Archive for May, 2005

Rejection Ammunition

May 20, 2005

I hate (yes hate) to get rejected. I craft an excellent book proposal or magazine article or query letter. I study the market and believe I understand what the editor needs for their organization. Then I still receive the form rejection in the mail.  It’s quite frustrating. Or worse, I send in my material and never hear anything. Yes, it happens even to people who have been often published in the marketplace.

The feelings of rejection come in other ways as well. This week I learned of the sales numbers for one of my books. It hasn’t done too well—even though it is an excellent book and I’ve received kind comments about the writing and contents.  From my years in publishing, I understand there are many chinks in the sales chain to sell a book or product into the marketplace. If the chink is broken in any portion, then the book doesn’t get into the hands of the consumer.  I know the book will sit in the publisher warehouse for a period of time (which varies from place to place) and eventually I’ll receive notice the book is going to be remaindered and put out of print.

I understand rejection as well from the other side of the table—as an editor. Last year, I rejected over 350 fiction submissions from literary agents and individual authors. It was definitely not fun for me but I take some satisfaction in the fact that I faithfully communicated with these individuals. Their submission was carefully considered and then I responded—yet not in the way they expected or hoped.

Where do we get the strength or the fortitude to continue in the face of rejection?

I want to suggest several possibilities for you to use—some of them even today:

1) Be committed to keep on and keep learning about the craft of writing and the business of publishing. You can learn online from various articles or at a writer’s conference or through an audio course or from writing books. I love what James Scott Bell wrote in his article on Rejecting Rejection, “One of my writing heroes, William Saroyan, collected a pile of rejection slips thirty inches high–some seven thousand–before he sold his first short story! Alex Haley, author of Roots, wrote every day, seven days a week for eight years before selling to a small magazine. They stuck it out, and eventually broke through.”

2) Gain strength from the stories of others who have been rejected—yet continued in their writing life.  An excellent article from Catherine Wald, author of The Resilient Writer is in the most recent issue of Right Writing News.  The newsletter is free to every subscriber. When you get the welcome message, it includes the link to the back issues. The 18th issue (May 19th) includes this story.

Catherine Wald is the creator of the Rejection Collection website (fascinating encouragement). I’m still in the process of reading The Resilient Writer (what a great title!) but here’s a quote from the first page of her introduction, “If Author Golden had crumpled when a high-powered agent told him his manuscript was “too dry,” Memoirs of a Geisha would have never seen the light of day.” (a best-selling novel)

There are many reasons for rejection—and we may know that intellectually—but we need to gather all of the rejection ammunition we can collect. Then we will have continued strength for the ongoing work of our writing.

 

Measures of Hope

May 19, 2005

The magazine business changes constantly—as other elements within publishing. Editors change. The focus of a publication changes. The types of articles that they take changes. Themes for a magazine develop over a period of time and even what an editor takes and rejects changes.  If the editors don’t know what they want to achieve or do with the magazine (occasionally true), imagine how it confuses the people who are trying to write for them. At times it feels like a pure shot in the dark—but you have to continue taking the shot if you want to be published.

There are several realities to mention here. Nothing gets published if it’s only in your head or in your computer or in a file folder. It’s only when you send it into the marketplace that you have an opportunity for something to transpire.

Many years ago I was writing query letters about a little article on Listening Through the Bible. I targeted the idea for January issues of the magazine (perfect because people make resolutions and are looking for a new idea, etc.).  I learned if you listen to the Bible 20 minutes a day, you can make it through the entire Bible from Genesis to Revelation in four months. It’s an amazing—and true fact. The tape recording of the Bible simply keeps on going where you would get stalled—like in 2 Chronicles in the genealogy section.

My query letter on Listening Through the Bible was soundly rejected—all over the place. I crafted the query letter, targeted it to appropriate publications and received rejection after rejection. I didn’t think I was going to be able to write this particular article on assignment (which comes from writing the one-page query letter).

