Archive for April, 2005

Value of Repetition

April 29, 2005

Last night I was instant messaging with a friend.  There were long pauses between my communication and his responses. I could see that he was typing but it seemed to take forever.  I had to get off line and finally he asked if he could phone me tomorrow and talk about it.  We’ll probably connect today.  Funny thing is I never have this difficulty with my 16–year-old son. He’s an expert typist and I’m certain it’s a skill that he uses repeatedly.

One summer long ago, I was about my son’s age when I took typing in summer school.  It was in the pre-computer days and we learned on electric typewriters. If you hesitated or pushed the wrong keys, the mistakes were instanteanous. Yet these typewriters also had an amazing button to erase the mistakes. After using the old manual typewriters, that correction key was remarkable.  Typing wasn’t my best class in high school. Maybe it was because of summer and school wasn’t high on my priority list but I believe I earned a solid C in that class.

You’d never know it today. If you’ve ever seen me type, it’s pretty quick.  When I work in an office, I get a steady stream of comments about my speed and the clicking on the keys. I’m a hard typist because for many years I used manual typewriters to write stories. Why the speed? Because I’ve done it repeatedly—every day for years. In the early days of my journalism training, we learned to compose at the typewriter. We created sentences in our minds, then put them instantly into the typewriter. It’s the perfect skill for any journalist since there is no time in the newspaper world to rewrite or stew about the syntax of the sentence. You need to spread your notes around you on the desk and spit out the story.  It’s another skill which has served me well over the years.

I don’t know what you are facing today. You may be wondering if you will ever get a magazine article published. You may be struggling to find any children’s book editor to give your work some attention. Or possibly your nonfiction book proposal is getting lots of rejection. Maybe your novel is languishing on some editor’s desk (or worse it’s stuck in your file drawer and has never been sent out—yet). I want to encourage you about the value of repetition.  Select something—then do it repeatedly. If it’s children’s books, then write lots of them. Read lots of them and send them into the market. Try the children’s magazine market and also the children’s book market. Join organizations like the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators and learn about the current editorial needs and trends in the market. Then get your material out there—over and over—with excellence.

My skill set and learning in this market continues to grow daily. I understand the value of repetition—constantly throwing out new ideas and different types of writing. Then I write over and over. It’s not rocket science. You can do it too.

 

The Pain of Rejection

April 28, 2005

For the last few hours, I’ve been sorting through my mail, folding letters and logging manuscripts.  Some people are surprised to learn I keep a log of the various submissions. It’s not difficult—and if someone asks about my response—or tries to send in something second time after a year or six months, it’s painfully obvious to me.

Manuscripts and proposals and query letters come in all shapes and sizes. I’m looking for the best possible manuscripts to publish for Howard Publishing fiction. It’s a part-time job but I try to consistently work on my stack of submissions so people hear from me. It’s often not the answer they want to hear. Yes, takes time in publishing and involves a lot of consensus building within the publishing house.

No can often be determined quickly. If you send in a query about a 25,000 word novel or a children’s book, then you are headed for rejection. Howard Publishing doesn’t do children’s books and I’m the fiction acquisitions editor. We’re not considering youth books or young adult. Instead the focus is on six to eight adult length novels (generally 80,000 to 100,000 words). So…if your novel is 56,000 words, it’s too short for serious consideration—no matter how well it is written.

Now the writing—that’s another consideration. You would be shocked at the telling manuscripts which don’t jump into the plot. Or they meander around the story line before they jump into it.  Also I’m looking for excellent storytelling and a plot that I can’t put down. I understand it’s a high goal—but I have many manuscripts and only a few manuscripts will be selected and even fewer ultimately contracted.

Because I am someone who also writes and loves writing books and magazine articles, it’s painful to send these rejection letters.  I know people have poured their heart and dreams into these submissions. I’ve also learned the hard way if I add anything personal, I will get it revised and resubmitted to me—and often again rejected. Instead, I’ve resorted to the standard editor response—the dreaded form letter. I don’t like receiving them and I don’t like sending them—but they come with the business.

