Archive for January, 2006

An Unusual Publishing Quiz

January 31, 2006

As I mPutting-Your-Passion-coverentioned yesterday, I’m reading Putting Your Passion Into Print, which is a great new book by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry. I picked up on a detail for children’s writers but this book is much broader than one genre. It’s focused on helping authors strategically examine the entire publishing process—from idea to finished book to marketing that product. This book is loaded with illustrations, quotes from publishing insiders and also some unusual facts about the book business.

At the end of their introduction, these authors have an unusual publishing quiz which is a ten-question pop quiz. I’m only going to give you a taste of this quiz and a couple of the answers:

“1. Approximately how many books are published each year in the United States?

    a. 5,000

    b. 50,000

    c. 150,000

    d. 500,000

    e. 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

2. Bestsellers represent what percentage of Barnes & Noble’s total sales?

    a. Less than 5%

    b. Less than 11%

    c. Less than 62%

    d. Less than 84%

    e. Less than 99.99%

8. On average, how much profit does a publisher make on each book sold?

   a. 43%

   b. 31%

   c. 22%

   d. Less than 10%

   e. No publisher has ever made a profit on anything, anytime, anywhere

9. What percentage of books earn back their advance?

   a. 60%

   b. 42%

   c. 28%

   d. Less than 10%

   e. No book has ever earned back its advance, anytime, anywhere

ANSWERS: 1) c 2) a 8) d 9) d”

OK, did the answers surprise you? Because I think about these aspects of book publishing often, the answers weren’t earth shattering to me. But they should be to would-be book authors. There are many books published each year yet few of them are bestsellers. Publishers are looking for those few books which are going to earn the greatest possible profit for their company.  It’s often difficult to predict which ones will take off and jump into that rare category.

Also think about the information in question 8 on the profit factor. Some people wrongly believe publishers are loaded with endless financial resources and gaining huge profits from books. That type of thinking isn’t based in financial reality. The margins of profit are slim for the publisher and that is the truth.

Finally, let’s think about the last question. Why is that figure significant? The general rule of thumb for advances is the publisher expects the book to sell to the volume where that advance earns back during the first year in the marketplace.  In the contract stage, book advances are based on sales projections. The number isn’t pulled from thin air but based on potential. Now occasionally with a book, these advance numbers will get out of hand and soar but in traditional publishing, these advances are based on first year sales projections.  Return to the answer for the final question on the percentage of books which earn back their advance. Any book which earns back their advance and begins to pay royalties to the author has climbed out of the red area and into the black area of the financial picture—for the author and for the publisher. It’s a significant confirmation of how the marketplace is receiving a particular book. If your book earns back your advance, it’s something to celebrate.

I hope you’ve learned something from the unusual publishing quiz in Putting Your Passion Into Print.  I’m enthused about the valuable insight in this book.

Illustration and Writing Children’s Books

January 30, 2006

I would be a rich man if I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard this question—If I write children’s books, do I need to find my own illustrator? I don’t believe I’ve addressed this question in my past entries about the Writing Life. It’s a common assumption from new writers that besides writing children’s books, they also must illustrate them or find the illustrator. It’s a huge assumption on their part and shows their lack of understanding for the publishing process.

If you are writing children’s books, here’s the key question for you to ask yourself (with brute honesty), “Will these illustrations help or hurt my project with the editor?” Often the honest answer is these illustrations will hurt your case.  Putting-Your-Passion-cover

This weekend, I began reading a new book for writers, Putting Your Passion Into Print by Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry.  Several years ago at an evening with published book authors at Barnes & Noble in Northern California, I met Arielle and David.  Our paths had not crossed until I began reading their book and recognized them (and realized I had their names and contact information in my rolodex). Their book is loaded with wisdom and insight about various aspects of the process if publishing your book. In addition to their own publishing experiences, they have interviewed many experts in the industry. I’m going to quote from a small sidebar in their book about this issue of illustrating children’s books:

“One of the biggest mistakes authors of children’s books make is to submit illustrations with their text. Even if you think your friend or colleague is a master illustrator, hold off making any sort of recommendation about art until after your book is sold. David Allender, a senior editor at Workman responsible for children’s publishing, says, “Including illustrations doubles your chances of rejection. If it’s essential, include directional sketches.” If you are wondering why submitting art could possible hurt your chances, here’s David’s explanation: “Children’s book editors are a bit like musicians. We can read the score and hear the music in our head, and that’s what’s exciting. Typically, pictures drain the life out of the text. Of course, the exception is when there are illustrations that are wonderful. But you have a better chance of getting struck by lightning than submitting this kind of quality illustration.”

