Archive for July, 2005

Feel Guilty About Used Books?

July 30, 2005

I fully expect some of my author friends to write me about this admission. From time to time, I purchase used books on Amazon.com.  Also I purchase books on the bargain table or “remainder” location in the big box bookstores (like Barnes & Noble or Borders). Why is that such a big deal? Some people have told me that they always buy their books in a traditional bookstore (to support that particular store). Others contend they never purchase used books.

In 2002, the Author’s Guild and several other organizations sent an open letter to Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos objecting to how the Amazon.com system allows (and even promotes) the sale of used books.  It is true that authors and publishers lose some sales from the used book market. An article in the New York Times suggests that the actual costs to the publisher isn’t that great and the gains are far greater than any loss. (If you are not registered on the New York Times website, it’s free but you have to be registered to read this article—and it’s simple.) I’d encourage you to read this article and see if it doesn’t lessen your feelings of guilt about used books.

For me, I don’t consistently purchase used books. My book buying habits include a mixture of new books and used books. Because I work in publishing and review books, I regularly receive books from publishers. It’s a continual battle in my office to keep the books on my bookshelves. Otherwise they spill on to the top of the shelf or the floor of my office.  Most people in publishing understand the market is geared toward women since they purchase the majority of the books. Years ago I read the average man reads two books a year.  Because I understand writers are readers, I’m off the charts in terms of the number of books which I read each year. Hopefully from reading these articles, you can feel a tad bit less guilt for purchasing used books. 

A Bit of Book News

July 29, 2005

Throughout my week, I’m constantly reading different print magazines as well as online newsletters. As I read, I’m gathering information about the market. My news comes from a variety of sources.  As you are aware of these different outlets, you can increase the amount of publishing news you gather.  For many years, I’ve subscribed to Publisher’s Weekly which is about the size of a news magazine yet specialized in publishing.  If you haven’t seen one, go to any public library in the country and ask the reference librarian about it. It’s usually a heavily guarded publication in the sense that librarians don’t like to get it much out of their immediate line of sight.  Librarians use Publisher’s Weekly to advance order bestselling author’s books and other books. In the last few years, Publisher’s Weekly has added email newsletters and a lot of information online. Unfortunately most of this information is limited to subscribers. I understand the costly subscription to this magazine but it’s a huge publishing education for anyone who gets the magazine and faithfully reads it—even if your way of getting it is to go to the library once a week or once a month.

This week more than 2,000 writers are gathering in Reno, Nevada for the 25th annual Romance Writers of America Convention.  Yesterday I read this piece in the Reno Gazette-Journal by Siobhan McAndrew who interviewed Nicole Kennedy, publicist for the RWA. In case you don’t know, a novel is classified as a romance when a love story is the central theme and it has a happy ending. Here’s the statistic that jumped off the page from Kennedy who said “romance novels comprise 50 percent of all paperback book sales, and sales this year are expected to top $1.4 million.”

To write any type of novel takes craft and tremendous work. You can learn a great deal from organizations such as the Romance Writers of America or the American Christian Fiction Writers (which started as the American Christian Romance Writers and includes a lot of romance writing members).  I recommend writers constantly be monitoring various bits of book news—and use it as a bellwether for your own writing. What types of books do you like to read? What types of writing do you enjoy? Then take some active steps to consistently increase your wealth of information about the market and this area of the business while constantly looking to improve your craft. In the long run, it will pay off for you—not instantly but over the long haul.

Words That Count

July 28, 2005

For almost twenty years, I’ve been writing for different magazines. Each experience is different and involves working with a editor to make sure I meet their expectations. Particularly in the magazine area (but also in books), the article length is key. As a former magazine editor, I understand the space requirements and the need to write to a specific word count.

In the early days, I had to physically count the words. Thankfully computer programs handle this function. As an editor, I understand you can’t turn in something that is way over the limit or way under the limit. It will make a difference to your editor and their expectations and requirements.

I’ve reviewed thousands of books and written short reviews about these books. The rule of thumb says the shorter the article, then the importance of word count increases. Imagine my surprise to hear from one of my editor’s this week that my word count was a bit short.

At first I was a bit indignant since they specified a range of words—and my review fell within that range of word count. Then I read the email again—and understood they were using a different method to count those words. Typically in a book review, I will quote something from the book. The quotation is simply a part of the word count—under my other review writing. I learned this particular editor counted my quotation and subtracted that amount of words from my overall word count. In my eyes, I was right on the money in terms of the word count—but in their eyes (the only eyes that count), I was short.  When I learned how they were counting the words, I quickly apologized and offered to immediately lengthen the short review. Since it had not been published yet, I added more words and sent it back to the editor. This editor appreciated my quick work and I learned how this publication counts words. I will never be “short” again for this particular magazine.

