Archive for September, 2005

Powerful Marketing Insight

September 19, 2005

When it comes to introducing a new book into the marketplace, I know a truth firsthand. It’s easy to spend massive amounts of money in the marketing area—with little measurable return. What works for one product may or may not bear results for the next product.

As a part of the marketing department at Zondervan Publishing House, Greg Stielstra has been involved in marketing more than 750 different books including twenty #1 bestsellers and eight books which sold more than a million copies. PyroMarketing gives the history of mass marketing and points out the current lack of effectiveness with such techniques.

What if you could change your technique to give relevant messages to the right people then foster their enthusiasm to spread throughout society? It’s a technique which doesn’t require a large marketing budget—just a focused thoughtful plan. Using the metaphor of fire, Stielstra has boiled the technique that he calls PyroMarketing into four steps: 1) Promote to the people most likely to buy (something he calls finding the driest tender), 2) Give the consumer an experience with your product or service (Touch Them with the Match), 3) Help them tell others (Fan the Flames) and finally 4) Keep a record of who they are (Save the Coals).

Each chapter includes a brief summary then thought-provoking questions for the reader to apply PyroMarketing to their own situation.

Thousands of new books are introduced into the market each year—now as I’ve mentioned in the past, it’s easy to get a book published. You can get a garage full of books but how many books can you get sold into the hands of readers. I believe the technique of PyroMarketing is something many people can apply to their own product development. I highly recommend this book to stimulate and jump start your own marketing plans. Whether you are in a business or any other aspect of product creation (such as writing a book), you will want to pay attention to this title. If you are writing a book or a book proposal to submit to a literary agent or a publisher, you should read PyroMarketing then use the techniques to sharpen and improve your own marketing plans.

Let’s take some of this information and apply it to writing a book proposal.

What is your best potential audience for this book? What means do you (as the writer—not the publisher) have to reach them? (The Driest Tender)

What can you do to give that audience a taste or experience of your book? (Touch them With A Match)

How can you aid them in passing along your message? For example can you sell to this audience at a discounted (or special) price to assist them getting more copies of your book that they will in turn pass to others and stir them as evangelists for your message? (Fan the Flames)

Do you keep track of who these people who are purchasing your book? (Save the coals) Then when you have a follow-up product you can easily reach them again. One of the continual problems with mass marketing or retail marketing is this lack of follow-up or data management. These concepts are spelled out in detailed examples in PyroMarketing.

Hopefully these questions will help you apply the techniques from PyroMarketing to your book proposal (nonfiction or fiction). I’ve only begun to describe the principles which are detailed in this book. If you apply these principles to your proposed book, it does several things: 1) it shows the publisher immediately that you “get it.” You understand marketing is a cooperative effort between the publisher and the writer. It’s not that you write the book and abdicate this effort to the publisher but you will be an involved partner. 2) It distinguishes your proposal from anything else in the stack of proposals. I mean anything—and elevates the interest from the editor (who in turn champions your book to others within the publishing house).

I believe such steps will likely improve the results from your marketing efforts. So…1) Get this book 2) Study this book 3) Apply the techniques to your own life. It may make you into one of those PyroMarketing “evangelists” who love the book and want to pass it on to others.

Read or Sleep?

September 18, 2005

Whenever I travel, I regularly notice whether people are reading or sleeping or doing something else. Last week for example, I noticed a woman one row ahead and across the aisle. She had a small DVD player and was watching the romantic comedy Hitch. On the flight to Dallas, the man in the next seat had a new thick John Irving novel, Until I Find You. Almost three minutes after opening the book, he closed this over 800–page novel, dropped his head to his chest and was asleep. When I made the return trip, the man in the seat beside me didn’t make any pretense at reading. After takeoff, he was asleep for the duration of the flight.

One of my greatest personal challenges about traveling is deciding which book to read on the airplane. It sounds trivial but there are many choices and when I’m locked in a single place, I want to have something that absorbs my attention.  

