Archive for August, 2005

First Impressions Count

August 31, 2005

Recently several things have come across my desk to remind me of an old truth: first impressions count. Whether you are sending an email query or submitting a book proposal or a manuscript in the mail, what impression are you going to make? Or maybe you are meeting an editor at a conference or you’ve decided to take part of your summer travels and drop by the publishing house.

No matter which situation is ahead for you, make sure you consciously consider your impression. Several years ago, I flew to New York City for a convention with the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I thought my bag felt a little light—and when I unpacked, I realized that I had left my suits hanging in my closet at home. I called my wife in a bit of a panic—until she reminded me that I was in one of the largest cities in the world. The next morning I purchased a new suit and even had the pants tailored before the day was completed.  I was really glad to have my proper New York attire for what happened during the next day of this particular conference.

One of our ASJA members had written a book with Roselynn Carter which was selected for a special award. The Carters were invited to our member luncheon (a small gathering of about 200 people or less) and the day before the public conference. The Carters were scheduled to attend. While I wasn’t a part of the honored table seated with President and Mrs. Carter, I wrangled a seat where the Secret Service was having lunch nearby. My book, Lessons From the Pit, had just released and I had a copy tucked in my satchel. With the permission of the agent, I quickly autographed it, introduced myself to former President Jimmy Carter and gave him a copy. It was the only book he carried out of the room (they left immediately after speaking to the group). I was relieved to be wearing the right type of attire. 

As an editor, I’ve always tried to prepare my authors–especially if they are speaking in chapel or addressing a large group of people within the publishing house. It might be your only chance to connect with these people (sales, marketing, publishing executives). One time an author made such a negative impression while speaking, the VP of Marketing couldn’t get motivated to read the book. Now that’s a huge problem for the author (and this author was unaware of the impression).

There is wisdom in being kind to everyone in the publishing house. Some people only want to make an impression on the “leaders” or the “editors” and neglect the editorial assistants or the receptionists or others. It all filters back to those editors and leaders within the house–long after you have left. And this advice is equally important in the phone messages and other types of dealings with the publishing house. Don’t stress over it–but the reality is that each piece of communication or visit, builds an impression–and you want it to be positive. Jacqueline Deval in Publicize Your Book includes this tip in one of the nine common mistakes that authors make, “You are polite to your editor, but you condescend to the editorial assistant. The assistants are the grease that keep your wheels moving—never forget that.” (p. 77)

One of my authors, Dr. Debbie Cherry, brought little treasure chests prepared at home to go with her first book (Discovering the Treasure of Marriage). At the time, this book had not been released but was in production and coming out soon. She added little chocolates and a tiny scroll of appreciation inside the treasure chests. Those little boxes were scattered on various desks and bookshelves throughout the publishing house and left a reminder of Debbie’s book long after her visit.

Never forget that you are your own best marketing when it comes to your books or writing.

You May Need This Download

August 30, 2005

It’s the stuff of legends but I’ve heard this story often enough that I believe it. I didn’t witness it firsthand but I’ve verified it several different times with different people.

Once an editor was consumed with solitaire. Yes, I’m talking about the little, free game which comes with your computer.  In the open office environment, almost every time someone came into this editor’s office, solitaire was on the screen. I doubt this editor knew the impression he was leaving on the various visitors to his office. He is no longer with this publisher and has moved on—but it’s still a good story about how these free games can consume your time and energy.

During different seasons of my writing life, I’ve been consumed with some of these free games. It begins in an innocent fashion then suddenly consumes hours of time which you could have been writing or something else much more productive. Just so you know I’m not playing anything at the moment but spending long hours on work-related projects.

This week Newsweek ran a short article about a free download called Temptation Blocker. B. Adam Howell wanted a program where he could block certain programs for a particular season or period of time. Then he could get the work done that needed to get done.  When the time limit ran out, he could begin playing the game again.  I told my wife about this free program and she declared it ridiculous. Yes, some of us need a bit of help in this area. Maybe you are one of those people so I wanted you to know about this free download. It might help you get a bit more done.

When You Can’t Stand It

August 29, 2005

Typically I put it off until I can’t stand it any longer—then I tackle it with gusto. The tension builds and the piles of paper and books build. Some times my wife has walked into my office and can’t believe the chaos of my work place. Piles of things are everywhere. I can barely get into my chair and in front of the computer. When I reach that point, I take several hours and organize my paper and files.