This quotation from David Allender and the comparative illustration were perfect. I don’t know writer who wants to double their chances of rejection. It’s something to consider with your children’s book submissions. You may be getting form rejections simply because you’ve combined illustrations with your text for the submission.

Try Before You Buy

January 28, 2006

In general, we don’t like to purchase books or music without getting a taste of the product.  When I go to the bookstore, I like to read the back cover, look at the endorsements (if any) then I read a couple of pages inside the book. If I like what I see, then I will take that book to the counter and pay for it.  It’s the same with music.  Either I walk into the store and know the artist and song that I plan to purchase or I take a few minutes to listen with the headphones in the store.

Our experience is much the same with the online stores. Several years ago, launched Search Inside. It allows the potential buyer to try the book before buying. For an example, check out Book Proposals That $ell. If you roll the arrow of your mouse over the book cover, it will reveal a window to show you different parts of the insides of the book. 

I’ve purchased books from this feature and I’ve heard from others that it’s a feature they like and use regularly. If you spend much time looking at books, you learn not every book includes “Search Inside.” Why not?

Someone has to take the time to send the book to Then it takes several weeks for to get the pages scanned and on their site. That “someone” is often the publisher for your book.  But it doesn’t have to be just your publisher.  Authors can also submit their own books to and activate this feature. Here’s the link to get started in the process.  It involves filling out a legal release, printing it and mailing it to a specified address with a physical copy of the book. Then you wait until the book gets through their system and one day it magically appears on the book page.

I’ve often written in these entries about the writing life about the overstretched and understaffed publicity and marketing staffs. These people love books and want to get this submission for every book but likely it doesn’t happen.  They are limited. As a author who cares about the details for marketing your books, it’s another opportunity for you to take action. I’d suggest checking with your publisher to see if they plan to handle this detail—and if it hasn’t been done, you can offer to handle it.  For Book Proposals That $ell, I worked with a small press with few marketing resources. I submitted my own book to and

Is it helping to sell books? I’m sure of it.

Tireless, Creative Promotion

January 27, 2006

It happens almost every time I travel. I fall behind on processing the steady steam of magazines which come to my home. I read a wide variety of publications and look for story ideas and information about publishing. While reading through the January 30th issue of Forbes, I found a fascinating article called Promote It Yourself (thankfully also online so follow the link).  The subtitle which caught my attention read, “With book sales flat, authors find creative ways to pitch their offerings.” 

Forbes illustrated this article with a familiar face (at least to me) of J. A. (Joe) Konrath surrounded with United Postal Service buckets of mail. Konrath’s story and his solution is captured on his website as an encouragement to writers.  While the entire Forbes article isn’t about Joe it highlights the tireless and creative promotional efforts—and in particular his effort to reach 7,000 librarians to purchase his books.  Here’s a key quote from Kerry A. Dolan’s article, “Konrath says he spends 90% of his time and about $40,000, nearly half his annual income, hawking his books. So far it’s working. The first two have sold 70,000 copies, prompting Hyperion to give him another six-figure advance for three more. “I needed to take control of my own business,” he says.”

By the way, for Joe Konrath to get into Forbes is a pretty amazing feat. Why? Because this magazine has a world-wide readership of five million. Who knows if it will boost his book sales but it certainly can’t hurt.

The thought of tireless promotion for your book may wear you out. From my view, you don’t have to promote constantly—just consistently and regularly.  It can simply never stray far from your mind or attention. Why? Because as the author, you have the greatest passion for your own work. Certainly the publisher cares and has invested in getting your book into the market. As I’ve mentioned in the past, publishers will push on your book for a few months. If it catches, then possibly it will get some additional attention. If not, then the publisher presses on to other titles.  The author needs to understand there is a constant flow of new books within the publishing house. Yet some backlist titles are slow to catch on but become strong backlist sellers for the publisher. If your book is lagging in attention, follow some of the tips Lissa Warren gives in this article. The point is to be trying something on a regular basis. While your book may fade from the focused attention of your publisher, it should never fade far from your attention.