One day I received a phone call from a magazine editor. She was brand new at that magazine and had taken the helm of this publication (editor-in-chief type of role). Her initial words were apologetic about going through old query letters. (In fact, the publication had already rejected my idea and returned my SASE with the form rejection). This editor loved my Listening Through the Bible idea.  Then she asked, “Can you write 500 words on this topic by _____ a specific date a few weeks away?” Instantly I agreed. The article was published and reprinted numerous times. (In fact, I need to pull out that reprint and get it back into the market. As a former magazine editor, I know the editors will soon be looking for content for their January 2006 issues).

Hope springs eternal for writers — who are in the marketplace of ideas. Jump in the water with excellent writing. The water is fine. 

Inch By Inch

May 18, 2005

It’s easy to complain about things which are not happening:

  • editors who don’t respond
  • manuscripts which aren’t finished
  • queries which never get written
  • ideas which never get off the ground
  • projects which never get completed
  • wrong information in print or online
  • ____________ you fill in this one

I’ve got my own list of complaints and problems to wrestle and some times solve. Yet each of us have a choice in these situations—whether we verbalize it or not. We can either focus on these situations or try and be a part of the solution. I’ve chosen to be a part of the solution.

For example, my Book Proposals That Sell is beginning to get into the marketplace and on various online bookstores. This morning I was looking at the top online book sites and searching for my book to see if it was on the sites. In a number of cases, I was pleased to find the book but in the majority of the cases, it didn’t have much additional information about the contents of the book. As a book buyer, I know that reviews, endorsements and other information will help me make a positive decision about my purchase of a particular book. This morning I received an email from a writer who had looked at the book on Amazon.com and the reviews then decided to order the book.

I’m actively working to add additional information about the book on some of the key online bookstore sites. Going into the project, I know I will not be able to “fix” everything or add material in every case. But I will be able to change some of the information. It’s better to try some of it—and make some of it happen—than to do nothing and complain about it. Books-A-Million.com is carrying Book Proposals That Sell but with limited information.  On their help page, I found the right format to submit additional information.  Because I have a lot of this information on my computer, I was quickly able to pull together some additional information and send it to them. I know it will take time for this additional information to be processed and added to the site. In the long-run, I feel it will help the sales of the book and the buyer to make a more informed decision.

I use this same process in my writing. It is easy to get overwhelmed with the amount of things that need to happen.  There are query letters which need to be written. Magazine articles to write and book proposals to complete. I’ve got manuscripts to process for my acquisitions editor task and many other things in the works. It’s key to focus and keep it moving forward—at times inch by inch.  The ideas will never sell if they remain unspoken or in my files.  If I have an aversion to marketing, then I need to learn to get over it. It’s part of the business of publishing. If I have an aversion to writing query letters and pitching ideas, then again I need to get over it because that’s how the system works. If I dislike writing book proposals and pitching my ideas in this fashion…..you get the idea.

Keep moving ahead. Follow the open doors for your writing—and keep learning about the craft of writing. Use some of my links for encouragement along your journey. Each of us need to keep moving—bit by bit.

The Conference Alternative

May 17, 2005

Often in these entries about the Writing Life, I’ve discussed the immense benefits of attending a writer’s conference. It’s a great place to learn about the craft of writing, gain some encouragement from other writers as well as begin to make some solid relationships with different editors and literary agents. I regularly teach at writer’s conferences as well as invest to attend different writer’s conferences. I understand and appreciate the value in each one.

While there are many advantages to a writer’s conference, there is also a cost in terms of time and expense. To attend most of the major writers conferences it’s easy for someone to spend $1,000 when you add the airfare, conference costs and other expenses. Is there another alternative?

One alternative is a product I’ve seen called Everything You Need to Know to Become A Best-selling Author, Lessons from an Anonymous Publishing Giant by Scott Jeffrey with Dr. X.  It’s loaded with information from an experienced New York Times Best-selling author who can’t reveal his identity because of his intimate relationship with a large publishing company.  Follow the link to get the complete information about this package but it has over 7 1/2 hours of recorded conversations with someone who knows the inside scoop about publishing because they have spent over 25 years in the trenches of publishing.

