Archive for August, 2005

Take Time to Vote

August 20, 2005

Have you ever voted in a national book award contest? With most of these types of awards, a group of judges determine the winners.   For the first time, a new contest is on the scene called Quills. 

In Celebration of the Written Word, says their website. The Quills Awards are a new national book award that honors excellence in writing and publishing, including consumers in the voting process. Designed to inspire reading while promoting literacy, the Quills will honor winners in more than 15 different categories, including Book of the Year, Debut Author Of The Year, and Lifetime Achievement.

The Quills Awards were established to:

  • Celebrate Excellence in Writing and Publishing
  • Recognize and praise the creators of important books and great literature
  • Interest more consumers in acquiring books and reading
  • Act as a bellwether for literacy initiatives

Between now and September 15th, you can vote online or at any Borders book and music store. It involves a simple registration process. On october 22, 2005, NBC’s news anchor Brian Williams will host the first annual Quills gala and announce the winners.

I cast my votes in the different categories. Now it’s your turn—but do it soon.

Worth Knowing

August 20, 2005

If you read these entries very often, you will know that as a natural part of what I do, I keep track of a large volume of information about various aspects of publishing. I read the trade magazines and consumer magazines plus I try and think creatively about the different things that I’m learning then apply them to my own writing life.

Today for something different, I want to give you a bit of this insight and also show you how I got it (for your own education and growth). The overall result is going to be more eclectic than some of my other entries about the writing life.

First some publishing news from Thomas Nelson, the largest religious book publisher in the United States, named Mike Hyatt their Chief Executive Officer. Since February 2004, Mike has been the president of Nelson (a position he will continue to hold). Hyatt takes over from Sam Moore, the founder of Thomas Nelson and Moore will remain the chairman of the board of directors and the companies largest stockholder. Congratulations to Mike, who wrote for the cover of Book Proposals That Sell, “Following Terry’s advice will give you the edge you need to create a slam dunk proposal!”

In addition to the promotion at Nelson, I read a fascinating story in Publisher’s Weekly about The Women of Faith line of books, which is a Nelson division. Journalist Juli Cragg Hillard wrote, “The event’s concourses already are “the biggest bookstore on wheels,” said Tami Heim, chief publishing officer at parent Thomas Nelson Inc., where the lucrative conferences account for 14 percent of the company’s revenue.” See that note about the percentage of revenue—and outside of the traditional bookstore market? A bit later in this short article, another couple of sentences stood out to me, “This is the 10-year anniversary for Women of Faith, which presents 30 conferences a year around the country that each are attended by over 400,000 women. The six core speakers–Sheila Walsh, Patsy Clairmont, Thelma Wells, Marilyn Meberg, Luci Swindoll, Nicole Johnson–include bestselling authors, but Nelson’s research has shown that the Women of Faith brand is stronger than any of the individual authors, said Nelson’s Carolyn Denny [Editorial Director for Women of Faith].” Here’s another interesting fact “worth knowing” about these conferences, according to Mike Hyatt, during the last fiscal year there were almost 36,000 first time decisions for Christ.

I began to wonder how that 14% translates into dollars of revenue. Because Thomas Nelson is a public owned company and traded on the New York Stock Exchange, they have to issue public statements about their earnings and other matters—unlike some other publishers. Their annual report for 2004 is available online. For 2004 their net revenues were over $222 million so that 14% translates into over $31 million or a substantial portion of their overall income—and it’s outside of the traditional bookstore marketplace. I know most annual reports are boring type of information but you can learn a great deal from them about some of the details of publishing.

Who Reads Religious Books?

This week I ran into a great Barna Update about Religious Books. For many years, I’ve known George Barna and admired his work—but I had dropped off the list for his free updates. This one gives some great details about who reads religious books and what type of consumer. It’s almost what you would expect—but none-the-less worth knowing about and reading. If you found this one interesting, you can subscribe to these updates and receive them on a regular basis. It’s another free tool for writers to know about and profit from the information.