Often you have to be thinking ahead about promotion opportunities. Magazines typically work six to eight months in advance. Here’s a little personal story to illustrate. Last year, I wrote Running On Ice for Vonetta Flowers in a very fast-paced project. The pace and deadlines came from the publisher so they were out of my control. They determined to release the book in February 2005 or timed for African American month. When I stepped into the writing project, the book was already scheduled for release and being sold into the bookstores. The book came out on schedule yet didn’t meet the publisher’s expectations. Now this publisher has a new marketing director who is actively working to tell people about this book. Why? The news peg for this book is current. Several weeks ago it was aRunningOnICEcovernnounced Vonetta will be a part of the United States women’s bobsled Olympic team. It gives her a chance to repeat her Gold Medal win from the 2002 Winter Games in Salt Lake.

Many months ago, I sent Running On Ice to a personal contact at Guideposts, which is one of the top 20 circulation magazines in the United States with a paid circulation of 2.6 million. When I pitched the story idea to the editor, I hoped to write the story (I didn’t). The February issue of Guideposts includes a story by Vonetta Flowers on page 48 called Winter Dreams. The great news is on page 102 which also includes the Running On Ice cover and includes these lines, “She talks about her faith and unlikely bobsled career in the book Running On Ice, available in stores and from her website,” While the publisher was excited about this opportunity, as the author, I was the person who sent the book and followed up on the idea. It doesn’t happen all of the time but in this case, it did and hopefully results in lots of good things for this book.

You can see what I mean about tireless and creative promotion. Some times your work pays off.


More Little Pieces and Blurred Lines

January 26, 2006

Earlier this month I wrote about how controversy sells and I used the example of the James Frey book, A Million Little Pieces. Today on the Oprah Winfrey Show, Oprah reversed her previous defense of Frey’s stretching the facts.  She had the author on her show and reversed her position. As the New York Times article reports, “I gave the impression that the truth does not matter,” Ms. Winfrey said. “I made a mistake.” To all of the viewers who called and wrote to her telling her she was wrong to allow Mr. Frey to maintain that his book reflected the “essential truth” of his life even though substantial details were falsified, Ms. Winfrey said, “You are absolutely right.”

I’ve read in other articles that Frey has decided not to write any more nonfiction but only to write fiction for his future books.  It’s probably a wise decision on his part. By it’s nature, memoir and nonfiction are true stories—not created like fiction.  The line between fiction and nonfiction blur at times—and to me that’s a problem and concern. It pops up in publishing from time to time. The controversy over the Frey book is only the most recent example. Over fifteen years ago, Questar Publishers released a full-color hardback book called Bible Animal Storybook by Mack Thomas.  At that time Questar Publishers was a separate company from Multnomah Publishers and this book was a major release for this company. A variety of key Bible stories were told from the viewpoint of talking animals. These stories were well-told and fun for kids. I had a key problem with this book because 1) animals don’t talk and 2) I believe the events of the Bible aren’t fiction but are historical events.  With this book, the lines between fiction and nonfiction or make-believe and truth were totally confused.  Small children can’t distinguish between reality and fiction.  That skill comes later in our development. Now this book is long out of print. If you work at it, you can still track down a copy.

My hope is the distinction between nonfiction and fiction will continue to be made—even if every now and then a book comes along which blurs the lines.

Tale of Four Covers

January 25, 2006

Samuel Morris #1

If you haven’t worked inside of a publishing house, it’s likely you haven’t seen the variation of design for a single book cover. In this particular case, these covers are from printed books and different releases.  In between thSamuel Morris #2e covers, each book is exactly the same text. It’s a book that I wrote over ten years ago. 

Samuel Morris was born about 1873 as Kaboo in the interior of Liberia. An African prince, Samuel Morris stole away on a ship coming to America. He became a Christian and actively shared his faith and touched many people during his brief twenty-year life. I was privileged to write the story of his remarkable life. There is a building named in his honor at Taylor University in Upland, Indiana.

The first cover is the first version which was released (on the left). Then the publisher redesigned this Heroes of the Faith series and issued new book covers or this one (on the right).

