Archive for September, 2005

Curl Up With A Good Book

September 30, 2005

This past weekend in San Diego writer’s conference, it was fun to hear what other writers are reading. Several of us swapped recent books that we’ve read and enjoyed. I consistently go back and forth between nonfiction and fiction titles—as you can see if you read these entries about the writing life. I’m often reading something which I can’t write much about—because you would only find it frustrating. The book will not be available for several months so instead I choose to write about books that you can easily find.

One of the keynote speakers, Barbara Nicolosi, gave me an advance review copy of her forthcoming book. It was one of two copies that she brought to the conference. I plan to write more about this book in another month or so—when you can get it. I’ve seen Barbara off and on at various conferences over the years and we’ve talked briefly. In fact, I have emailed her several times (without response). I thought those emails were never received—but in fact, she had read them and still planned to respond. I add this little bit of information so you understand that not everyone responds to every email. It’s impossible—especially with huge volume and some people like Barbara have good intentions. So..if your email is falling into a black hole without response, don’t despair. It is hopefully being read and I hope you will increase your patience—as I’m trying to do with many people and hopefully they are doing with me as well. It’s another reality of this publishing business.

Let’s return to my topic of cozy books. Here’s a couple for you to consider adding to your bookshelf. For several years, Judith Miller has joined forces with Tracie Peterson to write bestselling historical novels. Now Judith Miller has launched her first novel called First Dawn: Freedom’s Path (Bethany House Publishers). The story is set after the Civil War and predominately goes between Georgetown, Kentucky and the plains of Kansas. I enjoyed the story and found it fascinating reading. Follow this link to read my full review and more detail about the book.

Last summer I met Bob Beltz and I had an advance version of the novel Somewhere Fast (NavPress) on my bookshelf.  One afternoon, I was looking for something different to read and I started on the first few pages of this book. Almost immediately I was hooked into this contemporary novel of a middle age man trying to find his spiritual connection while riding his Harley Davidson motorcycle across Route 66.  Bob is writing his first novel and I hope the Harley Davidson crowd catches on to this title. There is a great deal of spiritual truth built into the fun storyline. As with First Dawn, follow this link to learn more about Somewhere Fast.

I hope over the next few days, you will take a bit of time to curl up with a good book. The experience will transport you to a different place—and that could be fun.

An Eternal Question

September 29, 2005

It’s a question bantered about constantly in publishing circles—and often with different answers.

What variables make a book sell into the hands of readers?

I don’t pretend to have the answer for you in this entry about the writing life but it’s something that I continue to learn about and investigate. I’ve mentioned and recommended reading Making the List by Simon and Schuster Editor-in-Chief Michael Korda. It’s not your typical how-to-write book and one that can be acquired quite inexpensively through Amazon.com’s used books.  I found the book fascinating reading because it analyzes all of the bestseller lists from the last century. While getting on the bestseller list isn’t always the best indicator of sales, typically bestseller books have sold in a particular volume.

While Korda’s book is a great educational experience, you witness in black and white the lack of rhyme or reason for certain books and why they catch the public’s attention and imagination to make the list. The prediction part of the process is almost impossible and something editors talk about among each other (and writers would love to listen because they want to sell their book proposals to these editors). Editors and publishing executives make their best and most educated “guess” at what will sell to readers, then work hard at the marketing aspects and stand back to see what will happen. Those results are often surprising—to everyone in the process.

This week, Editor-in-Chief of Publisher’s Weekly, Sara Nelson, has a clever article on the topic called “Read My Tattoo.” She tackles this topic and tells about a serious fiction book with some different marketing efforts. (I’ve not read this book.) She writes about the difficulty to market these “serious fiction books” saying, “Just don’t tell it to Riverhead editor Sean MacDonald, who has just released The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, a 130-page $13 paperback novel on a 1984-ish theme from George Saunders, author of the well respected but heretofore not blockbusterish Pastoralia. In most other hands, this oddball offering would languish in all the usual ways; but MacDonald—whose title, tellingly, is both senior editor and online creative director—has embarked on a grass-roots, anti-hype hype campaign geared at the 20- and 30-something audience he knows well: smart, hip, Internet-savvy readers suspicious of any marketing campaign that seems too slick. His promotions include hand-screened (by him and his art director) T-shirts designed by cultish graphic and fashion designers, temporary tattoos, a Web site, blog outreach and a very, very unusual letter from the author to booksellers. Whether Phil will become a bestseller remains to be seen, but potential readers’ consciousnesses have definitely been raised—at a recent Saunders reading at a New York B&N, over 200 people showed up. If only such creative thinking would wake up the sluggish and entrenched among us, many of whom still believe that it’s somehow uncool to admit that books, like any, forgive the expression, consumer product, need to be marketed.”