For anyone writing books, you also need to count words. This week a much-published author called me to talk about a novel from a colleague—and during the conversation he talked about the length of the novel in terms of number of pages. It’s always hard to tell from the page count.  People use different fonts and different margins. Words don’t vary. It’s the word count to tell the editor (even a book editor) the exact length of your manuscript.

There is a key lesson for anyone reading this entry about the writing life. As writers, we need to learn, then meet the expectations of the editor. Whether they are voiced (hopefully) or not voiced.  To be the writer, our responsibility is to meet the need—with on-target writing (perfect for that particular publication in style, content and format) as well as in a timely fashion (on their deadline). We are in the communications business and need to constantly pick up on any feedback —and if necessary make corrections in our submissions.

A Guidebook Worth Reading

July 27, 2005

I don’t know if anyone is like me but I have a number of market guide books on the shelf with my writing books. Because I’ve been in this business for many years, I don’t tend to purchase one every year—but I do get them from time to time.

Often in the early days of my writing, I used these guidebooks for guidelines and information about different areas of the market. When I want to launch into a new area of writing (for example in the magazine area), these guides are helpful. Or if I want to know the circulation of a particular publication or any number of other valuable details.  Yet I don’t read the majority of these guidebooks cover to cover.  Each one contains articles with different editors and other resources—yet my use seems to be looking for a particular bit of information.

Recently I’ve received a number of emails and submissions from writers who want to get into the children’s market.  These people have small children and have been reading tons of children’s books and figure they should write a few of them. Writing the books—at least that first or third draft—can be fairly fun and easy. The challenge is finding some place to publish your work.

What many writers don’t understand is the volume of poorly-crafted children’s manuscripts out in the publishing world. To really craft an excellent children’s book or magazine article involves a lot of work and energy. Beyond an excellent manuscript (which is a given), every writer has to begin to learn about other aspects of the process such as meeting editors, understanding the markets and how to handle the business aspects of for children’s writers.

The hands-down best resource in this area (in my opinion) is the Children’s Writer’s Guide to 2005. If you go to Amazon.com or another book site, you won’t find this resource. The Institute of Children’s Literature produces this annual book. The 10th edition has articles from more than 250 insiders and covers a wide range of topics. Use the link above to learn more about this resource. Whether you want to learn who is doing what in the children’s area or how to use more fiction techniques in your nonfiction writing or how to be more professional in your presentations, then this resource will help you.

Or maybe you are feeling a little thin on ideas for the children’s market. This book has articles and even information about magazine theme lists (where the editors tell you want they are looking for their publication) and how to get these theme lists.  

If you want to explore the children’s marketplace with your writing, consider taking a look at this annual guide. It might plunge your writing in a new direction.

Snip Snip Tool for Writers

July 26, 2005

Throughout my day as a writer and editor, I use a number of Internet tools. They make my work easier as a writer. I’m continually adding to my list of tools (another key bit of advise).  Today I’m going to highlight one particular tool called Snipurl. There are several of these types of tools online. Another one is tinyurl.com, which works well but does not allow you to save, individualize or recall your shortened URLs—where Snipurl includes this flexibility.

OK, first let’s pinpoint the problem so you can understand the importance of using it. You spot a terrific article on the Christian Post that you want to send to a friend or point out in an online forum. This article is about the Christian Retail Show recently in Denver. Typically, you cut and paste this URL into your email: http://www.christianpost.com/article/ministries/1311/section/thousands.trek.to.colorado.for.intl.christian.retail.show/1.htm

While it worked for your browser, what happened when you sent it? Often, it is split and ends up in at least two parts. Here’s where you use Snipurl. Before you use it, go over to the section labeled, Mysnipurl and register. Registration is simple. You pick a username, password, confirm your password and include your email address. Why register? So you can take full advantage of the features plus be able to individualize your various URLs store them and search for them.

Because you have logged on to the Mysnipurl portion of the site, now cut and paste your URL into the program. You will see your long URL posted into the right place—but also notice the “optional” Nickname. Because you have registered, you can select a memorable nickname with between 5 and 20 characters. I selected “ttrek” for the first few words of the headline, “Thousands Trek.”

