Archive for December, 2005

Frustration Relief

December 10, 2005

Yesterday I was on my treadmill watching CNN when I learned about this website. I wondered where it was weeks ago when I needed it.

If you phone any place for customer service, many companies are switching to a Interactive Voice Response (IVR) system. You can use your voice to dial different extensions instead of punching in the numbers. I’m like many consumers and want to simply speak to a human—not go through the menu system. Recently I dialed a technology company and had to weave through several levels of “listen carefully to our menu because our options have changed” then “press 1” or “press 2”… When these systems became popular, I almost always pressed “0” then I could reach a person—yet often it doesn’t work. Companies are making it more difficult to reach a human voice.

Paul English has created this site with details on specific companies. Here’s some of his key hints:

  1. “Press 0 (or 0# or #0 or 0* or *0) repeatedly, sometimes quickly, ignoring any “invalid entry” messages.
  2. Just hold, pretending you have only a rotary phone.
  3. Connect to sales; they always seem to answer quickly, then have them transfer you to the department you need.
  4. Say “agent” or “representative.”
  5. Call investor relations or the president’s office. You can usually find this info from Google. 🙂
  6. When you find a human, ask them how to connect directly the next time, and be sure to tell me :-).

If one of the above does not work, see the IVR Cheat Sheet. (Note that throwing your phone against the wall generally does not work.)”

I understand this tip will not solve everyone’s frustration with the phone but it will help.

Small but Critical Decisions

December 9, 2005

The stories are everywhere about small but critical decisions which make the difference in the exposure and sales of a book. These decisions determine whether it flies off the retail shelves into the hands of readers or stays in the warehouse and never makes it.

Yesterday I heard another one of these stories. Because I heard the story secondhand, I’m not going to give a lot of the specifics but the principles are important to learn. A book author had the ability to sell their product at speaking events and other such self-generated events.  This author decided to self-publish his book and used a well-known company for this process who produced an attractive book. When this author was going through the publishing process with the self-publisher, the author made a critical decision. He decided he didn’t need to have his book distributed.  It means he decided not to list his book in any recognized system within the publishing community. His book would never appear on Amazon.com or any other manner. He was simply going to sell the book at his events.  It’s an OK decision—only if you understand the potential ramifications.

When the book arrived, this author was thrilled and enthused. I’m unsure if he hired an outside publicist or wrote the promotional material himself.  He made a list of possible markets for his book. One of his information packets arrived in the hands of a major television program. Each day millions of people watch this show.  The author appeared on the television show and read a portion of his book. You talk about some great publicity and exposure. I’m sure he was thrilled with the opportunity for promotion. Yet from this appearance, there will be limited book sales (if any).

Why? It is well known if someone appears on Oprah with their book, the sales have shown to climb on the bestseller lists.  Go back to my second paragraph, the author made a critical decision not to distribute his book. We are a nation of choice. You may purchase your books through Amazon.com and I may decide to support my local independent bookseller and buy my books at that retail store. When it comes to sales, your greatest potential is with the greatest possible options. This author only had one option for selling his book—when he sold it himself to an individual. The television viewer may have remembered or written down the book title. Later when the customer asks about this book inside a bookstore or searches at an online bookstore, they will never find the book. It isn’t there. It’s one of those situations where you have to shake your head about the missed opportunity.

In another situation, a first-time author knows little about skillfully promoting a new book. Because of this author’s career, the media is often interviewing the author for various stories. These stories can be a great publicity opportunity—but only if you mention the book and make sure you include some connection for the journalist to include it in the finished story.  Recently this author interviewed with a major Christian magazine.  The author’s life story was fascinating and makes for great drama—something magazines love. Yet during the interview this author failed to mention the availability of the book. The magazine would have weaved it into the article—yet they didn’t know about the book. The story recently appeared without any mention of this book—to the great frustration of the publisher.  At the critical decision point, this author neglected to talk about the book.

There are many of these decisions in the process of publishing. Often these decisions are small yet critical to the success or lack of success for a book. Learn as much as you can about the process—then you will be better equipped to use wisdom.

An Exercise in Courage

December 8, 2005

Over the last few days, I’ve been processing a number of proposals and query letters for Howard Publishing fiction.  While I’m actively looking for excellent fiction, I don’t gain any pleasure from telling writers “thanks but no thanks” when it comes to their manuscript. If I had my preference, I’d rather handle my unsolicited manuscripts like many of other publishers—silence or no response. Instead, I’ve taken a proactive stance and at least let the author have a response. Admittedly the response is a form letter because there just simply aren’t enough hours in the day to give specific reasons—no matter how much I would like to do so. (At times, I do send a note of encouragement to the writer—like one today from a 16–year-old missionary kid in Guatemala who sent in a query for his novel. I was amazed because when I was 16, I never thought about such things.) From my view, as I faithfully respond to these authors with their dreams and expectations, my response is an exercise in courage.  Now if you are on the receiving end of these rejection letters, you may not view it in that manner but there are only so few spots and so many submissions.

