Archive for July, 2005

It’s A Bargain To Consider

July 19, 2005

Do you read books about the craft of writing? I’ve got five shelves of these types of books in my office—and I’ve read and highlighted most of them. For more than twenty years, reading how-t0 books about different aspects of the writing life has been a regular part of my reading schedule.  Some of these books are specific about a particular type of writing such as children’s books or book proposals or various aspects of fiction. Others are tied to marketing books and yet others to the mechanical aspects of the business like query letters.

There are many different sources for these types of how-to books. New titles enter the market each year.  Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success joined these trade paperbacks a few months ago. This month the Writer’s Digest Book Club includes this title as a featured alternative. I’m a member of this book club and haven’t received my mailing for the month (remember I’m a “w” for my last name). Several writers across the country have sent their notes of congratulation about the appearance. I’m looking forward to receiving my newsletter.

If you are not a member of the Writer’s Digest Book Club, then now is your time to join. You can get my book free (plus postage) which is a bargain. Note you will have to select my book as one of your choices (use the search feature on the site and type in my last name, “Whalin” and it will take you to the entry. There is no obligation to purchase additional books and if you read the books (some people just purchase books and keep them on the shelf), then it will help you grow as a writer. Of course, you will not be able to get an autographed copy of my book (use this link if you want one) but for some people the bargain is worth your consideration. 

What Goes on Your Card?

July 18, 2005

Occasionally one of my friends will eagerly reach for a new business card. They will include the comment, “I have a collection of your cards.” It’s a scary thought. For over twenty years, I’ve been using business cards and exchanging them at conventions and conferences plus one on one meetings with people.

Unlike some people, I’ve moved around a bit through different positions and different occupations and different companies.  A business card is a way to update the recipient on where I currently live and how to reach me (depending on the information on the card).

Last week in Denver, I had a number of people say to me, “Now you are still in Colorado Springs?” No, I live in Arizona. Despite literally thousands of emails and other bits of communications, an individual will remember you where you were last living when you connected with them. The business card exchange helps affirm the new location and your current information. In a busy convention, it’s difficult to keep track of all the information you gather and business cards are an important part of this exchange.

Some people use the front and the back of their business card.  I’m not an advocate of these types of cards for several reasons. First is the added expense but many times your business card is used as a reminder for the recipient to take additional action at a later time.  Maybe you are talking about a book to send or guidelines for a publication or _______. It’s common to use the blank back of your business card to write this request for later follow-up. It’s hard to write on a surface that is crammed with type (as happened a couple of times last week).

OK so what information does your business card contain?  There is no right or wrong answer but it should include your name, mailing address, phone number, email address and your website (if you have a website).  Some business cards promote a new book. For example, last week I gave people my Howard Publishing business card but also a card which included some information about Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success.  You may not have a book to include—and if that is the case, don’t worry about it.

I’ve seen writers agonize about which title to include on their business card. Some love the word “writer.” Others prefer “author.” Yet others say “novelist and speaker.” From my perspective, it is not important which occupation you use (or don’t use). If it’s not on the card, it’s not a problem. It’s a matter of personal choice.

Some people include a lot of valuable information on their business card such as their home phone or their cell phone number. Again, it’s a matter of personal choice what you include or don’t include. Last week one author moved so much because of her military husband that the only personal contact information included on her business card was a website address.  The recipient could go to the website address and have the means of contacting this author.

The important aspect is to have business cards. Carry them with you because you never know when you will need to exchange them. I’ve seen countless frustrated people (including some editors) who rush off for a conference without their business cards.  Take the advance planning time to create an attractive yet functional business card. It will pay off in the long run.

Reading My Mail

July 17, 2005

In the last few days, I’ve opened a number of new submissions and query letters. It’s been an education to me and I hope a few of these comments will provide some insight for you as well. The key message of this entry is—First impressions count with the editor. I’ve always been amused with the Forrest Gump line, “Stupid is as stupid does.” It has a measure of truth in it. Right off the bat, you don’t want the editor to think you are careless or stupid.

Here’s a few recent examples where I simply roll my eyes when I receive them—and maybe look a bit jaded at the rest of the contents: “Dear Ms. Whalin,   I’m seeking representation regarding…”  Ms. Whalin? Did they take two minutes to Google my name and check? Or if in doubt, use the full name: “Dear Terry Whalin.” And seeking representation? It’s the term used when writing to a literary agent—not directly to an acquisitions editor. The letter was addressed to me as the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Publishing.

Or what about another letter which recently came addressed on the outside of the envelope to my name and address—yet it began, “To Whom It May Concern.”  Who is reading the letter? I recommend you address that person in your salutation.

To be perfectly fair, I didn’t let the salutation sway my opinion of the pitch and I read the rest of it—rejecting it for other reasons. Yet the salutation made an impression—and not a positive one.