In many ways I try and tame the paper flow situation each day. Manuscripts come into my office almost daily or query letters about novels. I have to process this information fairly quickly because of the volume. Since January, I’ve received over 250 submissions for six to eight possible novels. Like I mention to people, it’s like trying to take a drink of water out of a fire hose if you don’t have a plan to process this information flow.

While I keep a great deal of my correspondence electronically, the most critical bit of information are printed and tucked into various Manila file folders. I’ve learned the hard way over the years, never to count on that electronic copy. When I’m in the middle of a book writing project, I will typically back-up a series of files daily to prevent any loss of information or data. Each project goes into its own folder and this folder contains my correspondence, contracts (if any) and helps me instantly be able to connect with the status of the project. The most current correspondence is on the top or in the front of the folder.

Every so often my file drawers get stuffed. I clear out the old files and often tuck them into a file box for storage. Some times years after I’ve profiled someone for a magazine or worked with them on a project, a new opportunity will develop. You have to be thinking immediate as well as long-term as you sort through the pieces of paper. And yes, some times I’ve thrown something which I should have kept—but over the years that has not happened often—and it’s almost always been information that I can easily recover from a different source.

I’m at the point where I can’t stand it any longer and some of these bits of paper need to get tucked into the proper file—so I can be more effective with the various projects under way. With the local temperature tied with the record high yesterday (113), it’s a good season to stay inside and do a bit of organization. On average this area of the country gets about 10 days at 110 and over but this year we’ve had over 20 days of this type of weather.

When you can’t stand the piles around you, do something pro-active about it. It’s what I’m going to be tackling over the next few days.

POD and Self-Publish Disconnect

August 28, 2005

I’m involved in a couple of online writing groups and no matter how many times you say it, there seems to be a broad misconception about self-publishing and POD publishing (means POD or print on demand). These books simply don’t appear in the bookstores.

Please don’t misunderstand me. These self-published and POD books have their place in the market—particularly if you have a means to sell the books to individuals or companies. For example if you speak often and would like to have a book to sell in the back of the room, you can easily get a self-published book or POD book to use in these situations. Just don’t expect to sell your book to bookstores.

Last week a well-meaning author celebrated his first printed book, which was POD. He was holding it in his hand—always exciting. He was plotting a strategy to get his book in as many bookstores as possible and asking for help from other authors in the group.  If you are going down this path, it shows a  clear disconnect with the realities of the market.

Here’s a bit of what I told him (edited for this entry). I hope include it in hopes it will help some others outside of that group:

Congratulations on your POD book release and I celebrate with you–but after more than twenty years in this business and over 60 books in print–and working as an acquisitions editor over the last four years–I am going to have to give you a bit of a reality check. You will struggle and find it almost impossible for bookstores to stock your POD or self-published book. It’s one of those messages that the POD companies and self-publishing places don’t tell you (they want to get your cash and get your book in their system). Yes, your book is listed on Amazon.com (easy for anyone to do–even with a POD book) but getting it into the bookstores is a completely different story. I’ve been telling writers for years about the ease of getting a book printed—now getting it into the bookstores and ultimately into the hands of consumers, that’s a different story.

Retailers dislike POD and self-published books. Every retailer that I’ve talked with about this issue (and I’ve invested the time to talk with them) have countless stories about the difficulties of these books. They have re-stocking problems and problems with the quality of the products (typos, editing, etc.).

Here’s the real test for you: go to your local bookstores and ask them if they are carrying any POD or self-published title on their shelves. Go to the big box stores like Borders as well as your mom and pop smaller independent stores. You will be surprised with the answer. I will be surprised if you find a single copy among any of the thousands of books. Several months ago, I wrote about this topic in this entry about the writing life. Scan down and make sure you see these statistics from iUniverse (one of the largest self-publishers) and the information which appeared in Publisher’s Weekly earlier this year–about the number of bookstores that carry their product–and the sales statistics.

We can’t say it often enough–the bookstore market is a closed system–that deals with distributors and large and small publishers. It’s why we work hard to get our books into the traditional publishing marketplace. It’s why you go through the effort and hard work to create an excellent book proposal or book manuscript or novel, then sell that idea to a publisher. Then your book is available in any bookstore–and can have the possibility of sitting on those bookshelves. It’s a free country and you can feel free to expend the effort and energy to market to bookstores and try and place your book. From my experience and others, it will be frustrating and likely not sell many books. I believe your marketing efforts are better served in other markets (outside the bookstore).