Last week I carried a book which I had partially begun to read at home. Almost immediately when I sat down, I was lost in the content of PyroMarketing by Greg Stielstra (HarperBusiness). Subtitled, “The Four-Step Strategy to Ignite Customer Evangelists and Keep Them for Life,” Greg has promoted more than 750 books through his work at Zondervan Publishing House. Of those many books, twenty have been #1 bestsellers and eight have sold more than a million copies.  Starting tomorrow, Greg is the new Vice President of Marketing for Christian books at Thomas Nelson Publishers

Because of my enthusiasm for what I’ve learned from PyroMarketing, I’m going to take the next few days of entries and write about some of the lessons that I’ve absorbed from this book. I strongly believe if you are a writer (whether much published or unpublished), you need to think about the messages in PyroMarketing. I believe as the author builds such techniques into their proposal and work with the publishing houses, then they can drive their books to succeed at a high level in a crowded marketplace. Hurry back tomorrow for the first detailed explanation of PyroMarketing.

Slay the Naysayers

September 17, 2005

Let’s face it. If you attempt almost anything in the writing life, you will hear the word “no.” Or you will receive the form rejection letters which politely say, “No, thank you.” Or maybe you haven’t even gathered any of those rejection slips because you have the voices in your head screaming, “No.”

It’s a battle to fight those internal demons which whisper, “You are never good enough. You can’t really do that sort of project.”

Many years ago, Multnomah Publishers brought out a colorful little book on creativity. I enjoyed reading the book (while I don’t remember any specifics) but I’ve never forgotten the title, It Won’t Fly, If You Don’t Try. See the truth in these words, you have to try—and in the publishing world—you have to try repeatedly in a given area for it to fly.

Our challenge is to overcome our fears and plunge into the water. Admittedly you have to learn the craft of writing. You have to understand the audience for your article or your book plus you have to learn the expectations of the editor (and meet those expectations). Each of these aspects are fundamental and something that someone can learn. If you don’t learn them, you will be doomed to not receiving a hearing from the editor.

What are you dreaming about getting into print? Are you putting the effort into learning how that particular portion of the marketplace works? For example, if you are writing a novel and have never been published, then you will need to write your entire manuscript—before you send a query into the editor. It’s a basic expectation for first-time novelists that you will have to learn about—then meet. If it’s nonfiction, then you can learn the skills to write a dynamic sample chapter and a complete book proposal, then propose or float your idea with the various publishing houses or a literary agent. If it’s a magazine article, you have to learn about the publication. Some publications prefer to receive complete manuscripts while others will only read query letters. Then you have to learn how to write a terrific query letter for your idea to receive a hearing. It’s something you can do—learn the procedure—then follow the procedure.

The first hurdle is squashing the fear inside you and trying. Learn what it is that you need to get there—then make a plan and do it. I know I make it sound easy but there is a way to slay the naysayers. An old Chinese proverb says, “The journey of a lifetime begins with a single step.”

Follow The Open Doors

September 15, 2005

Have you ever stood around with a bunch of writers or editors? When there is some honest conversation in play, it usually doesn’t take long until you hear about the litany of things which are not happening. Maybe it’s a personal crisis and the writer has missed a deadline. Maybe the sales on a recent book haven’t matched expectations. Or maybe those query letters fly into a black hole (no response). Or your calls to your agent are not returned (I’m talking about an editor or an agent where you have a working and on-going relationship).

We have to face that publishing is a difficult business.  As writers, we heard the word “no” a great deal. As editors, we have to say the word “no” a great deal. I don’t believe it’s any fun for anyone to say “no” or to hear “no.”

I’ll confess I forget who taught me this basic principle. I know my writing stands on the work and the shoulders of many teachers and other writers. As I’ve interviewed and talked with many of these people, I’ve learned a tremendous amount of information. Here’s the principle: follow the open doors.

Write for the publications that say yes to your query letters—and where the writing and editorial process goes smoothly. I know it sounds simple but to put it another way—work with the people who want to work with you.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s great to have high goals for your book or your magazine article—to reach and touch many people. Some times we set our expectations on something and knock on the door repeatedly—too much—and it simply never opens. Go with those people (editors and publishers) who “get you.” They understand your audience and your writing. They don’t have to be coerced or cajoled into action but there is a simple meeting of the minds and an enthusiasm for great writing.