I love what Senator John McCain wrote in the September 2004 issue of Fast Company about courage, “Courage is like a muscle. The more we exercise it, the stronger it gets. I sometimes worry that our collective courage is growing weaker from disuse. We don’t demand it from our leaders, and our leaders don’t demand it from us. The courage deficit is both our problem and our fault.” Follow the link and you can read the entire article.

How are you exercising your courage muscle? Are you continuing to knock on doors of opportunity through sending book proposals and query letters—even in the face of rejection? Writers need to be persistent. Are you exercising courage by understanding your own need to grow and learn as a writer, then taking proactive steps to increase your excellence in your craft? As Keith H. Hammonds wrote in the December 2005 issue of Fast Company, “Because ultimately, courage is risky. Courage raises the stakes—and too, the possibility of failure. Courage doesn’t guarantee a 10% return…Which is to say, courage isn’t everything. But it remains, we believe, the most important thing—in business and in the daily happenings of humankind.”

OK, back to Senator McCain’s article, he also says, “We’re all afraid of something. The one fear we must all guard against is the fear of ourselves. Don’t let the sensation of fear convince you that you’re too weak to have courage. Fear is the opportunity for courage, not proof of cowardice. No one is born a coward. We were meant to love. And we were meant to have the courage for it.”

I don’t know what you are facing in your writing life or your personal life. Just make sure you are taking time to exercise your courage muscle.  I agree with Senator McCain that the more you exercise courage, then your courage muscle grows stronger.

The Forever Discussion

December 7, 2005

Maybe I’m feeling a bit jaded today.  For years, I’ve been involved in several online writing groups. We welcome new people and new writers. It’s a great place to learn and grow—and highly recommended for a number of reasons if you aren’t involved in them. Some times you have to hit the “delete” key pretty heavy but it keeps me in touch with some of the “forever” discussions—something that will always be discussed around publishing tables or among writers or among editors and writers or among publishers and retailers.

I’m moving just a tad of the discussion—and more importantly my personal answer to the group into this entry about the writing life. Then if you aren’t a part of this particular group (which has almost 600 participants), then you can also see it.

Here’s a couple of sentences from this new writer, “Here’s the dilema, one of my characters is very sassy and unsaved. She curses. I want to market the book to Christian readers but I don’t know if I should edit out all her curse words or be real to my character and let her live on the pages of my book.”

OK, now that you understand the issue—cursing in Christian books. Here’s my response:

I’m going to weigh in on the cursing in Christian novels or novels which will be sold in the CBA. In a word, don’t.

Publishers hate retailers to return books (one of the key rights of a retailer with every single book they order into their store). You’d be surprised what retailers have complained about over the years—and it’s killed sales of books—because they allowed a single word to creep into the text. Imagine if it’s multiplied in the name of “realistic dialogue.”

Also those curse words are not needed to tell a good page-turning story. Just look at books like The Client or A Time to Kill from John Grisham if you need the reminder. The characters could have cursed—but it wasn’t necessary for the story.

Here’s the more important fact for you to consider—you want your book to be published. To get published in the CBA marketplace, you need to capture the attention of an agent or an editor. The agent to champion your book or your book proposal to the editor—then the editor to champion your book inside the publishing house. I can’t say it often enough—publishing is a consensus building process. Marketing, sales, publishing executives, and other editors have to be excited about your story and you as an author. Anything can kill that excitement—anything—especially cursing.It will prevent you from being published—and all you will receive is a form rejection letter and never receive the reason (the volume of submissions is way too high to do anything else).

While you want to tell the best possible story and create page-turning prose and riveting dialogue—never forget, the editor is looking for a reason to say, “no.” Your challenge is to give him or her a reason to keep reading. Some people estimate you have five seconds. It may not be that short—but it’s a pretty limited window of direct attention from the editor—where the editor will decide of you move ahead in the process or your material is returned.

Since January, I’ve received over 500 queries, manuscripts and proposals for six to eight possible books. How do I know I have received this many submissions? I have a “submissions log” and could pull up an exact number. Editors keep these types of records on the material that passes across their desks. Literary agents as they submit materials do the same sort of record keeping. It’s good business. These submissions came from individuals and literary agents. If you can’t recall, I’m the Fiction Acquisitions Editor at Howard Publishing. The odds are pretty ridiculous in many ways. The author includes cursing—no—reject. The author includes a misspelled word—return to the brief quotation above and take a look (it is spelled dilemma)–no—reject. It’s a bit of reality of how this business works. Now I will admit that I overlook misspelled words but that’s the risk you are taking when you include them in your submissions. You’ve just given the editor a reason to say, “no.”