 

Use Your Own Resources

August 27, 2005

Yesterday I will admit to a bit of technology frustration. I promoted the tele-seminar about Book Proposals That Sell to several large online groups. Annie Jennings PR sponsored this tele-seminar and included the entire seminar as a free MP3 download. I included the link in these entries about the writing life—then the correspondence started. People were unable to get the file.  Completely outside of my control, Annie’s website went down. Was there another solution?

Thursday night, I downloaded the MP3 file on my computer. It took a while—because I’m on a slow dial-up connection to the Internet. Yet I got the entire file and listened to it—excellent quality product and covers the major points from Book Proposals That Sell.  Yet no one could download the file. I tapped into my own resources. I created a location online where others could access this file and uploaded the file to this place (again it took a bit of time but happened). Today I had a friend test the file to make sure it wasn’t corrupted, downloaded properly and sounded OK. This friend told me that everything sounded great.

I had created a short-cut link that hooked to the file location. I changed the final location for the short-cut which is a function of SNIPURL.com (and something I’ve talked about for these entries in the past—if you haven’t used this tool, learn about it). Instead of pointing to Annie’s location, I pointed to my revised location. I tapped into my own resources so people can access the file. Now eventually Annie’s site and download location will appear back online. She’s got some other tele-seminars that you will probably want to access. No matter what happens, my tele-seminar will be accessible. Thankfully in several places, I promoted the snipurl.com link and not the actual location. After I changed the snipurl.com link, I was confident it would work.

Here’s my small but important insight for you and your own writing life.  Much of publishing is outside of our immediate control. There is an intricate chain of events from when you have an idea for a magazine article or a book and that book gets into the hands of readers in a bookstore. You can’t control much of that process and if anything fails, the book will not reach people. You can’t worry about what you can’t control—but you can take control of what you can in this process. For example, you’ve written your magazine idea into a query letter and it’s gotten rejected. You can either let go of that idea or you can take control and send it immediately out to another magazine (probably reshaped for the new publication). Or if you have been trying to write children’s books (or substitute any other type of book) and not finding a place for those ideas, maybe you need to switch to a different type of writing.

You can only be responsible for you—and the rest you have to let go. Make sure you take full advantage of your own resources.

If You Missed My Tele-Seminar

August 26, 2005

Note added Saturday: Annie’s website must have gone down. I’ve changed the download link so the MP3 file is in a different place ready for you to download.

On Wednesday, August 24th, I conducted a free hour-long tele-seminar sponsored by Annie Jennings PR about Book Proposals That Sell. If you missed it, you can still catch this information through this link. I suggest you “Save Target As” and download the entire file to your computer. Then you can stop and start it or play it again as much as you want to do so.

Some people have heard my workshop on this topic through other places. I continue to grow in my information about what works and doesn’t work in the book proposal area. This workshop is my current view. In a snapshot fashion, I cover each of the 21 secrets from my Book Proposals That Sell.

If you have not seen the book, I encourage you to take a look at the various “secrets”and the other valuable information in the book. This information is also available online. Go to Amazon.com and move your mouse over the book cover. You will instantly see an excerpt from the book called “See Inside!” This Amazon.com feature is a solid way to see a taste of the book and read the front and back cover.

One of the best reactions from my tele-seminar came from Annie Jennings (if you don’t know Annie, I recommend you follow this link and learn about her services and information. It’s a goldmine for authors). I know Annie has had a number of other people teach tele-seminars about how to create a book proposal. During a follow-up call, Annie told me, I’ve decided that I can do this. I can create a book proposal. Other people made it so complicated that it didn’t seem like something I can do but you made it so I feel like I can do it now. I’m inspired.” If you listen to the tele-seminar, you will see I pulled no punches about the amount of work to create an excellent proposal. It is possible for everyone to complete—but does require the proper amount of energy and effort—like anything else that is bound for success.

While the tapes from a writer’s conference are a great way to learn after the conference (or to listen to a workshop you didn’t manage to attend), I can never recall exactly what was said during a particular workshop—particularly if several months have passed since I taught the workshop. I regularly receive emails from people who have been listening to these tapes and rave about the content of them. I nod and express appreciation for their kind words.

If you are involved in a critique group or another writers organization, I recommend you pass along this link for the free tele-conference. They will gain some of my editor’s perspective about book proposals. Over the last few years, I’ve reviewed thousands of these proposals. I give writers my personal experience and insight about what it takes for them to put together a proposal which garners a book contract.

QVC Bookselling

August 25, 2005

What is your strategy to sell your books on QVC? If you don’t have one, you’re in good company with many other authors.