Ok, do I have any answers for you to the eternal question? No, but I will admit to continually learning more and trying new ways to reach different audiences.  Each of us are looking for the Tipping Point when the book will capture the greatest possible audience.

Small World Connections

September 28, 2005

It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and like you are a small part of the big picture of publishing. Then other times you feel quite connected. I had one of those “it’s a small world” experiences this week.

In the past, I’ve mentioned that I read Publisher’s Lunch. It’s a free email newsletter (so subscribe to it) with a large circulation. Often I skim the information or read a few of the links. For example, I learned that a New York editor on my collaboration panel last year’s ASJA conference changed publishing houses. Brenda Copeland was Pamela Anderson’s editor at Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) and has become an executive editor at Hyperion books. I caught this change of personnel from a bit of information on Publisher’s Lunch.

Tuesday’s Publisher’s Lunch included this news item: San Francisco Reads, Too
Gus Lee’s autobiographical novel China Boy is the first selection for San Francisco’s One City One Book program. The SF Chronicle files a long piece about the author and the book.

Instantly I had a small world connection with the story.  Almost two years ago, my wife belonged to a small book group of women in Colorado Springs. For one of their meetings, the group read China Boy, then invited Gus Lee to come and speak.  For this particular meeting, the group invited their spouses to attend the session. While I had not read China Boy, I enjoyed the opportunity to hear Gus Lee and meet his wife Diane. The novel is really an autobiographical memoir of Gus growing up in the 1950s in San Francisco and has become a classic tale about the immigrant experience. It was fascinating to hear Gus tell about his childhood experiences. When we talked after the meeting, I learned his literary agent was Jane Dystel, which is a well-respected New York agency.  On a completely different occasion at an ASJA meeting, I met Jane Dystel. While during our meeting, I knew Gus was a Christian, I didn’t know much of his story—until this week when I read the story in the San Francisco Chronicle. I found it encouraging to learn about Gus’ ongoing influence in the publishing community and his personal faith journey. I hope it will be interesting to you as well.

The Books Keep Coming

September 27, 2005

The wisest man ever to walk the planet was King Solomon. He left a bit of his writings in our Bible and wrote about the proliferation of books saying, “Of the making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)

When I have an opportunity to teach at writer’s conferences (like this past weekend), I don’t pull out my old notes from the past. I make an effort to add new and current information to my handouts and my verbal presentation. I’m constantly learning more details about publishing. Here’s an example of something I read in a couple of my workshops this past weekend:

I knew these next few months were a busy season of book publishing. Many people buy books as Christmas presents and other end of the year events. I noticed that a forthcoming issue of Publisher’s Weekly is going to cover new fitness and diet books. Why? Typically many of these books release in January—when people have made their New Year’s resolutions and are thinking about proactively doing something in this area.

Sara Nelson, the Editor-in-Chief at Publisher’s Weekly, recently wrote, “As memories of summer vacations fade and the new magazines, TV shows and movies begin to land, we’re once again treated to the realization that fall is also a busy time in the book business. Maybe because, admit it or not, we’re still living on the school-year calendar, or maybe—as some publishers will tell you—it’s because releasing books in the fall sets them on their trajectories to the holidays, when books magically turn into gifts. Whatever: September and October are always the months in which the greatest number of books are released. By our count, nearly 200 adult hardcovers with announced first printings of more than 100,000 will come out between September 1 and December 31. That’s 20 million books, you back-to-schoolers, and is only a sliver of the publishing activity.” (I added the bold emphasis, September 12, 2005, p. 5)

Many people dream of getting a book published and publishers continue to release new titles each season. If you have one of those books (or if your book is in a publisher’s backlist of books), you need to be continually thinking about how to tell people about your books. Lissa Warren has some excellent advice to authors with books in her ten tips excerpt from The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity.

