it’s key that every writer remember the rejection letter is not personal—it is simply a business decision. Also I regret I can’t take the time to critique manuscripts or often even tell them the reason that I’m returning it. It’s not my job or the job of any editor to critique manuscripts—nor are there enough hours in the day to do it. There are many other critique services to handle this issue in the marketplace.

I have a lot of great insight into fiction writing at Right-Writing.com. Take the time to read and study these articles and follow their advice.  Then when you send in your manuscript, I’ll have to take a second and third look at it. I’m actively looking for excellent fiction which I can champion and get published. It’s a drag looking for a reason to send it back.

 

Evaluate Editorial Advice

January 14, 2005

When I was a beginning writer (many years ago), I recall showing my manuscripts to anyone who would read them. I’ve received my share of the standard rejection letters and when anyone scribbled anything personal, I tried to immediately follow up and rework the piece and return it.

I joined a critique group and learned to respect–but I also learned to pick and choose their counsel. I began to attend writer’s conferences and meet editors and other professionals–and listen to their advice and feedback about my magazine article or my book proposal or my manuscripts. Some times the advice worked and some times it completely failed–part of my learning curve here about advice. I began to formulate a few questions about the feedback –that I consciously or unconsciously use most of the time.

1. Grain of salt. Instead of immediately making the changes, I try to take any advice with a grain of salt. Take some time to evaluate the feedback and see if I agree with it.

2. Consider the source of the advice. Are they experienced and what type of track record do they have in the writing and publishing business?

3. Consider the circumstances of the person who gave you the advice. Did they rush off a little counsel or did they thoughtfully put together some detail? Sometimes this criteria makes a difference how much I will consider taking the advice or counsel.

Often I will recall an incident at least 12 years ago at a Christian Booksellers Association meeting. I was shopping one of my nonfiction book proposals. As typical, I had 30 minutes with an editorial director at a well-known publisher. At the end of the conference, he looked through my proposal and gave me a series of on-the-spot comments about my proposal. I took detailed notes and even stopped to fill out my notes after our session, returned home and reworked the proposal. When I sent it to the editor, he didn’t recall ever having seen it before. I was crushed–but I learned to evaluate the circumstances of the advice. Now as an editor, I fully understand the blur of those meetings and how I was unwise to have over-prized this editor’s counsel in that circumstance.  Also I understand why an editor can’t give some feedback about a manuscript. Follow this link to learn more detail about the reasons.

The subjective nature of this business is difficult. There is no right or wrong way for many aspects–which is why science combines with art. I love what I read one evening this week in the February issue of Men’s Journal and it seems to resonate with me here–and looks like a book I need to find:

“The strange thing about gut instincts is that the part of the brain that engages in them uses the sweat glands on your palms as a signaling device. Long before you’ve consciously decided that turning down that dark side street or placing $2,000 on red is a bad idea, your gut has made the call, and notified your palms. the moral: Listen to your hands. they may know more than you do.” Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Blink, The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (Little, Brown) examines the science of split-second decisions.

Thankfully as Christian writers, we have more than sweaty palms. Through prayer, we can instantly communicate with the Lord of the Universe–then listen carefully as we evaluate the advice.