Archive for April, 2006

Off to New York City

April 24, 2006

Last year, I was elected to the board of directors for the American Society of Journalists and Authors, the leading nonfiction writers group in the nation. If you’ve never heard me talk about the ASJA, it’s an unusual writers group.  Here’s the key reason: you have to meet the professional qualifications or standards of the group in order to join.  The majority of the writing groups have a wide open membership policy. If you pay, then you can join. It’s not like that with the ASJA. You have to meet the membership standards then you can pay and join. I’m well aware of these standards (follow this link) because I’ve been on the membership committee for the last several years. Each month we process applications and not everyone who applies meets the standard so they don’t become members. ASJA Guide

The majority of the Society business is conducted through email or monthly phone conferences. Twice a year, the board has face to face meetings in New York City. One meeting is in November and the other is tied to our annual east coast conference. This coming Saturday I will be moderating a panel on contracts with three lawyers and a literary agent. It should be an interesting discussion about book contracts. Many people think these book contracts are black and white—when the reality is each one is different. The longer I work in publishing, the more I understand how little I know about this area. I will learn a great deal from the experience of moderating this panel.

If you can’t come to this conference, the next best thing is to read The ASJA Guide to Freelance Writing edited by Timothy Harper. Different ASJA members have written different chapters and each are excellent. I was a part of the ad hoc committee which selected Tim to edit the book but I must have been moving or deleting my email too fast or something when they assigned the various topics. I completely missed the opportunity to contribute to the wealth of information in this book. The bulk of the book is geared toward nonfiction writers but some of our members write fiction (Mary Higgins Clark is one of our best-known members in this area).  I highly recommend you study each of the chapters in this well-done book. 

As for my entries on the writing life, I doubt I will be able to do anything else until next week—but maybe I’ll surprise you.

Tout Your Expertise

April 23, 2006

Last week during John Kremer’s teleseminar for novelist, he offered a free chapter from the forthcoming 6th edition of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. The chapter was about different ways authors can take advantage of the various marketing opportunities at Amazon.com or the largest online bookstore in the world.

Until today, I had never tried the first method, Kremer mentioned called So You’d Like to Guide. I never focused on these guides but they provide another way for authors to promote their expertise in a particular area and connect with readers.  In a short amount of time, I pulled together a guide called Publish A Book. Get Insight From An Editor.  I have written on this topic a great deal over the years so it was easy to rework some of this information into a guide. They have a maximum of 1,500 words so my drafted article was almost to the limit. In fact, it was too close to the limitations. I’m unsure how Amazon.com counts words but if the guide is too long, they do not let you publish it.  Also the guide has to be in plain text or the type will look weird.

When you look at my guide, you may notice I include a number of other books besides Book Proposals That Sell. Why? According to John Kremer, Amazon.com will list your guide on the pages of the books which you mention. It’s required to mention a minimum of three books and a maximum of 50 books. It’s one more way to get your book in front of customers who are making buying decisions about your book. I added a number of titles because I figure it will get my guide into more places within the Amazon.com system.

I hope you will read this guide and email it to others. Many people need this information and I see the constant flow of submissions from these people who lack this important information. Some of these guides have been read thousands of times. What expertise do you have which you could tout and write a short guide? I hope So You’d Like to Guide will be another tool you can add to your own writing life and marketing plans.

Also I’ve added some new entries to my Amazon.com blog. It’s another resource to check.

Wild Things

April 22, 2006

Many years ago at the American Booksellers Meetings in Los Angeles, one of the speakers was bestselling children’s author, Maurice Sendak. This author of the bestseller Where the Wild Things Are was very entertaining at this breakfast and colorful. It’s the only time I’ve heard Sendak speak.

I’ve always been fascinated reading about the background of authors. The April 17th issue of The New Yorker contains a detailed seven page profile of Sendak called “Not Nice, Maurice Sendak and the perils of childhood” by Cynthia Zarin. Unfortunately the magazine didn’t put the entire piece online—so go to your news stand or some other way to see the entire piece. I want to highlight a couple of paragraphs that caught my attention about this talented author.Wild-Things-cover

Zarin writes about the themes that Sendak has selected for his writing saying, “Like every Sendak story, “Where the Wild Things Are” explores his preoccupations, chief among which are the vicissitudes of his own childhood, and the temerity and fragility of children in general. His narrative is almost always about a child in danger whose best defense is imagination. The book editor Michael di Capua, who has worked with Sendak for more than forty years, calls this “the story.” In September, Scholastic will publish Sendak’s first pop-up book, “Mommy?,” about a baby who finds himself in the wrong house, and defeats one monster after another. “ ‘Mommy?’ is the story again!” di Capua says. The cartoonist Art Spiegelman told me, “Maurice reinvented what a children’s book is: it’s a book.”