And if you are like the individual writers I met this past weekend, who dream about getting a publisher to accept their book in the first place, then check out my tested advice in Book Proposals That Sell. Repeatedly I find writers have not poured enough energy into the opening (hook or overview) of their proposal. Or maybe they have a terrific title but their actual execution of the proposal doesn’t deliver—not engaging or lacks some information. Missing information is one of the hardest elements to find in someone else’s proposal or magazine article. I recommend using a checklist or some other tool to make sure you’ve put your best foot forward in this area.

In the meantime, those books will keep coming. What role will you have in the process? Writing something that will catch fire (in a PyroMarketing way) and really do what it’s supposed to do? I hope so because no writer wants the other result.

Day To Re-Group

September 26, 2005

As writers and editors, I find that most of us are pretty hard on ourselves. We have high expectations and high goals for our own writing and production and success rate.  Notice how I’m writing in the “plural” tense and including myself in this bunch. These expectations are not always realistic. 

For the last few days, I’ve had a fairly intense schedule of meetings with individual writers and speaking at the conference. Yesterday I flew home and reconnected with my wife (always a recommended step if you are married).  Some times there is no alternative with a schedule than to plunge right into the next activity.

If at all possible, I like to take a day and re-group. It always seems like I have a lot of follow-up work after any trip, bills to pay, email to answer and other bits of organization. If I don’t take these steps, then the matters tend to pile up and I have to attack it with several days of effort instead of a few hours of effort. From my experience as a writer and editor, organization counts. It’s important to keep track of new names and addresses as you meet people. It’s important to invoice for reimbursement (if needed) in a short amount of time while the information is still fresh. Otherwise something else is bound to interrupt.

Also since I had very little down time over the weekend (which I understood from the beginning when I was going to teach at a conference) I try and catch a few hours here or there in the next day or so. The process of reading or working out on my treadmill will help renew my spirit and help me to re-group.

A Refreshing Change of Pace

September 25, 2005

It’s a rare event to be savored and appreciated.  A few times a year I get away from my computer and go to another writer’s conference. I’m writing this note on the road in San Diego, California. In a few hours, I’ll get home to the Phoenix area. Yesterday’s conference is only a memory. When I walked out of the conference, a small group was transforming the room back to it’s previous state in a local church.

Each one of these conferences have their own flavor or feeling. Sherwood Wirt, now 94, founded this conference when he retired to this part of the country after leaving Decision magazine (where he was the founding editor). Now many years later, it was terrific to see Woody again and have a few minutes with him. At his age, Woody is slowing down but he continues his passion to help others with their writing. It’s that spirit of helping others which permeates each of these conferences.

I always find it particularly stimulating to meet new people, listen to their dreams and aspirations then try and help where possible. In the ASJA we commonly say, “We train our competition.” In one sense it’s true but in another sense, I believe each person attending has different dreams and places to publish than where I will write my materials. So I welcome the opportunity to give back, listen and help. I find the change of pace stimulating and encouraging.

Yes, it is tiring a bit for the editor. I taught three workshops yesterday (one of them twice). In addition, I was meeting with individuals about their potential projects for Howard Publishing or helping them with their nonfiction (with my ideas). It was an opportunity to tell people about Book Proposals That Sell and encourage them with their own aspirations for books.

Because I’ve been attending these conferences for many years, it’s also like old home week in another sense. It give me a chance to catch up with various editor friends as well as literary agents.  For example, I read the publishing trades and process what I sense is behind some of the news—like when one publisher purchases something from another publisher’s backlist or any number of other details.  Talking with these friends, I have a chance to process and understand some their interpretation of the news and what is the story behind the story. I hope that makes sense—insider talk—and normally restricted to the phone or email—you can do it in person at a conference. I hope you can see that I’m a bit tired but I’m still high on the great things which can happen at these conferences. Now to wing my way home….