In one minor way, I do like to process the fiction submissions.  Whether the writer likes my response or not is not the issue. It’s important to me that they have received a response. Often submissions go into a black hole and you never know if the editor received it, processed it or anything. With each submission, I know they have been read, carefully considered and rendered a decision. In some ways, I hope it softens the pain of rejection.

What Info Goes On The Card

April 27, 2005

Yesterday’s entry brought several comments and emails. Today I’m going to continue this topic of business cards for conferences. As I emphasized yesterday, it’s important to have one.

Like many other things in our culture, you choose what information you include on your business cards. You can look at the entry card of your address book to see the various possibilities such as name, occupation, company, address, phone, fax, email, and website. You determine whether you want to include all of this information or not.

On this recent trip, I collected a wide array of responses. One ASJA member has a simple black and white card with her name, several titles which begin with the phrase “Award-winning,” the address for her blog, her phone number and her email address.  This card doesn’t have any physical address to announce her location.

If you are new to the writing world or changing careers from a different world, you don’t have to put an occupation.  For example, if you are an aspiring novelist without any publishing credits, you can still create a business card with your name, address, phone number and email address.  The card gives you something to exchange and a point of contact with the editor or other writers. It will help your networking abilities at such gatherings.

Through the years, I’ve exchanged hundreds of business cards with people.  If it’s someone I will likely want to reconnect with after the conference, then I’ve learned to quickly look at the card and see if it contains everything that I need on the card. Admittedly it’s a bit difficult if I don’t have my glasses on (one of the hazards of aging).  Often if the card is missing an email address, I will ask for it on the spot—and the writer will often add it to the card and hand it back to me.

Last week I met a screenwriter who told fascinating stories at a meal during the conference. We exchanged business cards and I noticed he didn’t include his email address. He told me, “I don’t have email or an Internet connection.” Then he launched into his rationale for it. OK, it told me some additional information about this writers.

Bottom line is that you control the information on the card. If you want to use a post office box instead of your physical mailing address, then you have such a choice. If you don’t want to include your phone number but don’t mind receiving email, you determine the information. For this past set of conferences, I created a color business card to promote my book, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. The book is brand new and barely out, so I included the website for the book and also the ISBN and the price of the paperback. Then someone could take the card into their local bookstore, and order the book.

Every business card has a different purpose. Don’t be overly concerned about the information. The most important aspect is to have a business card to exchange at a conference.

Why I Exchange Business Cards

April 26, 2005

It’s almost a standing joke among my colleagues in the ASJA. When I come to the conferences, they ask where I’m living this year. And in some ways, it’s true. For the last several years, I’ve been moving around from Colorado to Northern California to Colorado to Arizona. When I hear the comment, now I smile and say, “I’m not moving. We’re in Arizona to stay.”

My story isn’t unusual in the publishing community. Change is a constant part of the publishing world. Editors change. Agents change. People change positions. People change locations. The phone numbers and addresses change. Several major publishers have moved to new buildings in the last few years. It’s simply a part of the environment of publishing.

Whenever I travel to a conference (any type of conference), high on my priority list is to pack plenty of business cards. I am constantly surprised when editors don’t have them or ran out or only brought a few to exchange. It’s the currency of this business. At the two conferences I attended in the last few days, I made a point to give out and exchange cards with people. If they took my card and didn’t naturally dig in their bag or pocket for a card, then I actively asked, “Do you have a card?” If they didn’t then they often wrote down the information for me.

Some people asked me for something. I wrote that request on their back of their business card to handle when I returned home. I learned to make these types of notes years ago.

OK, now I’m home from two back to back conferences with a pile of business cards. What next? Bundle them up and stick them in a drawer somewhere? Not hardly. These cards become the keys to my follow-up work. They are reminders of bits of conversations and the necessity to ask additional questions or pitch story ideas to the editors.  Faithfully I have collected this information and added it to my rolodex. If I already have a card from someone, then I check the current card to see if their information has changed (and often I find that it has changed).

Several years ago, I purchased a Targus business card scanner. It scans the business cards and takes the information into fields which I can synch with my Outlook address book. I’ll be the first to tell you that the scanner isn’t perfect.  Some cards it doesn’t read and some times it puts the wrong information in the wrong spots—but it is quicker than typing in all of the information. For me it was an extremely worthwhile investment in the work.