HarperCollins, Sendak’s longtime publisher, estimates that there are about seventeen million copies of “Where the Wild Things Are” in circulation. Its success has allowed Sendak to pick and choose his projects: “Max is a useful child. What other four- or five-year-old allows his father to stay home and sulk?”

In light of the long-term sales of Where the Wild Things Are, look at the reaction to this book when it was first published: “The year after the “Nutshell Library” appeared, Sendak published “Where the Wild Things Are.” Publishers Weekly, while praising the “frightening” illustra­tions, noted that they accompanied “a pointless and confusing story”; a librarian reviewer wrote, “It is not a book to be left where a sensitive child may come upon it at twilight.” The book won the Caldecott Medal for the best picture book of 1963, but Sendak encountered the same mix­ture of condemnation and approbation with the publication, in 1970, of “In the Night Kitchen,” in which a naked, gleeful little boy called Mickey narrowly avoids being made into a cake. Even into the nineteen-nineties, because of Mickey’s nakedness, it was routinely banned from school libraries, but it now sells almost as many copies per year as “Where the Wild Things Are.”

Finally look at what I learned about how this writer/ artist practices his craft. Journalist Cynthia Zarin keenly makes this observation during a lunch in New York City, “We were eating an apple crisp, and Sendak suddenly moved his fork from his right hand to his left hand. “This is delicious,” he said. “See, look, if I like something I switch to my left hand.” As a child, he was hit with a ruler for using his left hand; he draws with his right.” Sendak is now 78 years old and the detail was a reminder to me at how the education world has changed since Sendak was in grade school.

It’s always good to glimpse into the writing life and see what you can learn from their experience. Whether you are a children’s author or write magazine articles, I believe the insight is valuable.

Increase Your Awareness

April 21, 2006

Anything you can do to learn more about books and publishing in general is always a good thing from my perspective. It helps you increase your awareness. Earlier this week, I told you about a free teleseminar for novelists so they could learn more about book promotion. It was a good session and I gained a number of tips from this phone seminar.

John Kremer mentioned a website that was completely unfamiliar to me called Shelf Awareness. Apparently it is run by two former staff members at Publisher’s Weekly with the purpose of helping retailers of books, libraries and others to learn more about the book trade. The site includes a free email newsletter. Before I signed up for the newsletter, I read a number of  their back issues. According to the site, this newsletter has been daily since last June.

From my perspective, you can take a number of these types of newsletters. They amount to focused publishing information which is coming your direction. I  often skim through them and delete them. Some times they will bring some important bit of information.  Other times they will call to my attention some detail or news that is worth remembering and trying to fit into my own writing life. 

Dipping Into History

April 20, 2006

When I select a novel for pleasure reading, I don’t often turn to historical novels. Admittedly as an editor, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, yet I do enjoy historicals from time to time and know they have a solid place in the overall fiction marketplace.

A few years ago, Sarah Johnson, Assistant Professor at Eastern Illinois University, said, “the popularity of historical fiction seems to be on the rise.  A number of authors best known for their work in other fiction genres are turning to the historical past for inspiration.  Included in this group are Michael Crichton (best known for his contemporary thrillers), John Grisham (famous for his courtroom thrillers), and Amy Tan (widely published in contemporary women’s fiction).  Historical novels have also won some of the major literary awards of the past several years.”

For many years I read the historical fiction from Bodie Thoene. The writing and the characters of these books kept me turning pages late into the night. I was fascinated with the Zion Chronicles and Zion Covenant series and highly recommend these books. While I am a fan of Bodie Thoene’s work, I believe these novels are stronger than some of her recent titles. I’m always fascinated by what draws writers to putting together a historical. You learn a bit of my insight if you read my profile about the Thoenes.

In the April 10th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, historical novelist Ron Rash talked about his motivation for writing historicals saying, “Now that I have finished my novel, put in it everything I learned from decades of research, I know I will never know what my ancestor might have felt at Shelton Laurel. Nor will I ever fully understand what happened in Cambodia and Rwanda. But if I failed to achieve understanding, I gained awareness. That may be the best that any work of historical fiction has to offer—not just to its author, but, more importantly, to its readers—a chance to grapple with the mysteries and complexities of the past, in hopes of seeing the present a little clearer.” (Follow the link to read the entire article.)

Isn’t that the task of the historical novelist? To grapple with the past and shed light on the present events? It seems like this light shedding process happens for the writer and the reader.  It’s something to think about as you begin reading your next historical novel and dip into history.

Another Reader Connection

April 19, 2006

How does an author connect with their readers? Like many things in publishing, there is not one way but many different methods. First, it takes an excellent book. The foundation of any new book has to include excellent, page-turning writing. So if you haven’t mastered that element, keep it in focus and continue to work on your craft through shorter magazine articles and learning everything you can learn—such as at conferences and through how-to books.