Why I Don’t Transcribe Interviews

September 23, 2005

It’s always a relief when the personality for your interview walks through the doorway. Yes, you schedule the interview, plan your questions and prepare for it—but life happens and some times they are rescheduled. Thankfully the interview I mentioned from yesterday happened without a hitch. Well, relatively without a hitch.

I interviewed in a McDonald’s play area which marked a first for me. I could tell from the music in the background my tape recording would be a challenge for transcription (but I still recorded my conversation). Over the years, I’ve worked out a technique where I take a few notes—but also record. It allows me to maintain eye contact with my subject and interaction with them. At the same time, I get a few thoughts and quotes on my pad (provided I can read them later—my handwriting is pretty terrible).

I need a few minutes after the interview. It’s always key in my magazine article writing. These few minutes give me a chance to think about the interview and the potential shape of the article. In my head, I create an outline for the article.  Then hopefully I get another few minutes to scratch the outline on paper.

Immediately after my interview, I headed to the airport to pick up my wife returning from a trip back east. My drive in freeway traffic gave me these few minutes of breathing space to think about the significant portions of my interview.  When I reached the airport, I scratched a few outline notes. Soon I will type this outline and it will give me a road map of how I’ll piece together the eventual article.

With that background, I’m going to tell you why I always tape but rarely transcribe the tape. I will often return to the tape and check a few quotations on it. I know a number of writers who transcribe their tapes after an interview.  I’m unsure about the reasons. I know when I worked for Decision, the magazine required us to tape our interviews then transcribe them. Often as editors, we wrote stories for some of the celebrities that we interviewed. There was a strict way the articles were handled internally (written and edited) and part of that process involved having a transcription from the tape. It was many years ago, so the procedure has likely changed in their current operation. For that reason, I can see having a transcription but not normally.

Here’s the problem with a transcription: it puts the words into stone. They can’t be moved because they are typed or written on the page from the tape. Instead, I’ve found the interview process is much more fluid and as a writer, you need to move those words around from the interview—in your head—but also when you eventually write the article. 

My interview yesterday began with a particular detail from the sports figure’s life. I thought I understood the story—but then late in the interview (about an hour later), the athlete revisited the same topic—and added even greater detail so the significance became crystal clear to me. If I had been transcribing the tape, I might not have connected the two incidents when I wrote the article. The words would have been cemented in stone and not as easy to move around after they were transcribed.

In a few hours, I’m off to San Diego to teach at the San Diego Christian Writer’s Guild Fall conference. It will be a full weekend. In the meantime, I hope I have shown you the fluid nature of interviews from my experience.

The Clock Is Ticking

September 22, 2005

Each time I take an assignment—whether a short magazine article or a book length project—I know the clock is ticking with a deadline to turn in the material. Writers are notoriously late with these deadlines but one of the hallmarks of my work has been to turn in excellent material on time.  If you commit to this issue, you will distinguish yourself from many other writers. It may come as a surprise, but it’s true.

For more than thirty years, I’ve been accepting these deadlines. It’s almost like an internal clock begins to tick when I accept one of these deadlines. Weeks ago, I accepted a magazine assignment.  It’s in a different area of the market for me—sports. I’ll admit to being one of these unusual guys who don’t live and breathe sports.  Yes, I give the sports page a quick read in the morning and I’m usually aware of the major events—but I don’t follow every statistic or watch the appropriate sport every season. It’s a trait my wife loves—that I’m not consumed with Monday Night Football. For me, it’s just how I’ve been wired.

Weeks ago, I took a sports assignment and the clock began to tick. Shortly after receiving it, I contacted the appropriate people to try and set up an interview. I’ve exchanged phone calls and many emails—yet the interview was never scheduled.  It’s not appropriate for me to tell you the specific magazine or person—but it’s a fairly high-profile personality. I’ve interviewed more than 150 best-selling authors over the years in all sorts of settings (their homes, restaurants and even one interview sitting on the floor of a large convention hall). Because I don’t write investigative pieces, I have a cooperative spirit for the person and normally that spirit is what I get from publicity people and others who arrange these interviews.