Information for Bloggers

I understand that blogging isn’t for every writer but if you want to read a white paper which introduces blogging and some communications tips. I recommend this white paper from Beacon’s International. Again it’s a free download and worthwhile from my perspective.

In the last day, I learned that a flood of spam has been affecting the blogging community. If you use blogger, I recommend you follow this link to Darlene’s site and learn about how to change your settings and protect yourself from this blog spam—which apparently automatically adds things to your comment section.

Free Tele-Seminar on Book Proposals That Sell

Last but not least, if you’d like to hear me teach on Book Proposals That Sell, next Wednesday, August 24th will be a terrific opportunity. Annie Jennings PR is sponsoring this tele-seminar. Use this link to sign up and receive the telephone number and pin#. It’s free.

Reslant Your Story Ideas

August 19, 2005

Often the same story idea can be reslanted or recycled then transformed into a completely different article. It’s a way to get more mileage from the basic work of gathering your research and interviewing different experts. Often I’ve used this technique with a magazine article or the research for the magazine article has become material in the chapter of a book project.

Kelly James-Enger has great and practical suggestions for any writer with her book, Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference).  Reslanting can be a drawback if you grow weary of the same topic. “Write about any subject more than once and you may get bored with it. Over the last five or six years, I’ve written a slew of articles on weight-loss strategies. We’re talking about at least $70,000 worth of work and hundreds of tips and suggestions—all of which could be summed up in four short words: “Eat less, exercise more.” A new writer might only be able to come up with one story from this simple phrase. But by focusing on three aspects of the topic—audience, angle, and approach—I’ve come up with a slew of different ways to approach this subject.” (p. 160) Then Kelly includes seventeen different stories from this one topic which appeared in various publications and provides an excellent example of this technique.

Have you interviewed someone who is rarely interviewed? While you and I may purchase and read the next book from our favorite author, you may not know that particular author is rarely interviewed. Not every author enjoys the promotion part of this business—and some of them rise to such a level they can turn down and ignore such opportunities.

Many years ago, one of my writer friends, Jennifer Ferranti, snagged an interview with best-selling author John Grisham.  He agreed to the interview because the resulting story would be published in a small obscure publication for Christian attorneys. Ferranti turned that single interview into a goldmine of other stories including an article in Writer’s Digest and a cover story for the Saturday Evening Post. It came from a single interview.

As you tackle your writing life today, let’s look for more ways to get your story ideas into print. The possibilities are out there if you are aware of the opportunity.

 

It’s Good For You

August 18, 2005

I’ve learned the hard way that I don’t always do what’s good for me—but most of the time I do it.  I’ve read enough health books (and even written a best-selling one called First Place) to know the benefits of diet and exercise. 

Today I’m returning to more nuggets for writers from Kelly James-Enger’s book,  Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference). Whether you want to increase your effectiveness as a writer or make more money, this book is loaded with great information.  If you get the chance to meet, Kelly you will see from her slim appearance that diet and exercise are worked into her life. She runs—besides writing about health and fitness for a variety of outlets. It’s no surprise to me that she encourages writers with the benefits of exercise.

She writes, “I’d like to suggest that as you commit to full-time freelancing, you also commit to a regular exercise program. (No groans, please!) Writing is a sedentary business, and working out will reduce stress and help you maintain a healthy weight. Working from home, it’s all too easy to head to the refrigerator for a distraction—and those little snacks can add up.  Exercise has proven mood-boosting benefits, and while I can’t cite a study, I’m sure that regular exercise makes you more productive in your writing as well…Yes, exercise—even a quick walk around the block—takes time out of your day. But is more than pays for itself with increased productivity, better mood, and I’d say, more creativity as well…Remember, the biggest asset you have as a writer, besides your time, is your good health. When you feel good, it’s all too easy to take it for granted, but when you feel lousy, it can drag your productivity to a halt…When I’m exercising regularly, my aches and pains are minimal, and I’m able to cope with daily stressors much better. I think you’ll find the same is true as well.” (p. 42–43)