I’ve listened to most of this material. For over twenty years, I’ve been reading books and magazine articles about publishing and writing. I learned a great deal on these CDs which I’ve not seen any where else in print. It’s like going to publishing school and an excellent way to be educated on some of the keys to producing an excellent product. It’s not inexpensive at $297.50 but look what these CDs cover:

DISC ONE: The Winning Author’s Mindset
DISC TWO: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part I)
DISC THREE: Crafting a High-Impact Book Proposal (Part II)
DISC FOUR: Deciphering the Publishing Business
DISC FIVE: Landing a Publishing Contract
DISC SIX: Understanding the Publishing Process
DISC SEVEN: Mastering the Publicity Game
DISC EIGHT: Book Marketing Strategies (Part I)
DISC NINE: Book Marketing Strategies (Part II)
DISC TENBONUS CD: The Psychology of Publishing

Because you purchase the audio CDs, you can repeatedly listen to the information and I believe each time you will pick up a new aspect about this business. It’s not easy for anyone to be published and you have to learn the system. This innovative package teaches you a different means to learn about publishing in the comfort of your own home or car.

It’s a solid alternative to attending a writer’s conference and something worthy of your serious consideration.

Get It Right From The Start

May 16, 2005

As a book editor–for fiction and nonfiction, I’ve repeatedly seen the importance of titles to draw the reader to the book.

Titles for the book often happen early in the path to publication or on the publisher’s production schedule. Most nonfiction books are contracted from a book proposal, so often the writer hasn’t completed their manuscript. Yet the title needs to be determined for the catalog and sales copy to be created and the cover to be designed.

I’ve been involved in hours of title meetings where we have an entire white board filled with titles and are trying to select the right one for the book. What are we working with for this process? Often it’s your original proposal. What have you provided the publishing house? A single title or a title and a list of alternative titles? As the author, you know your book better than anyone else–and have the greatest passion for the topic. Make sure that passion shows up in your title and alternative titles. It will be significant.

Publishers work hard at the title–but don’t always get it right the first time–and some times they change it in the process. For example, the nonfiction book from Frank Peretti was first released as The Wounded Spirit and now the title is No More Bullies. This book has been repositioned in the market with the new title.

I love the title of the new book (already available) and movie which will release next month about an unusual boxing upset. It’s called Cinderella Man (book by Jeremy Schaap from Houghton Mifflin) and the movie will be from Director Ron Howard and star Russell Crowe. Why this title? It’s revealed in the opening lines of the jacket copy on the book:

“Lost in the annals of boxing history is the sport’s true Cinderella story. James L. Braddock, dubbed “Cinderella Man” by Damon Runyon, was once a promising light heavyweight for whom a string of losses in the ring and a broken right hand happened to coincide with the Great Crash. With one good hand, Braddock was forced to labor on the docks of Hoboken. Only his manager, Joe Gould, still believed in him, finding fights for Braddock to help feed his wife and children. The diminutive, loquacious Jew and the burly, quiet Irishman made one of boxing’s oddest couples, but together they staged the greatest comeback in fighting history.”

Titles can make or break a book or magazine piece. Draw the reader or make them pass on to the next possibility. Put lots of energy toward this detail. Your title might just be the tipping point which makes a difference whether your book idea or magazine article is published or whether it catches lots of attention.

Take Notes? Then What?

May 15, 2005

As a journalist who interviews people then writes their stories for publication, I’ve handwritten thousands of pages of notes. Because my handwriting is poor, I believe I’m the only person who could make any sense from these notes. Normally as a back up for my quotations, I tape these interviews (on the phone as well as in person).  Yet, I’ve had the situation where where my tape did not work during the interview—and I didn’t take any notes. You talk about a panic situation. It’s especially true when you are interviewing someone high profile that you will have great difficulty reaching again.

Often I use a reporter’s notebook or a 8 1/2 x 11 legal pad for my notes. I prefer the reporter’s notebook because it’s easy to fit in my hand and I can even slip it into my back pocket. If I get a chance immediately following the interview, I will review my notes, circle or star different key quotations and some times even make a rough outline of the subsequent story. It will give me a head start for when I finally write the actual magazine article or book chapter.

Some times I will do a series of author interviews with different people. I make sure to write the person’s name and the date and the setting at the top of the page.  Later I will often tear out those pages from my notebook or legal pad, staple them together and put them into a Manila folder with the subject or author’s name.  In the folder, I collect information about their books, their biographical material and other material from the publisher or research that I’ve done with other sources. It helps me keep all of this material in one place. Because of my longevity in publishing, I will interview a person more than once. I can easily tap my earlier research and review that material—even if it’s been years in between these interviews.