Besides follow-up work, I also use the cards to expand my network of people. Some times I’m asked for a referral (for writing or something else). I want to have the information where it is easily accessible. Never forget the power of information.

It will take several more days before I handle this pile of business cards on my desk. They will not be tucked away until they are processed and added to my computer.  If I tuck them away without adding them to my database, then I should not have collected them in the first place.

Walking A Tight Rope

April 25, 2005

Many years ago (almost thirty), I spent a summer internship on a local newspaper and covered the circus. It was a heritage of the town and I wrote most of the articles and material for the special circus edition in the newspaper.  Each summer, the circus had eight shows with children from the town doing most of the acts.  For the most part, the adults participated as clowns. One regular act in the circus was the high wire act. One young man walked the tight rope with a balancing pole—on stilts. The audience loved to watch this popular and daring feat.

Last week at the writer’s conference, I walked a tight rope of sorts. It’s the constant dance that I do as an editor. I want to be encouraging to writers. It’s easy for me to recall my start in this business and how much I’ve learned (and continue to learn) in the journey.  Some of the writing life is a careful balance between craft (which can be learned) and art (which you have to bring naturally). I’ve learned not to make hard and fast judgments about other people’s writing and work. I’m constantly surprised at books which make a splash in the market and others (where I have high expectations) which do very little. There are many factors in the success or failure of a particular book or author.

Imagine for a moment, how it feels to see someone’s work which has miles to go before anyone will publish it. It happened repeatedly to me last week—and at other conferences. I see a parade of people who have hopes and dreams about their writing and their stories yet they are brand new to the world of publishing. It’s always a careful tight rope to say something kind and encouraging yet honest.  Because I don’t want to give people false hope yet I don’t want to dash their dreams. All I can do is look at the work and honestly evaluate whether it is something that I want to champion within my publishing house or not. It’s what I tried to do when I was meeting face to face with authors or what I do when I interact with them via email or the regular mail.

I’ve poured a lot of energy and effort during this past year into a book called Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Originally I published this book as an ebook then for Write Now Publications, I expanded the contents, made it timeless and also gathered endorsements for it. If you want the book instantly, you can receive the text via my ebook. The trade paperback version released this month. You can either get it from my website or through Amazon.com or through your local bookstore. The book has a unique perspective from any other how-to write book on this topic because I try and help writers walk inside the head of an acquisitions editor.  As a writer, have you answered all of the questions that I need to champion your work to the publishing board and gain permission to issue a book contract? Also I’ve included a couple of excerpts so you can have a taste of the book. If you have an ezine or some other newsletter, I’d love for you to use these excerpts.

It’s not easy for any of us in this business to walk the tight rope between blunt honesty and being encouraging to writers. We need to watch our steps.

The Follow-Up Rate

April 24, 2005

Whenever I travel to speak at a conference or attend a conference, it often happens.  The second or third day after I return home, I hit a low-energy slump. This great inertia sweeps over me and I wonder how I can get almost anything done.   I have piles of paper around my desk and on my desk and I wonder which pile to tackle first.  Piles of magazines and correspondence and bills have to be organized and given attention. Instead of giving in to these feelings of inertia, I’ve learned to slow down a bit—but to continue moving forward.

For eight days I was traveling. The first stop was New York City and a series of meetings with old friends and making new friends in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. It involved dozens of conversations and exchanging business cards and ideas.  Throughout the process, I attempted to keep track of different promises with notes to myself for follow-up.  Each of these items demand a bit of attention and follow-through. And if I don’t? Then I risk hurting my follow-up rate in a small way. I want to be known as a person who makes a promise—and follows through on that promise. It’s key in this business of publishing where the devil is in the details.

One of my friends, Sandy Lamb, is an example of this type of action. I wanted to attend a workshop from Columbia University new media professor Sree Sreenivasan but was unable to get to it.  This packed session at the conference (follow this link for some of the information and insight) was exactly the same time as the workshop which I moderated on collaboration and ghost writing. In passing, I must have mentioned to Sandy that I wanted to get one of the handouts from this session.  She noted this detail—and imagine my surprise when I opened my mail to find a handout and a little personal note. It was appreciated and made a positive impression.