The New York Times had a fascinating short article titled “Selling Books on TV Without Oprah” by Edward Watt. Here’s a couple of sentences, “Any author who can sell 15,000 books in eight minutes is going to attract a little attention in the publishing business. Jeanne Bice, a clothing entrepreneur, did just that last month, according to her publisher, when she introduced her forthcoming book during a segment on QVC, the television shopping channel. Then she sold roughly 9,000 and 10,000 more books this month during two more sessions on the channel, for a total of 34,534 books ordered in less than half an hour of accumulated air time.” OK, I’ll admit for a second or two, I had some book envy. Then I read the article with a bit more care. This first-time author has been selling clothing exclusively through QVC for ten years (a $50 million-a-year business). The audience knows this author and when she had a book, it makes perfect sense for her books to sell rapidly on the channel.

Here’s why I’m writing about this article. Jeanne Bice was an innovative person when the time came to sell her new book.  It’s just the type of author that any publisher wants (and needs). She’s not simply handing her manuscript to the publisher and expecting them to do all of the marketing. Instead, she rolled up her sleeves and tackled her most familiar audience, QVC—and tackled it with gusto. You only have eight minutes to sell a product on a QVC segment. It is a strategy that will work for some books.

I personally have no background on selling through QVC—but I know how to learn about it. Beyond the Bookstore by Brian Jud includes a chapter on selling through these home shopping networks with the specific contact information and information to start you on this process.

As I write about in Book Proposals That Sell, publishers are looking for authors with innovative strategies and plans to sell books. These plans have to be reasonable in terms of actual marketing dollars spent. Many authors have no concept of the investment return (potential sales) or the actual cost for space advertising in magazines. Just do your own investigation and you will be shocked at the advertising rates. Instead you need to creatively think about some inexpensive yet effective methods to be proactive in the process of selling your books. It will endear you to the publisher and sell more books and give your proposal something extra which few others in the editor’s stack will contain. 

The Devotion Quotient

August 24, 2005

How persistent or devoted are you to getting published? This business ebbs and flows. Some days you feel like you are on top of the world and other times it seems like all you are garnering is rejection slips. The mood can vary from day to day (or even hour to hour).

For more than twenty years, I’ve been involved in the writing and publishing business. It varies for me as well. Yet I persist because I’m devoted to this business—even if it is difficult and hard. The key is to keep working at it.

To gain some insight for this topic, I turned to one of my favorite how-to write books by Noah Lukeman called The First Five Pages, A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile. Whether you have been multi-published or never published or some place in between, I recommend a thorough (and even repeat) reading of this book.  Lukeman is a New York literary agent and has learned a great deal from his experience and builds it into this book. In the Epilogue, he writes, “Getting published is hard these days, even for great writers, even for writers who have been published before. With the conglomeration of major publishers and the fear of the “midlist” book, many fine books will never make it into print.”

“Do not be discouraged. If you stay with it long and hard enough, you will inevitably get better at your craft, learn more about the publishing business, maybe get published in a small literary magazine—eventually find an agent. Maybe your first book won’t sell; maybe your second or third won’t ether. But if you can stand the rejection, if you can stubbornly stay with it year after year, you will make it into print. I know many writers who wrote several books—some over the course of thirty years—before they finally got their first book deal.”

“You must ask yourself how devoted you are to getting published. Yes, a lot of the publishing process is out of your control. You might, for instance, have just missed your big deal at a publishing house because a book similar to yours was bought the week before; or you might get a green light from every editor in the house and then get turned down at the last second because the editor in chief or publisher—or even a sales rep—personally didn’t like your book. But a lot of the process—a lot more than you think—is in your control, and this is where devotion comes into play…The ultimate message of this book, though is not that you should strive for publication, but that you should become devoted to the craft of writing, for its own sake.” (p. 195–197)

Where are you with the devotion quotient? Are you committed to constantly increasing your knowledge of the craft of writing? When it comes right down to it, it’s a matter of sending the right query letter or the right book proposal to the right editor at the right time. Yes, many different factors have to come together for you to get published—but you have to persist.

Diversified Reading

August 23, 2005

If you follow these entries about the Writing Life, you will understand I maintain a diversified reading schedule. As a Christian, I begin my reading for the day in the Bible.  For probably the last ten years, I’ve used a “through the Bible” in a year type of program. Each year I vary the books. This year I’m using the One Year Bible which includes a reading from the Old Testament, a New Testament passage, a portion of the Psalms and a few lines from Proverbs. It begins my day in the right direction from my perspective.