At my previous publisher, an editorial assistant sorted through these unsolicited submissions and returned the majority. Occasionally I would see one which had promise. In my current situation, I open and process all of my mail.  I work remote from the publishing house so I answer my own phone from my home office. It’s not rocket science. I live in Arizona and my publishing house is based in West Monroe, Louisiana. It simply takes a little forethought from the writer before they pick up the phone and call me on a Sunday morning or at 7 p.m. in the evening (it’s happened repeatedly).

The content of your query or book proposal has to be outstanding, crafted for my publishing house and in the range of material that I am acquiring for it. I’d encourage you to not rush your submission into the marketplace. It’s always good to keep that email in your draft box overnight and take one last look at it. Or keep the letter on your computer and re-read it one more time in the morning. Think about how the editor will receive it.

In general across publishing (large publishers and smaller publishers), if you address a package to a particular editor at a particular publishing house, it will likely land in their in box. Some editors have editorial assistants who sort their mail but in general, it comes to that particular editor—whether it says, “Requested Manuscript” or not. We may not get to it as promptly as you would like but editors do read their mail.

Must Network

July 16, 2005

I can’t over emphasize the need to have talent and craft in your writing. It will be a key in your success as a writer in the publishing world.  This entry is continuing my series on characteristics of successful writers from my years of interaction and observations. It’s probably the final one in this series (for now).

Publishing is also about connections or your network. Who do you know or who can you get to know that will champion your cause within the publishing house? Why can you get to know who will champion your cause outside of the publishing house? Every aspect is equally important.  Like every business, successful authors know and understand the power of information and the value of their network. At some writer’s conferences, I’ve seen classes on how to schmooze the editors with tips on the right and the wrong way to accomplish this type of networking. I’ve not taken one of these classes but would like to do so some day.

In a recent issue of The Foster Letter, Religious Market Update from Gary D. Foster, a news item caught my attention related to this topic. It originated from the Small Business Computing 6/10/05 but Gary’s newsletter said, “Contact Management Software not withstanding, a new Plaxo survey finds 37% of small business persons manage their contacts with Post-It notes or a Rolodex. Only 35% noted they used Microsoft Outlook to manage personal and business contacts, 17% reported using their PDAs or cell phones  to track addresses or phone numbers while 2% indicated they don’t use any form of contact management.”

Can you believe that lack of information management? Where are you in this process? How do you maintain or don’t maintain your information about writers and editors and others in the publishing area?

I don’t expect you or others to maintain my level of information management —yet everyone can be doing something in this area. Bestselling writers understand their need to have a constantly expanding network.  They can’t depend on an agent or a writer friend or someone else to handle this aspect but they understand the importance and power of this information.

In past entries, I’ve mentioned Malcolm Gladwell’s bestselling book, The Tipping Point. Gladwell talks about several factors that come together to make a product or a person catch a broad range of public attention. One of those factors is a connector.  The book includes a brief test and from taking this test, I learned that I fall into this connector category. Not everyone can be a connector—yet everyone can make a conscious effort to collect data and use it sparingly.

I have a lot of information in my Rolodex. I maintain it and preserve it and change it constantly. I back up my information files (to avoid computer crashes and losses). I’ve never used Plaxo —even though I’ve received the notices from many people.  Often the Plaxo notices have my incorrect personal information which at times I fix. At other times I send an email directly to the person with my data—so they can add it to their system if they want to do so.

I maintain my own Rolodex and database—one entry at a time. Yet the information  in my Rolodex is valuable after interviewing more than 150 bestselling authors. Often I have no need to go through a talent agent or a literary agent to reach a particular author—because I can reach them directly (which is often much more effective). It didn’t happen overnight but one entry at a time.

Last week at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, I exchanged many business cards. It’s something I do naturally—and you may have to practice the questions. When you give your card to another person, they may or may not give you a card. If they don’t reach for their card, then you actively ask, “Do you have a card?” Even if I have their name and information in my Rolodex, I still exchange cards. Why? Information is constantly changing. Editors change titles and positions. Phone numbers change. The card gives you some new information which may or may not have been said verbally.

A major executive and I were continuing our discussion about a possible project. Besides the card, this person wrote his cell number and his personal email address on the back of the card. See the value of the network and the information? In one brief exchange, I received the way to contact this person directly—and by-pass his assistant or others who may block and limit access.

Exchanging business cards is only one step in this process. The cards do almost no good in my desk drawer. I will be adding this information to my computer (where I can search by company or last name or first name). Do I have this aspect perfected? Not a chance but I continually work at it—and you can as well.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. It’s the same with understanding the importance of the network.