Do lots of door knocking—lead prospecting—query letter writingbook proposals. It’s where you express your availability and willingness to serve and to write what is needed in a particular situation. That door knocking is a constant part of the process in publishing. But let’s not sit around complaining about all the inaction in the publishing world (at least as we know it).

Instead look for those open doors and when there is a crack in the door, leap through them. Amazing things lie ahead for you when you follow this philosophy.

Just Teach Me The Rules

September 14, 2005

Throughout my years in publishing, I’ve met many new writers. They prepare and arrive at their first writer’s conference with high expectations.  These writers have come to sell their creation to the editor. You can see that glint of determination in their eyes and the eagerness in their jump into the conversation.

In the same way you can see their enthusiasm, if the conference lasts several days, you can also see when reality hits them. They begin to see the complex way the publishing world works and their need to understand the rules—much less produce excellent writing. It’s like they entered the conference with rose-colored glasses and these glasses have been removed.

These writers need to learn the rules of the road. They cry out, “Just teach me the rules and I’ll follow them.” Certainly there are a few rules and expectations from the editor. Then there are the exceptions to every rule. Publishing (magazine or book) has various systems in place. For example, most magazine editors read query letters from writers. Based on this one-page letter, the editor makes an assignment. In the book area, editors read book proposals—not full-length manuscripts. On the basis of these proposals, the editor champions your project internally and ultimately issues a few book contracts.

While there is a science and expectations to publishing and how it works, there is also art. It’s a funny mixture of art and science combined with standing in the right place with the right material at the right time. One editor loves your work while another one can’t slap the form rejection note on it fast enough. I’m certain you’ve heard this rule. “The first rule is there are no rules.” Not hardly true in this world but it’s not like you follow a particular well-worn path. Everyone follows a different path and a different journey.

No matter where you are in this journey, it’s important to understand publishing is based on excellent storytelling. You have to invest the time and energy to learn how story works and how you can tell good ones—whether you are writing nonfiction or fiction.

This week, I’ve been writing about packagers and how they produce a variety of products for publishers. I’ve worked with gift book packagers and children’s book packagers—as a writer and other times as an editor. Here’s the beauty for the editor: They have a stack of contracted manuscripts going through their system yet the sales people want a certain type of book. Where are they going to squeeze that new book into their already full schedule? If the new book comes from a packager, then it’s not much of an issue. The packager will deliver the designed and edited manuscript. The editor simply maintains a quality control on the project instead of a direct hands-on role. The sales area is happy because they get their product. Yet this type of system is outside of the normal rules and expectations of the system.

The journey is exciting because you never know what will happen with a particular project. Going into it, you have high hopes and dreams. Our responsibility is to simply keep learning along the journey—and constantly improving our body of work and our writing skills. It will pay off in the long run.

Barking Up the Wrong Tree

September 13, 2005

It happens all the time and I’ve been guilt of it at times as well. You come up with a terrific creative idea and then can’t get it published. It’s soundly rejected in the market and you don’t understand it.

Some of those times, it has nothing to do with you. It’s because you don’t understand how the publishing world processes information and how you can fit your idea into this process.

Here’s several quick examples. You have an idea for a book. You open a computer file and start hitting the keys. You have no connections to the publishing world or idea about what format they want or expect—yet you are driven to write this book. Day after day you write it and finally you reach the last page. Congratulations are in order because you’ve consistently managed to create a large stack of paper. Now what? Because publishers are barraged with such submissions—many of them completely off the wall and inappropriate—they have closed their doors to new writers. You figure you need a literary agent. These people are also overwhelmed with a lot of “stuff.”  You’ve essentially barked up the wrong tree and written your book backwards. Instead of a book manuscript, you needed to create a book proposal.  This mysterious document contains a lot of information which will never appear in your manuscript but is critical to how publishers make decisions.

OK, you’ve decided to move ahead and publish your book manuscript—which was soundly rejected with form letters when you sent it to publishers and literary agents. Again, from my perspective, you have made a wrong move. Certainly many people will gladly take your money and publish your book. Now selling that book to the individual is another process. You’ve gained the satisfaction of a completed book—yet the majority of the copies sit in your garage. You’ve not done your homework and learned how the process works.