Painful words huh? They ring true for me. Several years ago I was full of excuses about why I couldn’t devote the time to exercise. I had a full-time job. I had a 40–45 minute commute each way. I was writing books on top of that schedule and other things. Exercise slipped as a priority and didn’t fit into my day (at least that’s what I told myself). My wife’s encouragement didn’t seem to boost it on the priority list. My pants kept getting tighter. To solve that situation, I purchased larger pants (several times). One day I looked in the mirror and wasn’t happy with my appearance (at least I crawled out of denial). It wasn’t simply exercise. I needed to combine my exercise with diet. While I love doughnuts and ice cream and great breads, I’ve learned the hard way that I can’t eat much (if any) of such things and still fit into my pants.

For almost two years, I’ve been on a modified version of the South Beach Diet and combined with regular exercise, I’ve lowered my weight over 30 pounds (sometimes it’s been more than this but overall I’ve kept the weight off for two years). I know exercise and eating what’s good for me has built some extra energy into my writing life. And I may groan about doing it—but I’m committed to this discipline—just as much as I’m committed to writing. It’s hard work—for any of us.

Check Out My New Look

August 17, 2005

It’s hard to stand out from the crowd—particularly when it comes to blogs. Well, it’s not too hard but it does require a bit of additional work.

“US research think-tank Pew Internet & American Life says a blog is created every 5.8 seconds, although less than 40% of the total are updated at least once every two months.” With literally millions of blogs, how do you stand out from the crowd? It’s a challenge—especially since the blog and space is free. I know bloggers love to come to a place with a unique look and feel to it.  In the past, I used a free template. These free templates are a tremendous service to the blogger community. 

One of my friends sent me a link to another blog called Writer’s Blog—that used the same free template and at that time had the same color scheme. When I saw that other blog, I didn’t feel too different or too unique. Yes, my words were different but not the look.

Several weeks ago I learned about Chameleon Blogskins, the work of Darlene Schacht. I met Darlene because she redesigned Shannon Woodward’s Wind Scraps blog. I love the result of Shannon’s redesign. I checked out Darlene’s portfolio and was impressed that each of her designs were unique to the individual.

As a writer, I understand the creativity, listening ability and pure talent involved to capture another person. It’s the type of skill set that I’ve had to tap each time I work on a collaboration project. Darlene echoes this same type of creativity, listening ability, pure talent and attention to the smallest details.  As I’ve written about before in these entries, with much of publishing, the devil is in the details. Darlene knows and understands how to capture these details in her design work. I was amazed.

With one of my suggestions, Darlene had to work some HTML magic. I loved my Book Proposals That Sell  on the computer keyboard. Could she make that book “clickable?”  Yes, she figured it out. It’s a remarkable (and rare) quality for any designer. Today I’m celebrating what I’ve learned from this new friend who has distinguished The Writing Life from the crowded field of blogs.  

As I move into this new look, I hope you will plan to come back tomorrow (and the next day). There is a great deal more to be said about the writing life.

Improve Your Efficiency

August 16, 2005

As a writer and as an editor, I’m always trying to become more efficient. If I can handle a task with greater efficiency, then I will be able to accomplish a greater amount of work in the same amount of time.

Yesterday I began writing a bit from Kelly James-Enger’s book, Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference). Her book is loaded with practical how-to information for any writer—no matter where you are in your career and whether you write fiction or nonfiction.  Kelly has three major sections in her book which are keys to becoming a six figure freelancer: mind-set, efficiency and connections.

In this second section about efficiency, a writer can easily profit from a monthly reading of this section. If you do, you will tweak how you handle different parts of the writing life. Just consider the chapter titles in this section and it will show you some of what is contained in this book: No Need to Re-Create the Wheel: Designing Effective Writing Templates, No More One-Story Sales: Getting More out of Everything You Write and Watching the Clock: Time Management Techniques for Every Writer.