The discussion about including cursing in Christian books will continue—forever. Publishers have taken a risk to get an author’s work into print—and they don’t want that risk to be sitting in a warehouse. Instead they want it in the hands of enthusiastic readers who will tell friends to purchase the book.

An Unusual Marketing Gift

December 5, 2005

It’s the season for gift giving. Over the weekend, I stumbled on an unusual gift for every writer and editor (and marketing person) interested in how products are sold.  You will learn why mass marketing isn’t working any more? I’ve blogged about PyroMarketing a bit in the past at these spots: Introduction to Pyromarketing, Powerful Marketing Insight,  and A Marketing Plan for Every Book. If you read these other posts, you will see the innovation that I believe is evident in this book—and that I’ve read every word of it.

Here’s the unusual element, you can download the entire book read by the author, Greg Stielstra, without cost/ free. You simply go to the book website: www.pyromarketing.com. In the upper-right hand corner, you “join” the site—which is free. You provide your name and email address, then select a username and password (plus there are some other optional fields).  Then you get the welcome message (automatically) and login at the website. You can access a page of downloads for every chapter of the printed book. You can listen to it in streaming fashion or download it to listen on your iPod or MP3 player. As the website proclaims, the audio version of the book is a $30 value which is free when you register.

In my years of seeing marketing campaigns, this one is unique. I’ve never seen an author (or a publisher) give away the audio version of a printed book. Yes, I’ve seen excerpts or an audio sample, but in this case, Greg Stielstra is providing the entire text of the printed book. He says that he’s practicing the principles of Pyromarketing and believes that the book sales will be OK—even with releasing the text in audio.  In many ways, I understand because I love a printed book to hold, highlight and review—but the audio is another great way to learn the principles in this book.

Publishers are always talking about a writer’s platform or what the writer can do to help market the book. With the principles of Pyromarketing, you can tackle that question in a solid and fresh way. Every writer can create a vision for reaching the people who are most likely to buy, then create an experience for them with your product, then help them tell others about your book. You can see how Greg is implementing these principles on his website. While I admit not understanding his reasons or results to give away the audio version, I recognize Greg is a marketing expert. He has recently become the Vice President of Marketing for Christian Books at Thomas Nelson Publishers in Nashville (which is the ninth largest publishing house in the world). You don’t gain a position of that stature without a lot of successful experience in publishing.

Here’s what I recommend about this marketing gift. 1) download the audio version for yourself and listen to every chapter. You will gain a great deal from the experience. 2) pass the gift along to others—your editor, your publicist, your marketing director and spread the fire from Pyromarketing. Maybe you want to burn of the downloaded files on a CD which you send to your editor as a small gift.

From my perspective, the principles of Pyromarketing should appear in every book proposal or marketing plan. It will help you reach your audience. Pass the word to various online groups and other places. You can instantly access this unusual gift.

 

Refreshing Honesty

December 3, 2005

I tend to read a number of how-to books on writing.  No matter how many of these books that I’ve read (and I’ve read hundreds of them), I always learn something about the craft of writing. I’m constantly looking to improve and I know I still have tons to gain from these books. This week I was reading through a new book called Writers On Writing edited by James N. Watkins. I’ve known Jim Watkins for many years and wanted to see what he pulled together. The subtitle was intriguing, “Top Christian Authors Share Their Secrets for Getting Published.” The cover highlights a number of recognizable names such as Sally Stuart, Jerry B. Jenkins, James Scott Bell and Karen Ball (who have chapters in the book). The book contains excellent content which is almost like going to a writer’s conference and hearing the different authors. I hope to write more about the different contents soon but today one chapter stuck out for me.

Maybe you’ve had this experience where you are reading through a nonfiction book which like this one has a lot of different voices. Suddenly you recognize a different tone—one that is refreshingly honest. It was toward the end of this book and from the pen of Lawrence W. Wilson. If you don’t know Larry is the editorial director at Wesleyan Publishing House, the publisher of Writers On Writing. He tackled the topic of how to talk to an editor. Just to give you a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s some of this chapter:

She looked a little nervous. As she sat down, she cast a glance over her shoulder, as if someone might be watching. She arranged her papers on the table. She folded her hands. She unfolded her hands. She cleared her throat. After a second or two, she looked up cautiously.

“Thanks for meeting with me,” she stammered. “I really appreciate you taking the time; I know you’re busy.”

She hesitated, as if unsure what to say.