As another example, I’m involved in several online forums. Someone threw out the idea to create a devotional book with her photos to illustrate the book.  I wrote about how she didn’t understand the production costs for a publisher and how she was barking up the wrong tree.

Now as I think about it a bit more, this writer was even further off the mark. The majority of these devotional books are not acquired individually from a submission. Book packagers create these submissions then the packager shops these ideas to various publishers. The publishers make a decision about which ideas they want to produce—then the packager goes off and makes the books. The packager hires the writers (for a fee). The packager hires the designers and makes the book and delivers the materials to the publisher so they are ready to print.

As an editor, I’ve sat in these publishing meetings where the packager presents idea after idea—segmented and targeted to a particular audience with some reasons and marketing ideas attached. The packager has created a concept cover design and maybe a page or two of how the text will appear. On that basis (and the track record and reputation of the packager), the publisher makes a decision.  This process happens in a completely different manner than an individual author pitching a book idea to the publisher.

Packagers work in many different areas of the market but primarily in the gift book areas and in children’s books. They are a cost cutting method for the publisher—sort of a one stop shop to get a bunch of quality product without the publisher investing their own editorial and production resources. There are a number of these types of products on the bestseller list. Probably on the publisher and the packager (along with a few knowing people) will understand how these books have been made.

Yes, there is writing work to be done—but it happens between the writer and the packager—not the writer and the publisher. If you don’t understand this part of the process, you simply collect another rejection slip without learning how the system works. Sadly, this type of situation is happening a lot within the publishing world. 

It’s a simple idea: look before you leap or do your homework and gain understanding before you plunge into an area where finding success will be difficult.

A Mystery for Writers

September 12, 2005

The air tingled with excitement the day this box came into my home.  While it was many years ago, it seems like yesterday when my aunt revealed a box of mysteries she had purchased at a garage sale. My aunt loved to frequent these sales and gained an expertise in antiques frequently picking up a bargain or two. Normally I had no interest in these purchases but today it was books and I was thrilled.

When I opened the box, I discovered it was filled to the brim with Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift books. These books provided hours of entertainment as I read each of these series and went to the public library to read other books in these series. Yes the books were simple plot-driven and on a formula but they are much loved books.

About ten years ago, I met a children’s writer who had written several of these Nancy Drew books. That chance meeting exposed me to a different part of the publishing business which few writers seem to understand. It’s called book packagers. This author ghostwrote her books under the name Carolyn Keene (or the author of the Nancy Drew books). I hate to burst anyone’s ideal here but many different writers wrote those books. 

When I read the October issue of The Atlantic Monthly, contributing editor Sandra Tsing Loh reviews a new book from Melanie Rehak called Girl Sleuth: Nancy Drew and the Women Who Created Her

While I’ve not read Rehak’s book (yet), here’s a brief quote from Tsing Loh’s review about the creator, “Nancy Drew has remained so popular since her arrival, in 1930, and answers the question Who was the mysterious Carolyn Keene? Given her brainy if virginal nature, it’s perhaps fitting that Nancy Drew burst full-grown, Athena-like, out of a father’s head. He was the children’s-book mogul Edward Stratemeyer, whose expertise at the time—he wrote and published juvenile fiction for forty years, much of it under the auspices of his syndicate of writers and editors—was almost Alan Greenspan—esque. He’d discovered, for instance, that writing under pen names such as Arthur M. Winfield and Laura Lee Hope actually boosted sales. (For the curious, Stratemeyer’s Carolyn Keene began life as Louise Keene.) Also, he was not averse to throwing ever new leading characters against the wall and seeing who stuck. Aside from the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, Stratemeyer’s somewhat incestuous if lesser-known brainchildren included the Rover Boys, the Blythe Girls, the Outdoor Girls, the Motor Girls, Ruth Fielding, Doris Force, and Perry Pierce. As Margaret Penrose he had a promising start in Dorothy Dale, but upon Dorothy’s engagement sales immediately tanked. It was a mistake his syndicate would not repeat. In September of 1929 Stratemeyer pitched a new series, featuring “an up-to-date American girl at her best, bright, clever, resourceful, and full of energy.” Her name would be Stella Strong, Diana Drew, Diana Dare, Helen Hale, Nan Nelson, or Nan Drew (which the publishers, Grosset & Dunlap, eventually lengthened to Nancy).”