While every section is loaded with terrific insight, I want to highlight one of Kelly’s points. She calls it: Eliminate the Ugliest Tasks. “Most days, I’ve got at least one thing I don’t want to do. (Some bad days, many things I don’t want to do!) Maybe it’s revising an article, transcribing notes from an interview (ugh!), or making cold calls to potential new clients (double ugh). I’ve learned that if I don’t do these tasks first thing, I’ll fret about them all day until I finish them and check them off my list. That kind of anxiety makes me stressed and hurts my productivity. Now, I do my “ugliest” job first to give me the satisfaction of having finished it—and spare myself the mental anguish of worrying abut it all day. It’s surprising how much more time you can expend worrying about something compared to how little it takes to actually complete the dreaded chore.” (p. 191–192)

If you are like me, you’ve got several of those ugly tasks on your to-do list. It may be easier and more fun to tackle some easier deeds. I’ve got plenty of those things around me. I’ve learned the truth of tackling these ugly tasks early (or first according to Kelly), then pressing on to the other things that need to be done. Try it and it might change (or improve) one of your work habits.

Take An Attitude Check

August 15, 2005

If you’ve been reading these entries about the writing life, it doesn’t take long to catch my attitude with approaching my work in the publishing world. I don’t believe I’ve ever explicitly written about the importance of mind-set for the writer.   On a regular basis, I recommend different how-to books about writing. I’m currently reading Six Figure Freelancing, The Writer’s Guide to Making More Money (Random House Reference) by Kelly James-Enger. This excellent book released a few months ago and I’m finally getting a few evenings to read it.  For several years, I’ve known Kelly from our involvement in the American Society of Journalists and Authors. She’s a lawyer turned full-time freelance writer and has written several books including Ready, Aim, Specialize (a writing topic for another day). 

About eight years ago, Kelly took the leap of faith into full-time freelancing. It took several years for her to reach the six figure income. In her book, she helps writers go through the evaluation process to become more successful with their writing. Now I completely understand that success isn’t always judged by our bottom-line income—but that is one way of measuring your progress in the writing life. Over the next few days, I’m going to include a few quotes from this book as I personalize what I’m reading. I hope the experience will be helpful to several readers.

When Kelly evaluated her journey from someone dabbling in the writing life to a full-time freelancer, she boils the experience into three keys: mind-set, efficiency and connections. These three keys form the three major sections of her book. In today’s entry, I’m writing about this first one of mind-set or attitude.  While you may not have the goal of making six figures, you may have the goal of getting published and making more money or impact in the marketplace. Kelly takes the reader through an evaluation process that is helpful for every writer. What attitude do you take when you approach your writing?

I love what Kelly writes in her opening chapter, “I’m not a genius. I’m not a workaholic and, truth be told, I’m not even an exceptional writer. There are probably millions of writers out there who are more talented, more creative, and more gifted than me. But unlike many of them, I’ve figured out how to run my writing business—and it is a business. It wasn’t talent that transformed me into a six-figure freelancer. It was my attitude, my approach to my writing career, and my drive to succeed.” (p. 3) A little bit later she writes, “Every obstacle I encountered and overcame helped build my faith in myself as a self-employed writer. I became successful because I believed I could become successful. You can too. Believing that you can is the first step.” (p. 14, her emphasis from the book)

Kelly’s words ring true to me because I’ve followed the same path. Some people marvel at my prolific magazine and book writing. It’s not complicated and anyone else can do it as well. You can build an equal or exceed my body of work. It begins with the right attitude.

More Resources For Writers

August 14, 2005

I’m always looking for new resources for writers. Here’s one that I learned about recently.  At a meeting of the American Society of Journalists and Authors several years ago, I met Annie Jennings of Annie Jennings PR. Go by her website and look around because she has some terrific articles and information for writers —no matter where you are in this business.

I’ve known for a while that Annie conducts tele-seminars. These seminars are free (except for your phone call) to hear her guests speak on different topics related to publishing. What I didn’t know until recently is that she tapes these sessions and stores them online as free MP3 recordings (for a short period of time).  Recently I listened to Kelly James-Enger talk for an hour about the topic of Six Figure Freelancing.  Kelly is a friend from the ASJA and her tele-seminar was loaded with valuable information.  If you missed the seminar or want to listen to it again, you can go to Annie’s site (this link) and download the entire hours. I recommend you save the file on your computer then you can listen to it again.