Or I received a short thank you note from John Rosengren who coordinated some of the American Society of Journalists and Authors workshops. It was much appreciated. When I was in North Carolina, I purchased some thank you notes which I plan to use in my follow-up plans over the next few days.  I never want to forget the little word tucked into the list of sins during the last days in 2 Timothy 3: ingratitude. 

During both of these recent conferences, I exchanged business cards with numerous people.  It’s terrific to have this personal information but what next?  I will be adding this information to my rolodex, sending follow-up notes and keeping in touch. I never want to forget the power of information.

I’m constantly looking for ways to increase my follow-up rate. It’s important and something to consider in your writing life.

Lean Into The Wind

April 23, 2005

The winds of publishing are constantly changing. It’s the nature of this business.  Editors move around to new publishing houses and take new responsibilities. Some times an editor will become a literary agent. Other times an agent will move to inside a publishing house. There are infinite combinations of these types of switches.

Last week when I was traveling, I had many opportunities to talk with writers, editors and agents. I met a number of new editors during the trip.  For example, one benefit from membership in the American Society of Journalists and Authors is the ability to attend our member day meeting. It was held on April 15th or the day before the public session on April 16th—and only open to members of the Society.

One element in the member day has been extremely popular the last two years—called Pitch Sessions. Literary agents, book editors and magazine editors meet with various ASJA members. Each of us in the Society are published and professional writers (see this link for membership requirements). The agents and editors know they are meeting with professional writers who can easily fulfill their needs. The sessions run for ten minutes—and are strictly monitored. It’s basically time to meet, exchange business cards and a tiny bit about what you do—plus hear what the editor or agent needs. It’s a time to establish a connection. Several of the magazine editors brought guidelines and samples of their publication.

For example, I met the editor of the American Lawyer, which is a slick trade magazine for lawyers. It gave her a chance to meet new writers and also the writer a chance to learn about a new publication.  It opens another door of possibilities for my writing and story ideas.  Another editor I met was starting a new publication from Guideposts called Positive Thinking. This publication will launch this summer and they are actively looking for new articles and new writers. These are two ten-minute meetings from a marathon type session of meeting editors and agents.

What happens from these sessions? It’s up to the writer to follow-up, keep the connection alive and pitch some appropriate ideas for these publications.  The sessions were terrific—because they opened up a world of possibilities and initiated a face-to-face relationship. It’s often true in publishing that it is who you know as much as what you know.  These contacts expanded my connections last week.

I’ll be the first person to admit this type of effort (initial contact, then follow-up), takes a lot of effort and work. From my experience and perspective, it is well worth it in the long run. My encouragement to you is to attend a conference and make these types of personal connections. And even if you can’t get to a conference, then keep moving. As the winds of change continue to blow in publishing, my advice is to lean into the wind and keep moving ahead.

Home Again

April 23, 2005

To make any entries about the Writing Life has been a challenge for me over the last eight days. I’ve been in New York City at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. These sessions were terrific. Then I went to Asheville, North Carolina for the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  At Blue Ridge, I taught for over eight hours plus met with many individual writers.

Now I’m back home and able to return to these entries as well as numerous other things. I love to teach at conferences. It gives me an opportunity to give back directly to other writers as well as have some give and take on the various trends and aspects of publishing.  Also it provides an opportunity to talk with other colleagues about the business, to learn more about various aspects as well as potentially gain some other assignments.

If you’ve never attended a writer’s conference, then learn about the benefits. Also plan your strategy to attend one. Select the conference that is right for you. There are a wide variety of possibilities.  I understand it involves an investment—in terms of time away from your writing and family and expense. It’s well worth it from my perspective. There is always something good about coming back home. It was almost 1 a.m. when I returned last night. It will take a few days to recover from the adrenaline which has been pumping constantly through my system as I’m meeting new people and teaching. I’m ready for a few days of calm and more entries on the Writing Life.