While in brief, the above is my system for note-taking related to interview (and works well for me), I have not had a good system for note-taking in meetings. I’ve tried many different things—including the legal pad and reporter notebook system above but my follow-up has been challenged and not systematic.

What about taking notes in other situations such as meetings? Almost everyone in publishing is involved in a series of meetings. In the last few days, I read Mike Hyatt’s  excellent article, Recovering the Lost Art of Note-Taking. Through the years, I’ve only been in a couple of meetings with Mike. I do recall his active note-taking during our time together and until I read this article, I never understood some of his purpose or what he did with the notes after the meeting. His system for review, follow-up and action was fascinating to me.  It seems a bit ironic to me that Mike handwrites his notes. Especially when I’ve read some of his other posts about using a Blackberry and other hi-tech tools. There is something sensory and physical about handwriting notes and it must be part of the reason that Mike actively takes notes.

About four years ago, I participated in several meetings with the CEO of our company.  For each meeting, Dave Jaworski carefully carried a notebook and used it for each session. We no longer work together and I didn’t take advantage of my opportunity to learn his system for those notes and how he used them.

I’m going to try Mike Hyatt’s note-taking system and see what I can learn from it. I ordered a Large Rule Journal Moleskine notebook so I’m prepared for my next series of meetings. I’m always trying to improve my work habits and note-taking looks like a promising step for me.

Access Your Writing Voice

May 14, 2005

I continue reading solicited and unsolicited fiction manuscripts for my part-time work at Howard Publishing. I’m constantly amazed at the number of beginning novelists who have almost no dialogue in the opening of their story or they have poorly written dialogue.  A number of things have to be working together for excellent fiction but one of the key elements is dialogue.

One of my long-time friends, Gloria Kempton, is a Writer’s Digest instructor and has coached many writers in their fiction.  Gloria and I met at a writer’s conference and she was an editor at Aglow magazine (which doesn’t exist any longer—one of the hazards of the magazine business.)  I was just beginning to write magazine articles. While Gloria has written nonfiction, she has written a number of novels.

Recently Writer’s Digest Books released her how-to book called, Dialogue, Techniques and Exercises for Crafting Effective Dialogue. It’s excellent and a recommended resource. I love what she wrote in the early pages of her book, “I’m here to tell you there is no “right” way–I don’t care what you’ve heard from other writing instructors and read in other writing books. There is only your way. Yours is the “right” way. And your job as writer is to learn to access the voice inside of yourself that you need for a particular piece of dialogue, no matter who’s speaking it. Sure, you can do research, read books like this one, watch movies, and listen to how folks on the street talk. But ultimately, our characters come from somewhere inside of us, and if we want to be true to ourselves and our characters, whether fictional or real, we have to start giving them a voice.”

I’ve pulled together a longer excerpt from this book about Writing Natural Dialogue.

As writers we need to access our writing voice then live that voice through our characters—or breathe it into fascinating nonfiction. It’s possible—but demands a lot of work, which too few people seem to want to do in order to produce great writing.

Applause for Innovation

May 13, 2005

I’m always looking for innovation in the marketplace.  Some times an innovator will fail but other times they will catch the new wave in the market.  As you read in print magazines and Internet publications (such as Publisher’s Lunch which is free) along with books and newspapers, I’d encourage you to look for innovation and study how it came into the market.

An increasing number of magazines and book imprints and other areas of publishing are targeting a particular group or niche of the marketplace.  Publishers will continue to look for broad-based books—but writers make a key mistake when they don’t identify and target a particular group. Of course, you have to make sure you select a large enough group that a publisher will be interested in also going after that target. Otherwise you will face rejection for your idea (another of the many reasons that ideas are rejected).

Stephen Strang, the publisher at Strang Communications has a diverse ministry of magazines and books. For many years, I’ve known Stephen and admired his innovation. One area of the market which I haven’t seen targeted is the church bookstore market.  Particularly among the larger churches but in some cases among the smaller churches, they are starting their own bookstores. With the intense competition from “big box” stores like Barnes and Noble or Borders along with Sam’s Club and other places where Christian books are sold (even Target), it is no secret the number of Christian bookstores continues to decline. It’s a competitive tough business.