Many writers want to know how to write these books.  To be involved in this portion of publishing, you need to learn to work with packagers. If you follow the link, Jenna Glatzer provides some great basic information about this area. In many ways, it’s like other areas of book publishing. You have to connect with the right person at the right time.  You will notice in this article, the book packager has the idea for the book and hires writers.  Because you didn’t originate the idea, normally the packager pays the writer a flat fee for the writing. There are many different types of books which are produced through this method. Some times these books are ghostwritten with no credit to the writer and other times the writer’s name appears on the cover. It depends on the packager.

Mystery solved. While these books had many different writers, I still loved the reading experience of these books.

Choose Carefully What To Write

September 11, 2005

As a new writer, I wanted to capture almost every experience from my life on paper. In some ways, it’s a good place to start. Many magazines love personal experience stories.  Your first-person account of an experience can make a great illustration of a particular point. The storytelling—like any other type of writing—still has to be excellent and include the key elements like pointed dialogue, vivid detail and moving the reader toward a particular point or take-away.

I’ve written many of these personal experience stories and they have appeared in various magazines. I believe these stories have helped other people (part of my motivation for writing them). Also as a writer, they have been a key part of my development and learning how to tell good stories.

Yet I’ve also learned that some personal experiences will never appear in my magazine articles or in print.  It’s easy to recall these stories and they may have value for others—yet I’ve chosen to carry them as life experiences and not expose them to others in print. I may tell them in a casual conversation or I may never tell them—and that’s perfectly OK.

Four years ago, my wife and I lived in Northern California. I was working for a dot com and learning a great deal about the advancing technology—a great experience. Then our world was rocked with multiple acts of terrorism against the United States. I believe many of the personal stories from that single event will never be captured in books or appear in print. I can easily recall where I was standing when I heard the news and a number of the bits of conversation on that day. It was life-changing for me and many others. I’ve decided not to write about those experiences. They were something to hold close to the heart.

Years earlier I listened for several days of teaching from long-time writer and editor, Elizabeth Sherrill. She told us, “Writers are swimming in a sea of ideas.” How do you choose which idea to pursue? It’s critical you have a degree of passion about the idea for it to come into print. 

Your degree of passion about the idea might just be to write a one-page query letter about it. Then you send that query to different magazines and see if you can get someone else to share your passion. Or your passion for the idea might stir you to write a full-length book proposal, send it into the market and see if someone will allow you to write that particular book. It may happen—or it may not. I’ve written numerous query letters which have never garnered an assignment. I’ve written several book proposals that haven’t found their mark.

I believe there is something refining about the process. It’s understandable not every life experience translates into a magazine article or a book. It’s also understandable not every query or book proposal actually makes it into print. If it does, then your query or book proposal has stirred the heart of an editor who has championed your cause and rallied others to the merit of your idea.  Our challenge is to choose carefully what we decide to write.

Touch the Library Market

September 10, 2005

I’ve been learning how to connect with the library market. Through my marketing of Book Proposals That Sell, I took a bit of energy and devoted it toward this specialized market. Librarians love books and recommend books to their customers. Plus there are thousands of potential markets through libraries.  I tried a number of different possible publications to review my book. As typical for any marketing effort, many of them did not work. I wanted to tell you about one that did work—Midwest Book Review. Established in 1976, the Midwest Book Review publishes several monthly publications for community and academic library systems in California, Wisconsin, and the upper Midwest.

If you follow their guidelines (as I did), you learn they prefer finished books and also like small presses (something to emphasize when you submit to them) plus the guidelines tell you how to follow-up (always something good to do in the manner and preferences of the editor). I sent a finished book and followed up at the appropriate time. The Editor-in-Chief, Jim Cox, told me that he would be reviewing the book. I didn’t bug him about it but from time to time, searched his website—and discovered nothing—until today.