Suddenly my 124 character URL has been shortened to 23 letters or 19% of the original. It has become: http://snipurl.com/ttrek or http://snipurl.com/gifm. Great—but you aren’t finished yet. Take one more step.

In the last few months, I have snipped over 300 various long URLs into Mysnip URL section. It is impossible to remember all of my various nicknames. Immediately I return to Mysnipurl. My latest snip is at the top of the screen. Select the button on the right that says, “Edit URL.” You will have the opportunity to add a “Title.” In this field, you can add some additional information that will help you recall the reason for the URL and a better reference for it. Finally you hit the button that says “Update Snipped URL.”

Why add the title? Because Mysnipurl has a search feature at the bottom of the screen. Months after snipping a particular URL, you can return to that search feature and type in a few words, then easily find your snipped URL. The search feature will look for your title words. For example, I have the guidelines for my publisher on one of these shortened urls at: http://snipurl.com/guide or I have the page with various ways to purchase Book Proposals That Sell at: http://snipurl.com/waysto And if I forget what I called it (as I just did), then I search under the word “ways” and immediately I found it.

Often these free Internet tools don’t come with a lot of instructions. You have to experiment a bit to learn to use the tool. But from my perspective as a writer and editor, it saves a great deal of time in the long run.

I learned about this tool—and others from Sreenath Sreennivasan who held an excellent workshop at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. You can discover additional tools from his links page. I’d encourage you to try a new tool from time to time. You will be amazed at how it will help your writing life.

Why I Keep Track

July 25, 2005

Today I’m continuing on the topic of maintaining my database of contacts. Why is it important?

Like almost any type of other business, the business of writing and publishing is relational. It’s important who you know as much as what you know. Your writing has to be stellar and a perfect fit for the publisher or magazine. Often because of the volume of submissions floating around, you also need to have this relationship. You can build the relationship through personal contact, Internet exchanges, attending writer’s conferences and other types of conventions such as the recent International Christian Retail Show.

I recommend you use Outlook to maintain your addresses. It’s almost the industry standard in this area—not only within publishing but for other areas of business as well. If you use some other system, make sure it’s compatible with Outlook.  At times, I need to forward an address and often I do it from my Outlook record.

It’s a rare day for me to use a great deal of the information in my address book. But when I need it, I often need it NOW. I think of it like saving for a rainy day or a huge reward. Instead of calling someone or asking for the information from another source (like the author’s agent who might be reluctant to give it to you without a good reason), I tap into my own carefully gathered resources.

During the last few years, I’ve taken advantage of the extra fields in Outlook—such as birthdays and anniversaries and spouse’s name.  As your database grows, you might not be able to remember the name of the spouse, but with a quick glance at your record, you can easily increase your personal connection to whoever you are writing. 

When I have them, I include the birthday and anniversary from the person. Some times a friend will write and say their birthday was the day before or is next week. I will note that information and add it into their address record. Then for the next year, Outlook will automatically remind me about this date. I will fire off a short email of celebration. You would be surprised how many people are shocked (and pleased) that I remember their birthday.  In reality, I’m using the software on my computer to help build these relationships.

As your database grows, you will increase your paranoia about a potential computer crash and losing the information—at least your paranoia should be increasing. I’ve had numerous friends who disappear from an online forum or contact, then when they surface, they say they’ve had a computer crash and need to rebuild their database. Talk about some extra unexpected work!

I’ve got a PDA and I back up all of my data on those files.  It doesn’t cover everything but does include a great deal of the basic information. I have some of the data backed up on my cell phone. For many years, I had a free interned program (from my dot com days) to back up all of my outlook records. I’d love to have this capability again—yet I’m reluctant to much pay for it.  Anyone have a suggestion about this aspect?

It takes consistent time to keep track of the address data and changes in the marketplace. From my perspective, it’s time well spent since my information has become invaluable over the years.

Small but Significant Steps

July 24, 2005

Over the last few days as well as during the next few days, I’m carefully going through my business cards from the recent International Christian Retail Show.  During those several days and dozens of times, I exchanged business cards. Now what? I’m taking a small but significant step with this information.

I know some people simply put a rubber band around these business cards and stick them in a desk drawer. I don’t because I’ve repeatedly seen the value of this information.  As I’ve mentioned before, we live in a world with lots of movement. People get promoted within a publisher and change job titles and even direct dial phone numbers.  Editors move to different publishers.  While through trade publications and online ezines, I try to keep up with these changes, it’s not possible to have a perfect Rolodex. 