A day or so ago, I realized my interview with this personality was never scheduled—despite providing copies of the magazine and many exchanges. I used a tactic that I’ve never used before—and something to be used sparingly—so I’m not recommending it. I questioned the real intentions of this scheduling person and expressed doubt the person cared about my deadline or interview request. I explained that while I had lots of time at the beginning of our discussion (weeks ago), that time had evaporated and I was knocking at the door of my deadline. Before long the opportunity for the story would disappear (a real threat—and bad for me if I couldn’t deliver to my editor but I made it), if the interview would not be scheduled. Instead of polite exchanges, I turned the correspondence a bit accusatory and waited, wondering how the person would respond.

I received a note of apology with several excuses about why the interview had not happened yet—along with a promise to see if it could be scheduled this week.  Yesterday, I learned my interview is scheduled for later today. I’ll be taking a bit of time today to review my editor’s instructions for the story and prepare a list of questions. Plus I’ll be reading some background information. While I’m not a sports fanatic, I am prepared when I walk into these interview situations. You never know what will happen during the interview time—if the person loves to tell stories or simply provides one word answers.  The finished article is always easier to write when the person tells detailed stories.

Provided my interview happens today (some times they are rescheduled at the last minute) and I collect the right story material, it looks like I’m on my way to meeting another deadline.

An Introduction To PyroMarketing

September 21, 2005

Over the last few days, I’ve been telling you some of the fascinating information for writers that I’ve learned from reading PyroMarketing. I hope I’ve stirred your imagination about this concept and how applicable it is for writers and all sorts of new products.

If you are a bit muddled about the concept and how PyroMarketing is different from any other type of marketing effort. You may be wondering the fire analogy and how it makes sense with this concept. Or maybe you’d like to read a couple of detailed examples about how PyroMarketing works.

I’ve got good news for you.

This week, Greg Stielstra sent me a PDF of the introduction his book with permission to use it. It’s the first dozen pages of PyroMarketing. Rather than write another entry about the book, here’s the link to this introduction. I recommend everyone who is involved in any sort of marketing—and if you are a writer or editor, then you are involved in marketing (whether you want to be or not)—download this PDF, study it and pass it on to others.  You still need to purchase the book to get the complete picture—but it’s a substantial taste to give you some insight about the value of this book.

Realistic Expectations

September 20, 2005

Over the last few days, I’ve been writing about PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra (Harper Business). I was fascinated with a short section of the book which shows Greg’s realistic yet serious marketing intentions for his own book. Here’s the section:

“Each year between 120,000 and 150,000 new books are published in the United States. Last year 5,301 of those titles were business books, a 30 percent increase from the year before. They join a library of 3.2 million books already in print. To put this in perspective, it helps to realize that a typical Barnes and Noble superstore accommodates only about 110,000 titles, or between 10,000 and 40,000 fewer than just the new books published each year. If there are about 56,000 business books in print, and assuming an average cost of approximately $20, that means individual business titles sell only about 323 copies per year—and yet my publisher and I expect my book to sell many times more…

“The challenge is daunting, and yet the business book market hit $828.6 million this year and some business titles sell millions of copies. People are buying them. The trick is to understand the process and their motivations. No one steps through the front door of a Barnes and Noble and, after drawing the smell of books and coffee deeply into their lungs, determines, “Today I’m going to buy me a book and I don’t much care which one.” People aren’t like that. They care deeply about certain books and not the least about others. So, who are these people? How do they discover new books? Why do they choose the ones they do? What kind of person will choose mine, and why?” (PyroMarketing, page 50) 

Notice the realistic perspective about his book and how it will enter the marketplace. I’ve met way too many authors who lean entirely on the publisher for any marketing and expect their book to rocket to the top of the bestseller chart (or at least quickly earn back any advance from the publisher), then they are sorely disappointed when it does not happen. See the questions that Greg asks in the final section of the quotation? These questions will give you some insight about the questions you need to be asking about your particular book project—but more than the questions, you need to be finding the answers to them. 

If you find these answers and build the results into your book proposal (particularly the marketing section), then your proposal will receive serious consideration from the publisher.  To be realistic, serious consideration is the only reasonable request that a writer can make from a publisher. Then the publisher has looked at the idea, considered if it’s right for them, then either taken it ahead in the consideration process or rejected it. As writers, we want to rejection-proof our submissions. I believe we can learn a great deal from the principles that Greg has written in PyroMarketing.