Whether it comes to budget or time, let’s say you are stretched to get to a writer’s conference at the moment. I recommend you take the time to download these MP3 files and listen to them and follow the valuable tips for writers. It’s as valuable as a set of tapes from a writer’s conference—and the price is right—free.

I Almost Forgot–It’s Summer

August 13, 2005

Over the last few weeks, I’ve called a few editors and agents or sent them emails. Normally I receive a response from these people but often during the last few weeks, I don’t hear from them. At first, I wonder what is going on.  Then it hits me—it’s summer.

Particularly in the general market (but in the Christian marketplace as well), often decisions are slow in coming during the summer months. As an acquisitions editor, I’ve been pressed for decisions from authors and agents during the summer months but I’ve learned from hard earned experience there is little I can do to move the forces inside the publishing house. At one publisher, the publication board almost never met during August. With vacations and travel to conventions, it’s a challenge to get any decisions or publishing contracts. For my editor role, I have a number of projects that are in limbo. I’ve sent them to the publishing house weeks ago but the presentation to the publication board hasn’t happened. If I get an inquiry from an agent or an author about those particular projects, I let them know the situation is out of my hands. Book publishing in particular often takes a team of people to make a decision before it can move ahead into the contract stage of the process.  That process is incredibly slow at times—and particularly during the summer months.

Recently in mid-August, I called one literary agent at a large agency and learned this agent was on holiday until after Labor Day. It was not an unusual story. Best-selling authors are out of their office the entire month of August and will be available in September.

As writers, we are a bit impatient at times and want faster answers. I regularly tell authors if they want an immediate answer from me, they can have it–and it’s not the answer they want to hear. They don’t even have to send in their manuscript and I can give it to them, “No.” To get a positive answer in book publishing or magazine publishing, often takes time. Yes, takes patience and consistent excellent work from the writer.

Instead of beating a path to your mailbox or trying to will your phone to ring or being certain your email has disappeared for some technical reason, here’s five things you can do as a writer while you wait for the answer to your pet project:

 1. Start something new. Sitting around waiting for that answer is unproductive. Instead begin a new project. All too often at writer’s conferences, I’ve seen writers return year after year latched on to their same idea. Now they may think the editor has forgotten they pitched this idea since a whole year has passed (in most cases, they haven’t). The world is big and much broader than one project. If you are waiting on answers for book proposals, then start some shorter magazine articles–personal experience stories, or how-to service articles or humor. Try your hand at a new type of writing for you. Write some query letters and pitch some different types of articles for yourself–and snag some more writing opportunities. They are out there and waiting for you–if you go to them.

2. Research the marketplace. What other things would you like to write about? Go to the library and read some new publications and look for something to spark an idea. The topics that will fascinate you will be completely different from what will fascinate me. Use your local newspaper to spark some ideas. Once I wrote a piece for The Numismatist from a short article in the business section about Disney Dollars. I wrote a query letter and snagged an assignment and the opportunity to get on the back lot of Disneyland–from a newspaper idea. Your idea will be completely different from my experience but it can be sparked from a newspaper article. Dig into some research for some new ideas. Use the time to learn about the marketplace and where you can possibly send other materials.

3. Form some new relationships. Maybe you have been to a conference earlier this year and met an editor. Can you write that editor either in print or on email and foster a relationship? Admittedly editors are busy people and don’t have time to have a pen-pal relationship. But at the same time, editors are real people–with other things in their life besides work. Can you do anything to foster such a relationship? It’s something to consider and a good use of your time while waiting for a response from an editor.

4. Try your hand at a different type of writing. If you are writing fiction, then turn and write something true (nonfiction). Or if the bulk of your writing has been in the nonfiction area, consider writing some short stories or looking at starting a novel. Or maybe in recent months you’ve been tied to the longer form of writing (books). Switch gears and tackle a shorter form of writing like a how-to magazine article or a personal experience magazine article or a query letter for a magazine article. The change of pace and discipline could open a new world for you.