Then in 1999, the publisher sold part of the rights for this book to Chelsea House Publishers who reaches the educatioSamuel Morris #3n and library market. Chelsea released a hardcover version of this book as you can see below on the left.

 Last week, Barbour Books sent me some copies of the new release of Samuel Morris. The earlier paperback books were in a trade paperback size. This new release (above on the right) is in a mass market size. You can see the sticker which reduces the book to $2.97 but on the back cover the printed price is $4.95. This type of marketing is business as usual for Barbour Books which is known for producing economical books. I was glad to receive this new version of Samuel Morris.Samuel Morris #4

Does anyone notice anything that is missing on the cover of these books? I’ve said it before in these entries about the writing life that one of the hardest things to proofread is something that is not there.  Instead of keeping you guessing, I’ll tell you what is missing—the name of the author. It’s not on the cover nor on the spine of the book.  It’s another design choice that Barbour Books made with the creation of this series of books. They are content driven—not author driven.  A customer doesn’t walk into the store and ask for a book by Terry Whalin and instead they are drawn to the subject matter for the book.

When I signed the contract for this book (and several others that I wrote for Barbour Books), I understood my name would not appear on the cover of the books. It simply wasn’t how the series was designed or marketed and I was OK with it. I did the project as a work made for hire which means you get paid a fee and give up any rights or future earnings or control to the publisher. Thankfully for over ten years, Barbour Books has kept me informed and occasionally sent author copies when the book was changed.  They weren’t obligated to send these books but they did it—and that means a lot to an author.

If you are starting out in your writing career, you may wonder why in the world I would write a book without my name on the cover. Or you may be wondering why anyone would do it.

There are many different reasons for writing—and that’s part of my motivation to tell this story. Over ten years ago I had barely published a single book—and that book was a children’s book which released in 1992. I was eager to write additional books—any type of books—whether they included my name on the cover or not.  A writing credit is a writing credit and you need to repeat that over and over. My name still appeared on the title page of the book and it counted as a published book. Too many writers only want to write the book if they receive credit.  Often you don’t have the luxury of that decision early on in your writing career.  Writing work is writing work and you should take it wherever you can find it. While your opportunity might not have everything, an opportunity to write a book is an opportunity—no matter what other details are involved with it (like I had in my experience with this biography).

From my experience in publishing, I know something else about Samuel Morris. It has continued selling at a level which is acceptable for the publishSamuel Morris #4 backing executives at Barbour Books. Otherwise why would it continue to be in print? It is selling. Because I wrote this book as a work made for hire, I don’t receive royalty statements (typically where an author can keep track of their sales numbers). In over ten years, I had not even tried to ask for the numbers (and I knew Barbour didn’t have to send them to me). This week, I asked the publisher and to my surprise I learned this book has sold over 74,000 copies! Now it depends on the publisher as to what they call a “bestseller” but in general anything over 5,000 or 10,000 copies is considered good in some circles. From my view, Samuel Morris has done really well.

With the arrival of the mass market paperback version of Samuel Morris, I received one additional surprise. I know it’s pretty small but check out this back cover (to the left).  What I’m trying to point out is the line underneath the book title, Samuel Morris.  My name was added to the text. The overall book design is still in the mode of the first version in that the emphasis is not on the author but on the subject matter.

For me, it was a remarkable tale of four covers. I hope it contains some valuable publishing insight for you and your own writing life.

Beat Those Blues

January 24, 2006

I’m a bit skeptic about this proclamation.  I read it in my local newspaper, the Arizona Republic, then I found an article online. Health magazine has researched and proclaimed today, January 24th, as the most depressing day of the year.   The conclusions are based on the let down from the holidays, that most people have broken or given up on their resolutions and the due date for huge bills from holiday spending.  The article gives some great tips for ways to beat those blues.

Writers seem to get hit constantly with great fodder for depression. Projects are canceled or they find the mailbox with another rejection letter.  The rejection letters can arrive in the email box or the physical mail box. Admittedly it’s hard to keep going and believe in yourself but it’s possible.