Without a doubt, I know that some of the information in my electronic Rolodex is wrong and flawed. Why keep it? First, I don’t have the correct information but some day I may cross paths with the person again and receive this correct information. Also while they may have moved, maybe one or two pieces of the information remain valid—such as a personal email address or a cell phone number. I rarely use this information but when I need to get in touch with someone, I will try every bit of means which I have to reach them.

Also notice I say my electronic Rolodex. If your Rolodex grows very large, it’s easier to sort and find information if you have it in an electronic format. Then you can use the “find” or “search” feature of the program. Some times I’m looking for a particular publisher or magazine or other times I recall the person’s first name. The electronic format makes it easy to find the information and use it. It’s much more effective than keeping it on business cards.

I’ve sorted my newly collected business cards into two stacks. One stack includes people who I already have in the Rolodex. I’ll quickly check these cards to see if it contains new information, then add this data to their existing record. The other stack of cards are new people that I met at the conference.  These cards will be scanned electronically (a real timesaver) and added to my Rolodex. Admittedly it takes time to process this information but it’s valuable and important from my perspective.

Several years ago, I needed to contact someone that I have not reached for at least fifteen years. I tried my information and nothing worked.  I contacted the office of this author and attempted to get the information. The receptionist or assistant wouldn’t give me the information on the phone saying, “Terry, how do I know that you are really from a publisher and not just making up this story on the phone?” I turned to my Rolodex and asked, “Does this author still live in ______ (the city)?”

I received a hesitant response, “Yes.”

“And does this author still live on _____________ (the specific street address)?”

Another hesitant, “Yes.”

“Is his home phone number: ___________?”

“Yes, but the area code has been changed to ____.” I thanked the assistant and redialed the number. In a matter of minutes I was speaking to this author’s spouse and leaving a message about why I needed to be in contact with him. Within 24 hours, I was talking with the author. I could have floundered around for days on such a detail if I had not maintained the information in my Rolodex.

I can see from the emails and other contacts that other people I met are beginning to process their information as well from the conference.  Understand the value of this information and the potential power. Then you will guard and protect it for your own writing life.

 

In Case You Missed It

July 22, 2005

After returning home a few days from Denver, I’m starting to dig out from attending the International Christian Retail Show.  One great (and new) event for me was the Christy Awards. Because the Denver airport was closed for several hours (weather related), I arrived late to the awards but managed to catch most of the program.  I arrived during dinner and missed the opening prayer from Mark Kuyper, who is president and CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publisher Association. I listed the award winners while traveling (see this link if you missed it).

For the keynote message at the Christy Awards, Jana Reiss, Religion Book Editor at Publisher’s Weekly, introduced Andy Crouch, a columnist for Christianity Today and on the Editorial Board of Books & Culture. In a fascinating message, Andy spoke about fiction in a virtual world (follow this link for the entire talk). One of the great places to read is in an airplane—and many people in the past have been reading novels. Andy has been taking an informal survey about what people are doing on their laptops and finds they are playing solitaire. He says, “So this is what a surprising number of your fellow citizens are doing in that blessed quiet at 35,000 feet—in these waning days before cell phone conversations are allowed on airplanes and it is never quiet again—they are not reading a novel, they are not writing a letter, they are not even watching a movie. They are playing solitaire. Now I’m in a group of writers, and you all understand symbolism and metaphor, and frankly if you can’t see the metaphorical potential in a plane full of weary travelers using their laptops to play solitaire, you should be in a different line of work. So I won’t belabor the point, but the proliferation of airplane solitaire confirms to me that we are in the virtual reality generation.”

While maybe it didn’t fit into Andy’s talk, I want to tell you a little story for writers today about the solitaire program. In 1989, Wes Cherry created this free program which is automatically installed on every Windows-related computer. As a summer intern, he was honing his computer programming skills at Microsoft as a summer intern. He received nothing upfront as payment for his work and receives no royalty for the creation of this program. As Cherry writes, “If only a penny per copy…”

And the lesson for writers? Volunteer work is great and internships are valuable. You can learn a great deal. Agents are valuable and editors are significant in your work. But….only you can look out for yourself as a writer. You are the one whose name is at the bottom of the contract or the by-line on the publication (some times operating without a contract).

And next time you are taking a second to play Solitaire on your computer, use that program as a constant reminder to be fairly compensated for your work—even if it is a small royalty.

Because you read doesn’t mean….