Stories Are Everywhere

April 19, 2005

This week, I’ve been traveling and listening to people tell me their stories.  Listening is one of those great skills for a writer and editor.  In general, we live in isolation—working on our offices and at our computers.  Over the last few days at these conferences, I’ve heard numerous stories. Some of them are fascinating. What do you do with the story? Does it become a magazine article or a book? Is it something you write or never write? As writers, we face these basic questions combined with making sure we tell the right story to the right audience.

For example, I told the story that I used about Pamela Anderson in yesterday’s entry in yesterday’s class.  The same story got a huge laugh with my editor friends and at the panel I moderated in NYC—but it fell completely flat during my workshop. Hardly anyone laughed. It depends on the audience.

As a part of the conference, I’m critiquing several manuscripts for individual writers. I’ll be meeting face to face with these individuals during the conference. I want to be honest yet diplomatic and encouraging. It’s a tricky balance. Some of these writers have invested huge amounts of time and energy into their project and they are taking a huge risk.  For the first time, they are showing their work to someone else. I try to receive this information as a gift and applaud their courage. Yet what will happen with this material? Will it be crafted into a query letter to snag a magazine assignment? Will it eventually be reshaped into a terrific book proposal which will eventually become a nonfiction book? Will it be completed as a page-turning novel? Or in some cases, it will return to the file cabinet and not see the light of day again.

I’ve got files and drawers of material which I’ve written and never had printed.  Some of these pages have been in the hands of editors and soundly rejected over and over. I put them away and pressed on to write something else. Other projects have never been shown to the editors. It simply wasn’t the right time and maybe it will never appear in print.

I’m off to encourage some writers today and listen to their stories. They are everywhere.

Disappeared With Reason

April 18, 2005

Some people have been wondering where I’ve been on my entries about the Writing Life over the last few days.  I’m still committed to my continual writing in this spot—but I’ve been traveling. I’m still traveling.  Today I begin a four day workshop teaching stint at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference (a beautiful spot near Asheville, NC). I’ll be holding four continuing sessions on the nonfiction book plus teaching a couple of one-hour workshops, meeting one on one with writers and lots of other great things—no time for these entries.

I am half way on an eight day road trip. Until yesterday morning I was in New York City participating in the meetings with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I’ve had some terrific learning experiences over the last few days and I’ll be writing about these sessions in the days ahead.

I’m going to write one quick story from Saturday. I moderated a panel on collaboration and ghostwriting. This type of collaborative book has been a regular part of my book writing life for several years. Why? I quickly learned as a writer there are a finite number of topics that I want to write and get published under my own name. There are an infinite number of topics I can write for other people and live vicariously through their experiences—and I can serve them through this process. Many people don’t have the skills or are too busy or don’t have the interest in book writing. I moderated this panel because I’ve written about a dozen of these types of books.

One of my panelists was Brenda Copeland, a senior editor at Atria Books, which is a division of Simon and Schuster. Brenda was the editor for the Pamela Anderson novel, Star, which was released last year. I knew Brenda could speak with great authority to writers about the topoc of ghostwriting. While Pamela Anderson had the idea and story material for the novel, she didn’t write it and needed a ghostwriter. Brenda told about first meeting with Pam to determine the outline, characters and plot of the novel—before they added the writer. Why?

They didn’t want to add the writer then have them claim that they did all of the work and try to take the work elsewhere. See the type of protection the publisher did in this situation before they added the writer? It was wise. Brenda found Pamela Anderson articulate and bright—not her normal celebrity persona. While working together, they determined several qualifications for this writer. First, they had to be a published novelist with a track record. The project couldn’t risk an unknown, unpublished novelist. Then they determined this writer should be either a gay man or a woman. Brenda said they didn’t think a heterosexual man could stand spending eight hours a day in a room with Pam working on this novel.

You can see from this one story that Brenda had my panel shaking with laughter. It was a well-attended and worthwhile session. The tapes are available through the ASJA.

I’m headed off to prepare for my first session. I’ve not had a good Internet connection until late yesterday but I’m hopeful to add another entry before I return home on Thursday. I’ve disappeared with reason.