The only group that might receive more bad news than writers are active literary agents. The legitimate agents are the ones who only get paid when they sell a project for their clients. And what about those payments?  Publishers are trying to control their own cash flow challenges so they schedule the payments in a variety of scattered payments hooked to some publishing deadline or marker. The lion share of those payments go to the writer and a percentage goes to the literary agent.  Agents who are making a living at the publishing  business are constantly sending out submissions for their clients. They are constantly receiving rejection notices. Also these agents keep track of their submissions. When they don’t hear from a publisher over a reasonable amount of time, they will check with that editor.   When this agent checks with the editor, in general, they should put on their protective armor because in general, time without a response isn’t a good signal.  Many times the editor will say, “Oh, yeah, that project—our publishing house is going to pass on it. Best wishes placing it elsewhere.” In their search to place projects for their clients, agents receive lots of rejections.

Here’s several quick ideas how to beat the blues of rejection:

1. Take a deep breath and understand it’s not personal. It’s business. You can’t repeat the first two sentences often enough. It’s not about you. It’s about the work and placing that work in the right place at the right time with the right publisher.

2. Redouble your own efforts to improve your own writing. Take a class. Read a recommended book on writing. Listen to a tape or seminar. For example, Annie Jennings PR includes a number of free teleseminars. Follow this link and download several and listen to them. Then plan action steps from what you learn in the writing book or the seminars.

3. Make sure you are seeking to have balance in your life with exercise and rest combined with hard work.

Take some action steps and you can beat those blues.


Two In One Day

January 24, 2006

Today I received a couple of fiction queries for Howard Publishing. In general, I try and process these queries fairly quickly.  As an author, I always know I’m interested in hearing back from the editor. It’s not always possible to answer in a short amount of time but I handled the two queries fairly quickly today.

Ironically each of them were similar. Neither one contained a mechanism for the editor to respond. That’s commonly known as an SASE or Self Addressed Stamped Envelope. Instead of an SASE, many people are including an email address. Either one is fine for the editor to respond. It is the responsibility of the author to give the editor a way to respond. Why?  Take our current postage then multiple it by thousands and you will see the unbudgeted and out of control expense for a publishing house.

As a writer, I’ve included a SASE or email address and not received a response. It happens for a variety of reasons. Some editors aren’t as conscientious to respond in a timely way to their email or mail—and other editors place their priorities on other areas of the work. If you include the response mechanism and don’t receive a response, what are the chances of getting a response if you don’t include anything? It’s a huge long-shot from my view.

One of these two queries came certified mail. That means instead of 37 cents (the increased first class postage), this author forked out $4.42 to get a signed receipt verifying the arrival of the query. Yet this same author didn’t include a mechanism for me to respond. The second query simply came without a response mechanism.

I had pity on these two first-time authors. I could have logged their queries and toss it. Instead, I stuck a couple of stamps—along with a postscript to my form rejection letter. For the author who sent her query certified mail, I encouraged her there was no need for that type of expense—but she did need to send a means for the editor to respond. For the second letter, I added these words, “You are missing something important—a way for the editor to respond—commonly known as a self-addressed-stamped-envelope or SASE. It is the author’s responsibility to include this means of response. If not an SASE then I suggest you give an email address for a response. You gave nothing. It is an unbudgeted expense that can add thousands of dollars. So…if you are not hearing from publishers in response to your query letters—that is the reason. Keep at it.”

The effort took me a little extra time but it felt right to help educate a would-be writer. I rarely receive these types of query letters (ones without a means to respond)—and last year I received over 500 submissions for six to eight possible spots on the fiction publishing schedule at Howard Publishing. I hope and pray each of these authors receive my help with the right attitude. I certainly gave it in the spirit of helping.

More on Book Proposals That $ell

January 23, 2006

About a month ago, Stacy Harp, president of Mind and Media, interviewed me about Book Proposals That $ell. If you’ve not seen Stacy’s blog, I’d encourage you to take a look because of her interesting view of the media and books. Book-Proposals-That-Sell-co

The interview went live recently and you can download the thirty-minute interview at this link. Even if you’ve heard me teach about book proposals, the interview gives some recent examples and illustrations to some of the points of the book. It’s a way to gain some additional insight on this important topic. If you’ve read and studied the book, it will give you some reminders.

I’ve learned my book is headed back to press. It’s always an exciting milestone for any author to hear about their book. It’s exciting whether they printed a small amount of books or a large amount of books. Why? Because the reprinting gives you a chance to fix a limited number of pages.  From my work inside publishing, I know each change costs my publisher yet my publisher is also committed to excellence and wants to remove a few typographical errors and missing words.