I read nonfiction books as well as fiction books plus I’m involved reading many unsolicited query letters and book proposals and manuscripts (my role as a fiction acquisitions editor). Beyond books, I read a newspaper and also various magazines. The bulk of my magazine reading involves consumer magazines or the type of magazines you would find at almost any bookstore.  Through the American Society of Journalists and Authors, we receive a substantial discount on these various magazines (one of the many benefits from this group). I haven’t counted but I probably take 50–75 magazines each month. Yes, my mail person probably groans every day with the material for my box. You learn a great deal reading (or skimming) this type of material. It’s a breeding ground for ideas and cultural information.

Yesterday my September issue of Details arrived. I’ve not read the entire issue but I did catch article, Hollywood’s New God Squad by Ian Daly. It’s subtitled, Just when you thought Kabbalah and Scientology had taken Tinseltown, the Lord is risen. It’s always interesting to see what is stirring in the general marketplace and I encouraged people to be informed so follow the link to that article.

Also August 22nd issue of The New Yorker was in my mailbox. I enjoy following the stories in this weekly magazine. While not online at the moment, the issue includes a lengthy article from Peter J. Boyer called The Big Tent, The missions of Billy and Franklin Graham. If you get a chance, it’s an interesting snapshot from this journalist’s perspective. Another interesting observation about this particular issue is Target spent a huge volume of advertising dollars on this issue with creative ads on almost every page of the magazine. I’ve not noticed this type of focused effort in the past and I’m completely unsure what’s behind it other than the repeated exposure.

Think about what you are reading today and what is it building into your idea bank and writing life. If you are locked on a single-minded track, I’d encourage diversity.

Application Is Key

August 22, 2005

It’s important to have the how-to knowledge about the workings of various aspects of publishing. Many people are struggling with a magazine article or a book manuscript or a query letter because they are not informed about the basics of the editor’s expectations. They are firing off their material with little background or research about the marketplace and garnering lots of rejection and few opportunities. Each of us need to learn those basics such as writing for the audience and meeting the editor’s expectations. Yet we need something more than the information—we need to apply it to our own writing life.

Almost every day I continue to learn new aspects about publishing. It’s an attitude and a life choice that I’ve made for myself (and will continue to make). Some times people choose to ignore good advice and as a result they continue to struggle and not get published. I’ve learned to carefully evaluate the credentials of the person giving the advice. I’ve written about the “grain of salt” factor—or taking the advice with a grain of salt. Also it’s important to look at the credentials of who is giving you counsel. Do they have the experience to back what they are teaching? Some people are great at teaching and almost with their first book, they land on the writer’s conference circuit. I may learn something from these teachers (not to discount them entirely) but I want to especially listen to people who have the experience to back what they are teaching.

As an example, a number of years ago, I connected with a great marriage ministry. I was fascinated with the personal story of the founder.  I had written for a few magazines, so I arranged an interview then wrote this article which I called “Shocked Into Service.” In a nutshell, the founder was a pastor and had a distinct relationship in private than what he presented in public. In public, he was the dynamic, teaching pastor yet in private he fought constantly with his wife and struggled. One day he was out on his roof in the rain fixing his television antenna (this reveals something about the man). During this storm, he was struck by lightening and landed in the hospital. He was desperate and the doctors couldn’t do anything for him. He prayed and promised God that he would change as a husband if the Lord healed him—which happened. He and his wife founded this national organization to help other marriages.

I crafted my query and I crafted the magazine article. I sent my query to targeted markets yet was soundly rejected—repeatedly. I couldn’t understand the reason. The story and the miracle of God was fascinating to me. Why wouldn’t someone publish it? I had forgotten about the reaction of the audience. 

At a writer’s conference, I had a brief session with one of these editors who rejected my idea (with a form rejection—nothing personal on that form). It gave me a chance to learn why my story was rejected. This much published and long-time editor nailed it in a few sentences saying, “Terry, people don’t want to know about the dual life of their pastor. It may be true but they don’t want to know that their pastor is fighting with his wife at home and living a completely different life in public.”

I discovered a fascinating personal experience story—but I’d forgotten to consider the reaction of the reader to that story. I’d done the interview work and the writing with excellence—yet I missed the application. That story was tucked into a file folder and never published in those magazines. I learned my lesson from the experience.

The key from my perspective is to take this how-to information about writing and apply it to your own writing every day. Keep growing in your craft, your business savvy about the marketplace, your relationships with different editors and your knowledge of publishing. It’s all fine to talk about writing but the key is in the actual doing.