Now Strang has targeted the church bookstore with a forthcoming magazine plus with a new convention for these church bookstore managers. You can learn more about it at www.churchbookstore.com. From my view it’s an idea that has potential for strong success. Of course, it’s too early to tell in some ways. I applaud the innovation.

How are you reaching out to a new market or new area today for your writing life? Are you crafting a short story to send to a magazine? What about trying to write a nonfiction magazine article or query letter? Are you toying with a nonfiction book proposal? Some of those innovations might be a turning point in your career.

Why I Change Things Around

May 12, 2005

If you go to Right-Writing.com and take a look you will notice the overall design for the website has changed—again.  Since it began, I’ve been making a conscious effort to change it about every three or four months. Why?

I’ve been online enough to understand the importance. If the site doesn’t change, then it indicates it is static and not updated or used.  If this lack of change goes on too long, then you lose your audience. When you lose your audience some of those people will never return.

It’s one of the reasons, magazines redesign from time to time. Publisher’s Weekly launched a fresh new look last week. They moved their bestseller list from the back of the magazine to the front—along with hundreds of other changes.  Overall I like the changes that PW made to their publication. Yes, I’m as resistant as the next person to these changes—but they are a reality of our life in publishing and life in general.

I loved the cover story of the May Fast Company called Change or Die. It’s worth reading and some tome for thoughtful reflection.  The opening to this piece is dramatic and says in part, “What if you were given a choice? For real…You wouldn’t change. Don’t believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: none to one. That’s nine to one against you. Do you like those odds?”

I took a small amount of time and reworked the look of my website.  I wrote a friend about the change and she commented that looking around the site, she noticed a number of new articles which she had not read.  It was exactly the reaction that I wanted—and expect that others will have as well. I’m constantly adding material to the novel section or the children’s book section or the nonfiction section or the magazine area or the freelance writing section of other parts of the site. The new design helps the reader see new areas to explore.

To change some websites, it involves a massive amount of time and energy. I’ve worked on those types of sites before—and because of the time factor, it’s the path of least resistance to leave them alone. I’ve been using SitebuildIt for Right-Writing.com. I can change the design of my site in about 30 minutes to an hour. My biggest problem was selecting the right typeface for the navigation buttons. I wanted the words to be clear and not too tiny so I had to change them several times to get the right combination.

While we resist change, what are we doing to change? Admittedly change takes effort, energy and plain old work.  Change might open a new window in your own writing life today. I hope so. 

Keep It Moving

May 11, 2005

I’ve learned the hard way in the writing life about the importance of having a lot of different things in motion—at the same time. You never know which project or which aspect will get attention on a particular day.

Today I received an email that one of my friends, Dr. Ted Baehr, turned my press release on Book Proposals That Sell to Assist News Service (a world-wide news service). My press release suddenly went to news services around the globe. Will something happen from this release? I don’t know but I’m excited about the potential.

Our obligation as writers is to celebrate these events and keep throwing out our material into the marketplace to see where it will have an impact. It’s been a personal encouragement to see the various reviews of my Book Proposals That Sell on Amazon.com and Barnes and Noble.com. From my own experience as a book buyer, I know these reviews will help others decide if they want to purchase the book or not.

Each week, I read a great deal of material.  In some publication, I learned it’s more effective to have ten different ways for people to purchase a book than to devote the energy to only one means.  It’s more effective if people can purchase the book at conferences, at various online sources, in the bookstore, directly from the author, and from the publisher—than only one marketing channel. It’s why publishers spend a lot of time talking about various sales channels.  Often in the sales area, a publisher will have a channel manager who is responsible for a particular type of sales (such as to Sam’s Club or Walden Books or book clubs).

As a writer, how are you keeping your writing moving? Are you writing magazine queries and sending them out on a regular basis? If you want to write books, are you learning how to craft your proposal for the editor? Are you meeting those editors at conferences then forming ongoing relationships? To make our dreams about writing happen will involve a combination of faithfully learning our craft and faithfully knocking on doors of opportunity. You never know which door will open.