I haven’t received much of this type of feedback but when I do receive it, I’ve kept track of these changes. Now is the time to get it fixed and I’m grateful to be able to improve on this strong product. I understand the topic is an “evergreen” or something that can continue for years.  Book Proposals That $ell isn’t tied to a current event which will fade from the public attention. Instead millions of people dream about getting a book published.  I find most of them are working on their book manuscript when the publisher needs a book proposal. They have tackled the publishing process backwards. From my perspective the best way for these would-be writers to realize their dream is to increase their understanding of the publishing process and create a book proposal.

If you are one of those readers who spotted some missing words or typos in the book—and you want to write me. Now is the time. Send your message to  I will not be offended in the least and it will give me a chance to make sure every possible change is carefully considered and handled. You will notice how I phrased that last sentence. It came from long experience. I didn’t promise to make every change. I promised to consider every change.  Why? I will evaluate these changes then submit them but the final decision will not be in my hands. It’s in the hands of my publisher. It’s part of the team effort involved in traditional publishing.

I’m celebrating the opportunity to spread the word again about my book and that it is headed back to press for another printing. As you can see, it’s not a one time experience but this type of book promotion is something that is on-going (or at least it should be) for every author.

The Surprising News

January 20, 2006

When I received the email this past week, it surprised me.  I should have seen it coming.  With a short note, another one of my books has passed out-of-print. Through the years, several of my books have gone through the process.  It’s an area that writer’s rarely think about—until it happens.

When I received my royalty statements from this publisher, I knew the sales had slacked off for this book. That’s why the news shouldn’t have surprised me—but it did. 

Publishers are constantly bringing new product into the marketplace.  Also they are monitoring their backlist product (older books) to see how they are selling.  There is limited warehouse space and limited top zero marketing energy for these older books. When sales fall to a certain minimum (which is different for each house), someone makes the decision to put the book out of print. Contractually they write the author and alert him to this decision then allow him to purchase the remaining copies at a substantial discount.  I’ve worked with a number of different publishers and I’ve rarely seen this part of the process handled properly. For one book, the publisher declared the title out of print and sent me the remaining five copies. I received five free books but there was no opportunity to purchase additional books since they were gone. This week the news from the publisher was even worse.  The editor’s email said my book was going out of print and I needed to write immediately to purchase the remaining copies. The short note gave no specifics about the number of copies or my purchase price. A few hours later, the same editor wrote and said there were no remaining copies but the small amount of stock had been discarded and destroyed.

For the author, this part of publishing seems unfair. I spent hours in the creative process to put together a book proposal. Some editor championed my book inside the publisher. Then a literary agent negotiated a contract and I was given a set of deadlines for the writing portion. The writing was a pure labor of love for this project and involved weeks of late nights. I came home after a long day of work and (with my wife’s blessing) sat at my computer and wrote more pages on this manuscript. Weekends were nonexistent with those steep deadlines of writing and researching for the book. I made the deadlines and the book rolled off the presses and was sold into the bookstores. Yet this particular book never found it’s audience or niche in the marketplace. It had marketing and sales energy behind it but for whatever reason, it never sold—consistently. The steady part of sales is what keeps a book in print.  Some books never make the bestseller list yet through their regular sales, they provide a regular steam of income for the author and the publisher.

It’s like I’ve often written about in these entries on the writing life. Publishing is a business. Yes, it’s a creative endeavor of the heart and mind for the people who are in it. Yet to continue, it remains a black and white business about sales. I know the life for this particular book is over in that area.

Could I sell it to another publisher? Yes, it’s possible.  As an editor, I’ve contracted some books from other authors which have gone out of print. It is often harder to sell the book a second time than to sell it in the first place (which was also difficult). When the publication committee considers contracting a book which has passed out of print, they ask a different set of questions.  As much as possible, they prod about why the book didn’t reach the intended market and why the editor believes this time will be different. If the passion, vision and difference is present, then the publishing executives decide to bring a book back into the marketplace—hopefully with different results. It’s a risk for everyone (publisher and author) and if the risk doesn’t pay off, then the publisher can’t continue in business. It’s that simple.