Archive for March, 2005

The Power Of The Group

March 31, 2005

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.

Not Just for Beginners

March 30, 2005

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.

A New Look For Right-Writing.com

March 29, 2005

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.

More About Out of Print Books

March 28, 2005

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.

A Productive Time Filler

March 27, 2005

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.

 

Ya Gotta Read It

March 26, 2005

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.

Out of Print / Out of Luck?

March 25, 2005

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. 

Knock A Successful Series of Books?

March 24, 2005

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.

It Sounds Simple

March 23, 2005

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.

Wherever I Can Find It

March 22, 2005

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.
  • NEVER GIVE UP.”

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.