5. Read the work of other authors. Tell the truth. You probably have several books on your shelves at home that you have not read. I have a number of them–that I want to read. Determine that now is the time and open those books and begin to read them. Time spent reading the other people’s work–whether fiction or nonfiction will fill your well of creativity. Then you will be ready to dip into it again and write with new vigor.

Don’t wait and pine for that project which hasn’t happened–the one where you haven’t heard from your editor or agent. At the same time, don’t forget about it–occasionally you need to prod through an email or check on the status of it. Let’s face it: there many projects in the works and editors are overloaded. If a proposal is almost right but not quite–it isn’t right to reject–but there isn’t time to develop it into something which is right. So…it’s in stall. Whether it’s August or October, publishing moves slowly.

The only solution from my perspective is to get more things in the works. Be proactive rather than reactive.

Handy Writer Reference

August 11, 2005

It’s one of those books that when you need it, you need it right away.  For the last few entries, I’ve been talking about contracts and this book is related to this discussion. Several years ago, I purchased Business and Legal Forms for Authors and Self-Publishers by Tad Crawford (revised as of January 2005). I’ve actually had two versions of this book (and I’m going to purchase the third version since it has a few more forms). The first version had tear-out forms but did not include the CD-ROM. The current version includes a CD-ROM which increases the usefulness of this resource.  If you need a particular form, you pop the CD-ROM into your computer and copy the Word document to your computer. Then you can easily fill in the form or modify the language to your particular situation. Each of these forms are fill in the blank—but they also include step-by-step instructions and checklists for negotiations.

What forms are in this book?

  • Estimate Form
  • Confirmation of Assignment
  • Invoice Covering Reproduction Rights
  • Contract with a Literary Agent
  • Book Publishing Contract (Including Checklists for Contracts with Book Packagers and Subsidy Publishers)
  • Collaboration Agreement
  • Contract to License Audio Rights
  • Permission Form (to Use Copyrighted Work)
  • Nondisclosure Agreement for Submitting Ideas
  • Privacy Release
  • Author’s Lecture Agreement
  • Contract with a Printer (including Form to Request Printing Price Quotations)
  • Contract with a Sales Rep
  • Contract with Book Distributor
  • Property Release
  • Transfer of Copyright
  • Copyright Application Form TX (for Text)
  • Contract with an Independent Contractor
  • License of Rights
  • License of Electronic Rights

Depending on where you are in this publishing process, you may wonder why you need such a resource on your book shelf. Let me give two quick examples and you can create other possible scenarios from the list of forms above.

You are considering collaborating on a book project with someone. Whether this collaborator is your best friend or someone you recently met, you need to have a written collaboration agreement at the start of the project. In general terms, this agreement lays out who does what part of the project and how each person is compensated for their work. The agreement is fairly easy to complete at the early stages of the project. Now later on, you might have a problem getting the agreement completed. Let’s say you work on a project only on a handshake or verbal agreement, then the book idea becomes something that is in high demand from different publishers with a substantial advance in the conversation. It’s better to talk about the division of money and other such matters before there is any actual funds in the conversation. It’s much easier to divide pretend money than real money—or so it seems to me.

Or you contact some literary agents and receive an agreement from this agency to sign before you begin to work together. Because you are new to this publishing world, you’ve never seen an example of an agreement and have no idea how to understand the contractual language in it. The agency will explain the terms to you (or should) to some degree but you will likely not fully understand some of the finer points of it. If you have this resource, then you can examine that agreement and begin to make better sense of the agency agreement.

There are multiple uses for this type of resource. It’s one of those handy writer reference books that you should pick up and have on your bookshelf.  Remember you will have to customize the form for your particular need or use and it’s likely not perfect—but it’s a good place to begin the process. When it comes to contracts and the written form of this business, knowledge is power and you need to make sure you have enough of that power to protect your interests in the process.