July 21, 2005

Writers never cease to amaze me.  Just because they can read books and had to write some essays during  their schooling, they figure they can pull up to their keyboard and write a book. These folks are the ones in the old days who cranked a blank sheet into their typewriter and after a while produced a book-length manuscript. It was probably unpublishable but they felt good in completing it and decided to send it out into the book marketplace.  For most of them, this type of action only brought a number of rejection slips and clogged the editor’s (or some assistant’s) mailbox.

Another type of person has had a successful career in one area such as business or education and when they retire, they decide to write a book.  Often these individuals have forgotten what steps they took to become successful in their previous career. After all, those early struggling days happened a long time ago.  These writers crank out their pages and fire it off to the editor without bothering to learn the editor’s expectations or the system of publishing.

Over the last few days, I’ve received a couple of fresh examples of this process. Because my address and email is on the publisher’s website, I get a steady stream of this material into my electronic box and regular mail box. Yesterday I opened two packages from would-be novelists—each package without an email address (for a rejection letter) or a self-addressed-stamped-envelope (SASE). It’s simply because these writers didn’t know to include this information. I believe the majority of their submissions will never receive a response.

Or I got an email titled, “Submission” which was strangely written and pointed to a website to check out their submission instead of sending a one page query letter. I could have ignored this email (which many editors would have done or deleted it immediately). Instead I sent a brief response, “I will not be clicking on your website to see your submission. Learn to write a query letter or you will be repeatedly rejected in this market–plain and simple. I’m searching for something very specific. I’m acquiring six to eight full length adult Christian novels.” I figured at least this writer heard from me.

In a short time, I received a response (written all in CAPITAL LETTERS), “No, my dear, you are dead wrong. I am receiving lots of positive response to my “query” letters. When I worked for _____________, they declared me to be a “master of marketing.” As such, I generated over $300,000.00 a year in income. Your unkind comments cause me to think that you resemble a “Christian” only in the sense a woodpecker resembles a carpenter.” Notice this writer’s tactic of switching the subject—attacking my Christian faith—instead of sticking to the original area of writing a professional query letter for the submission.

And writers wonder why many editors never respond to these types of submissions? Or they send a form letter and nothing else? Just because you can type or you can write something, doesn’t mean it will find an audience.  With the large number of self-publishers or print-on-demand publishers almost anyone can get a book published (for a financial fee). Now finding an audience and getting that particular book sold into the market is a completely different story.

As an editor, I’ve tried to take a different tack for writers. I want to encourage the craft of writing and that they will take the time to learn how publishing works. 

Some Changes Have Merit

July 20, 2005

If you read these entries very much, you know that I’m a plodder, consistent type of writer. It’s a valuable quality for the writing life.  To write various books, you need to set some solid goals and consistently produce pages or words or however you measure it. To edit manuscripts or to evaluate manuscripts for a publisher, it’s the same type of quality. There is something valuable about persistence and simply showing up each day and moving the process ahead.

In the middle of this routine type of activity, change rears it’s head. I’m as resistant to change as the next person. I like to keep doing things the same way—except that’s not reality.  Editors change places.  The market shifts. Magazines come and go in the business. It’s a part of our life—and something we need to learn how to adapt. If you didn’t catch the cover story from Fast Company which I mentioned a couple of months ago, follow this link to read it. It is called, Change or Die.

Everyone thinks I’m pretty technical—mostly because of the volume of material on Right-Writing.com. I don’t believe it when someone writes or applauds my technical skills. I have the same challenges as others in this area. Yesterday  afternoon I began to wonder if I could change the color of my entries on the Writing Life. I was tired of the olive, red pattern which came with this template. At the same time, I was grateful for the basic template and how easy it was to install. I’ve maintained the same design and changed my color scheme.  Through trial and error, I learned how to change the colors and bring a slightly different look to these entries. From my perspective, this change makes the entries more readable and a cleaner design. I hope you agree with the new look and that in this case, the change has merit.

I don’t know what changes you are facing in your own writing life. Maybe you need to open a new window in your own writing and try and different type of writing. Maybe you need to dig into learn more about characterization to improve your fiction. Possibly you need to learn more about the book publishing world and the marketplace from reading my Book Proposals That Sell. Or maybe you need to hone your interview skills with another magazine article assignment. Get the assignment first through writing a query letter, then snag your interview and get it written on the deadline.

And when those changes come into your life—and they will come—try to welcome them and go with the flow rather than resisting. It might just simplify your path.