“Um … I don’t know if I should even be here … This is my first writer’s conference. I’ve never actually talked to an editor before.”

“Hmm,” I wondered. “Should I tell her the truth?”

The truth was that I, too, was a little nervous. As a brand new editor, I also was attending my first writers’ conference. Like the aspiring writer across the table, I felt a bit like an imposter. Would anyone find out that I was just an ordinary guy who loved books, enjoyed writing and had finally gotten a break in the publishing business?

“Relax,” I said, trying to sound composed. “I’m new at this myself.”

Editors are the gatekeepers in the publishing industry. To find its way into print, a manuscript must first pass before their wary eyes. And editors are often busy—managing multiple projects and juggling numerous deadlines. No wonder they seem unapproachable, especially to a novice writer. The myth is that editors are irascible curmudgeons who work hard to keep writers at arm’s length.

The reality, however, is quite different. Most editors—like most writers— love both books and talking about book ideas. They are personable and engaging people who resort to the dreaded, impersonal rejection slip only because they are pressed for time.

Here’s another little-known secret: Editors are constantly looking for writers. An editor’s job depends upon finding fresh voices with publishable ideas. That means editors are always searching for new talent. They’re looking for you! (p. 183–184)

Every editor is actively looking for great ideas. Larry continues on in the chapter with some valuable insight about how to enter into this process. I know first hand how it seems like the editors don’t care.  You see I also receive those form rejection letters with no explanation as to why my idea wasn’t published. Or I have to send out the rejection letters because of my responsibilities at Howard Publishing as their Fiction Acquisitions Editor. I don’t have the time to tell someone the reasons why their idea is completely wrong or why my publishing house can’t take their idea. Instead I send the form rejection letter. It doesn’t mean that I never want to hear another idea from that author. I’m simply looking for the right idea at the right time. It’s what I have to keep in mind as I send my own material into the marketplace.

Dreams Based On Reality

December 2, 2005

If you saw as many book proposals as I see, you would be surprised at the consistent lack of realism in the marketing section from would-be authors. All too often, they will say something like, “I’m willing to do radio and television interviews to promote the book.” Yes, I would hope so. Or occasionally I will see this sentence, “I would be willing to appear on Oprah.” That statement to me is like the guy who buys a single lottery ticket every Friday night and says, “If I win, I would accept the prize.” There is little possibility of that appearance ever happening. The producers at Oprah receive thousands of pitches. Authors want to be on Oprah’s show because it’s been proven that her audience is a book buying audience—which responds from these programs.

I’ve never written the type of book or concept that would appeal to Oprah and her producers. See the first step? It’s having the right idea to even appear on the program. Then your idea has to be pitched to the producers in the right manner and at the right time and the right place. It can happen. I’ve had author friends who have appeared on Oprah’s program but it’s extremely rare. One of the ways you can make your dream of appearing on the show reality is to be as educated as you can about the show. What sort of topic is desired? What is the best way to pitch it? What is important to know when you appear on the show? There are dozens of other questions. Here’s a free resource to learn some of these answers.  Susan Harrow is a media coach and has placed several people on the Oprah Show. OK. See how that establishes credibility for listening to what she has to say? Here’s a free hour audio teleseminar called Q & A to Get on Oprah & Other TV Talk Shows.

It’s great to have dreams about your future. Let’s base our dreams on reality. Arm yourself with the knowledge to achieve those dreams.

More on Anne Rice

December 1, 2005

As I’ve found them, I’ve been listing a few articles on Anne Rice and her radical change of direction in her writing. I’ve still yet to read her new book, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt, but I’ve been watching for the story from the December issue of Christianity Today by Cindy Crosby to go online. This excellent story finally happened today so have a look if you want to learn more about her writing and change.

Some Loyal Readers — Romance

December 1, 2005

Some readers tend to downplay the romance area of the market. I’m constantly impressed with the loyalty of these readers to their genre—and the mass amounts of money they spend on books. While people like to talk about some of the other genres such as mystery/ thriller or general fiction, romance continues to dominate the marketplace with 39.3% of the fiction market according to the November 21st issue of Publisher’s Weekly. Robin Lee Hatcher has written for this market for many years and includes some great statistics on her blog this week. The good news is the inspirational romance area of the marketplace continues to be the growing edge of this market. Instead of the old image of romance books, it’s changing to inspirational romance—and you can see that trend in the marketplace.

If you like statistics in this area, I recommend you check out this eight-page document from the Romance Writers of America—yes, it’s from 2004 but it’s still loaded with information.

OK, these statistics are great but what do you do with this information? Does it affect your writing plans for the days ahead? Will it affect your reading plans? What about the conferences you attend next year to learn more about the writing life? Possibly. It’s worth taking some time and plans for your own writing life.