Must Be Willing To Learn

July 15, 2005

Successful authors are continually growing in their writing life. They certainly deserve a certain amount of respect for their creation of a bestselling product or book. But they aren’t pushy about demanding this respect nor do they flaunt their bestselling status (as some people do). These writers recognize that each of us are on a journey and they are trying to grow in their craft and are willing to continue learning.

I’m continuing my series of entries about the Writing Life on key qualities of bestselling authors.  These qualities aren’t anything scientific but simply from my years of interacting and observing these authors in different settings. If you have missed any of these posts, go back and pick up the other qualities since each one is a valuable aspect to build into your own writing life.

This past week I’ve been at a large convention and had another opportunity to meet additional authors and see old friends in this business.  Certain authors try and set themselves above the others in this setting. The authors move with a group of people around them. These authors have people who meet their every want or need—and instantly. Also you can’t get to these authors without going through the intermediary or having a pre-arranged appointment.  This convention was a closed trade show. No one can enter the floor unless they are a part of the publishing industry and obtain a badge.  The majority of authors feel free to roam the floor without their contingent of assistants. The danger for those with this type of arrangement is simply having a bunch of “yes” people around them. They will only tell you the positives and never help you learn or grow in life.

Many years ago, I supervised an author who had written numerous books. One day I asked him if he ever attended a writer’s conference. He looked at me and sincerely said, “Yes, I go when they ask me to teach.” He missed my question. I was trying to see if he was actively learning and growing in his life as a writer. In a backhanded way, the author answered, “No. I’ve learned it all.” No one has learned it all and each of us (no matter at what point in our writing and publishing career) has more to learn.

Despite my numerous published books and magazine work, I continue to learn more about the craft of writing. I continually read new how-to writing books and magazines. I can improve and will be improving in the days ahead.

Last Sunday night the featured speaker at the convention was Rob Bell, the founding pastor of Mars Hill in Grandville, Michigan (one of the fastest growing churches in America). It was fascinating to hear Rob talk about the Christian life as a journey and each person in the room trying to get to the next point of growth. In contrast, many pastors and teachers contend the Christian life is a destination—and once you arrive, you are there.  Danger lurks when you believe this second view and you encounter a bump along the road. The same type of danger exists for the writer—even the bestselling writer. They begin to believe their own press and reputation. When they hit a bump in the road, it throws them for a huge loop. Instead, I believe there is wisdom in the writers who are continually growing in their craft and willing to learn—from any source. This type of availability will show to others around you—whether you are aware of it or not.

Headed Home

July 14, 2005

I’m headed home in a few hours and I’ll spend a good chunk of today in the airport. I’ve got one more breakfast meeting with a couple of literary agents.  The annual book conventions are busy times of meetings and countless individual conversations. It stands in complete contrast to the typical writing life of sitting at a computer for the majority of the day and spending a few minutes on the phone.

At these conventions, authors come to life. They stand in front of you and you spend a few minutes getting acquainted or catching up on family and their current lives, exchanging business cards, then pressing on. I’ve had some significant meetings during the convention. As often the case, the proof of the significance will be in the follow-up and whether anything results from it.

Several times during the convention, I had some basic truths confirmed—which are rarely discussed but significant to any writer. The craft of writing is critical. If the book or the book proposal or the manuscript isn’t well-written, then the sales people have nothing to sell. The writing is always foundational. Yet there are many other factors in the sales process such as the cover design, the book packaging and the sales materials.

Yet sadly because of the huge volume of manuscripts and submissions, unless the relationship is present with the agent or the editor, then good work can be overlooked. The book conventions are about affirming, building and continuing those relationships. Who you know is important and can’t be overemphasized.  If you don’t know anyone, then you need to start the journey. If you know a few people, you need to constantly be expanding the circle of editors and agents and authors.  These relationships are important.

As an editor, I understand a basic truth (again often overlooked): agents work for the author. While some authors have to work hard to find an agent, the author often forgets that the agent works for them. The author doesn’t work for the agent. If you love a particular editor and publishing house and want to work with this editor—and your agent discourages you—never forget that ultimately you are in charge of your own publishing career. Sure you want to listen to your agent and his advise—but no one is perfect in this business and no one gives 100% sound wise advise. You can still go to that smaller publisher despite what your agent says.   It’s a truth that I know only too well so I’ve spent a lot of time this past week building, meeting and continuing my relationships with authors.

Today I noticed Amazon.com has finally added my “look inside” the book to my Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. I believe this feature is a strong help to people who want to look a bit at the book, read the back cover and a sample before they purchase the book. I can’t find the link at the moment, but Amazon.com has a way for authors to submit their own material. It can take eight weeks (and almost took that long for my book). I took that initiative as an author to send my book to Amazon.com and eventually it showed up on their website—as an additional sales tool for the book. It’s another marketing hint for any authors and their own books. Again you can take charge of your own destiny in this small but maybe important area—and not wait for your publisher to submit the book into this system (because depending on the publisher it may never happen).