His review of my book appeared in the September 2005 Bookwatch—plus Jim pasted the same review into an section (with five stars).  Here’s his review:

Book Proposals That Sell
W. Terry Whalin
Write Now Publications/ACW Press
5501 N 7th Ave, #502 Phoenix, AZ 85013
1932124640 $14.00

“More than 80% of all nonfiction books are sold from a book proposal, according to W. Terry Whalin, author of more than 60 nonfiction books and Book Proposals That Sell: 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Book Proposals That Sell breaks down the art of refining and pitching one’s idea into simple individual steps such as “Know the audience for your book”, “Keep the title and format simple”, “Always include a SASE”, “Maintain a log of your submissions”, “Delete any hype” and more. Written in straightforward, no-nonsense terms easily accessible to writers of all skill and experience levels, Book Proposals That Sell is highly recommended for its nuts and bolts practical information drawn from research and extensive personal experience.”

I was excited to see it for several reasons—first that it actually happened. Some times people promise but for many reasons outside of their control, it does not happen. Also I’m excited about the potential to get this book in front of librarians so they can purchase the book for their library customers.

From my experience in publishing, I know someone has to hear about the value of a book repeatedly before they actually purchase the book and use it. It’s one more opportunity to get the book in front of the audience.

Perched At the Top

September 9, 2005

In recent weeks, I’ve written about the slow nature of the publishing business in August. Typically it’s not a time for blockbuster bestsellers.  I’m constantly monitoring the bestseller lists in various categories (hardcover fiction, hardcover nonfiction, etc.). As I’ve pointed out in other posts, there are many different types of bestseller lists—general market, Christian market, New York Times, USA Today, Publisher’s Weekly, etc.  In general, these lists have the same books in the top positions. For the last couple of weeks, a different book has been perched at the top of the general market hardcover nonfiction list (Publisher’s Weekly): Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau.

In some ways, I’m not surprised since health books are continual bestsellers. This self-published book (Alliance Publishing) is loaded with controversy yet one of the year’s biggest bestsellers.  Maybe you (like me) have been channel flipping and seen the 30–minute infomercials with Kevin Trudeau talking about his book—and according to a Publisher’s Weekly article by Charlotte Abbott, Trudeau’s company spends $500,000 to $2 million a week to air these infomercials. The book is ranked #12 on Amazon (as of this writing) but only listed with two stars — despite the 954 reviews (that’s a remarkable number of reviews).

If you want to know more about the controversy with the contents of this book, follow this MSNBC link to learn more detail.

As a subscriber to Publisher’s Weekly, I was fascinated with this little bit of background about this book in the September 5th issue. Sara Nelson, the Editor-in-Chief wrote in her editorial called Snake Oil Crisis, “Whoever said August is a slow news time for the book business has apparently not been paying attention to the stories about Miracle Cures and its author, Kevin Trudeau. In article after article doctors have been quoted debunking the bestselling author and infomercial pitchman’s expertise and assertions, and both Trudeau and the publishing company he co-owns, Alliance Publishing, have been called to defend themselves…Like many who’ve spent their careers at magazines, I was initially surprised to learn that while articles are almost always fact-checked line by line, the same is not true of books. You would not, as a writer at even the flimsiest of periodicals, get away with saying, as Trudeau did in his book, that “a hospital in Mexico has virtually a 100% success rate in eliminating cancer” with some crazy concoction; the research police would be all over you: What hospital?, they’d ask. Can we see the study? But book publishing has no such researchers, and while virtually every house employs a legal department, one longtime publishing attorney explained to me that lawyers are not checking for errors of fact; they’re looking for “anything libelous.” If a house has fact-checkers, they’re usually doubling as copy editors.”

I’ve seen this book in my local bookstores and flipped through it but I’ll not be purchasing a copy. Several aspects of this book are fascinating to me. First the lack of careful research and fact-checking in the book—something that is apparently the case in other books as well.  

Also look carefully at the topic of this book. It’s the promised benefit in the title that draws the reader but points out the desperate need of the reader.  People are eager to find answers to their health needs and will purchase anything they believe will cure their difficulties.  This need is the reason for this book to be perched at the top of the bestseller list.