Tomorrow I hope to return to my remaining characteristics about successful writers.

 

A Few Statistics about Christian Retail

July 13, 2005

While I’ve had some long days at the International Christian Retail Show in Denver, it’s been a great experience for me. After years of attending these sessions, it’s like a huge family reunion in many ways.  There are new friends to meet but many old friends to see and get a bit of news about their lives. I’ve got another long day tomorrow ahead so this entry will be brief.

Tonight I learned about some preliminary number information from the initial days of the show. I hope this statistical information will be useful to others. Currently there are about 2200 members of the Christian Booksellers Association. This number is about the same as it was last year and in fact, over the last ten years (since 1995) the number of members has maintained about the same. So you have some way of understanding these numbers. The American Booksellers Association in 1995 had about 4400 members. Today they have about 1,700 members. The drop in membership for the ABA reflects the struggles for independent bookstores to stay competitive in light of the “big box stores” or the Borders and Barnes and Noble stores.

This year at the ICRS there are 1, 126 buying stores. Now under this system of counting some large entities such as Wal-Mart or Family Christian Bookstore would only count as one store. Over 50% of these retailers are east of the Mississippi River and typically drive to the convention each summer.

Christy Award Winners in Denver

July 10, 2005

It was a terrific evening celebrating Christian fiction in Denver at the Marriott City Center.  The occasion was the sixth annual Christy Awards. It was my first time to attend this event. Here are the winners in the different categories:

General

Bad Ground by W. Dale Cramer (Bethany House Publishers)

Historical

King’s Ransom by Jan Beazely/ Thom Lemmons (Waterbrook Press)

Romance

Secrets by Kristen Heitzmann (Bethany House Publishers)

Suspense

Tiger in the Shadows by Debbie Wilson (Kregel)

Visionary

The Shadow Within by Karen Hancock (Bethany House Publishers)

First Novel

The Mending String by Cliff Coon (Moody Publishers)

Thankfully the meal was a buffet outside of the ballroom. Even though I planned lots of travel time to arrive in Denver, get settled into my room and arrive at the event, the weather had other plans. Th Denver airport was closed for several hours because of weather (I believe lightening). My plane from Phoenix circled, then had to land in Colorado Springs to refuel then finally arrived in Denver about three hours late. I found a few friends, quickly ate my food and finished right before the program began. Whew.

I’m unsure how much I will be able to blog but I wanted to pass along these results so you can celebrate the Award winners and this evening to highlight Christian fiction.

International Christian Retail Show

July 9, 2005

For the next few days, I’ll be at the International Christian Retail Show which is the largest book event of the year for the Christian bookselling business. The show moves to different areas of the country and this year it will be in Denver, Colorado. My schedule is fairly packed and I doubt I will have any time to write entries about the Writing Life.

I have not finished my various characteristics of successful writers. When I return, I plan to continue with some additional entries. Until then I’d encourage you to learn some valuable tips from Kristi Holl about waiting.

Must Listen

July 8, 2005

The skill is rarely practiced in our world. I’m talking about the ability to listen and listen deeply to the person who is speaking. It’s another characteristic which I’ve observed from my interaction and interviews with bestselling authors.

Some times the intensity of the listening from these authors surprises me. Several years ago I interviewed an author for a magazine article. As we talked, this author was constantly analyzing the conversation and what I would be doing with the information I was gathering from our time. At several points, he abruptly switched gears for our conversation saying, “But why are we talking about this? The reader doesn’t care about ______.” So I berudging pressed on to a different topic—despite my own fascination and internally muttering, Who is controlling this interview? Thinking back on that time, the author impressed me with his intense listening skills. It’s rare but a quality I’ve seen repeatedly.

As we listen to others, we gain insight into their world, their particular audience and their particular market. The successful authors are eager to improve and some of that improvement comes from their listening ability.

One of the keys from my perspective regarding listening is to evaluate the information as you gain it. These authors listen but they consider the information and use some of it and discount other parts of it. If you feel like your listening skills could use a bit of tune up, let me recommend a resource. When I was the acquisitions editor at another publisher, I wrote and called a number of my bestselling author friends looking for leads on new projects (something else an acquisitions editor does to find exciting work). Gary Smalley recommended two friends who had been teaching for over twenty years on listening yet never gathered this material into a book. Ultimately I acquired that book for the publishers and even helped in the writing and editing process to get it completed. Dallas and Nancy Demmitt wrote Can You Hear Me Now? As Gary Smalley wrote about the book, “Prepare to experience the power of listening.”

You may think your listening skills are in great shape. I’d encourage you to work on constantly improving in this area. It’s one of those skills that constantly need honing—and like our writing.