Yet many well-crafted books don’t make it into the hands of readers. In previous entries, I’ve written about the many different snares and traps in the process of selling a book into the hands of customers. Yet as an author, I’m constantly looking for any avenue to connect with my reader.  Why? While you may do it unintentionally, every author is in the process of building name recognition and a brand. You want people to love your last book so they are eager for the release of your next product.

Amazonconnect-logo

In recent months, the largest online bookstore on the planet, Amazon.com has launched Amazon Connect.  Each day authors of all persuasions are joining this effort. Whether you have one book or many books in print, I believe it’s worth knowing about and some level of involvement.  Almost any book can be purchased on Amazon.com—whether it comes from a large publisher or it is self-published.

The process is fairly painless—yet has some cautions. Amazon wisely forces authors to provide the name, email and phone number of a third party to “verify” that you are the author of the book. This verification person can be an agent, a publicist or an editor and they receive an email with a simple button to push.  The books which you select are then verified and connected to your Amazon blog.  To try out this system, I selected my last three published books and they were verified—but they were not connected until I made another entry in the Amazon.com blog. After I published this entry, the books instantly were connected to my blog—and to my author profile.  Here’s a couple of my examples: Book Proposals That Sell and Running On Ice. Scroll down on these pages and you will see my profile and my Amazon blog entry. Notice within the blog, you are allowed to provide web links and other information.  Here’s how my author profile appears on Amazon.

Is this connection the ultimate one that will solve all your book sales problems and connect you constantly to your readers? I’m enough of a realist to not push this connection too far. It’s just one more tool to add to your arsenal of marketing efforts to reach readers.

 

The 100th Quake Anniversary

April 18, 2006

Every major news program carried a short story about the anniversary. April 18, 1906 marked the Great California earthqA Crack in the Edge coveruake. This 100th anniversary only comes around once—today.

During the late 70s and early 80s, I lived in Guatemala, Central America. In this part of the world, earthquakes come frequently. I lived in the village area where the homes are simply constructed. Even with a small earthquake, the damage can be extensive since the houses easily fall. It didn’t take long to learn no matter when the earthquake came—and they frequently arrived in the middle of the night—the sane course of action was to get outside as quickly as possible.

In anticipation of the 100th anniversary of the California earthquake, last October HarperCollins published A Crack in the Edge of the World : America and the Great California Earthquake of 1906 by Simon Winchester. This book has been on my “wish list” for books to read and eventually I will get the book and read it. I’ve read a number of Winchester’s books. I heard him speak at an ASJA meeting several years ago with the release of The Professor and the Madman (which I highly recommend if you haven’t read). The encouraging fact for writers about The Professor and the MA Crack inside map3_smalladman is the book was written from historical research—and became a New York Times bestseller. It gives each of us hope that we can come up with an amazing creative idea that will turn into a bestseller.

While I have not read A Crack in the Edge of the World, I did observe a fascinating design element with the cover. If you haven’t seen this book, it’s worth a trip to your local bookstore just to see this unusual detail. If you hold the book, you will notice some sections of the cover are unusually thick. It’s because if you take off the cover, the inside of the jacket contains a giant map of the city of San Francisco along with some other maps.

Simon Winchester has a different—yet riveting style as a writer. You can sample a taste of this book at the HarperCollins website (follow this link).

I certainly applaud the creativity poured into the writing and packaging of this book on the earthquake. From the looks of the rank for the book on Amazon.com, it’s doing well for the publisher. It will be a bit before I get to read it, but I wanted to do something related to the anniversary for today’s entry on the Writing Life. The lesson for us? If you look at Simon Winchester’s list of books, each one springs from a key historical event. His storytelling is excellent in these books and memorable yet it comes from a part of history. It’s encouragement for us to continue to pursue our bestselling ideas. If we find the right publisher and the right editor at the right time and place, maybe we can also make it happen.

Free Novel Promotion Teleseminar

April 18, 2006

I just got an email about a free teleseminar from John Kremer, the author of 1001 Ways to Market Your Books. It will be geared to novelists.

Here’s some of what John will discuss on the call:

  • The 3 most important actions novelists can do to promote their novels.
  • The 4 marketing resources every novelist should know about.
  • The 5 biggest publicity mistakes novelists make.
  • How to do a book tour that creates real results – and sales!

The teleseminar will be held at 5:00 p.m. Pacific Time, 8:00 PM Eastern Time on Thursday, April 20th.

Sign up now. There is only room for 500 people on this call. It sounded interesting to me and I wanted you to know about it. Go over to this site and sign up for the specifics.

Interruption Insight

April 17, 2006

How well do you handle the constant starting and stopping process from interruptions? It’s different for each of us and I think it’s all a matter of what you grow accustomed to handling. As I think back to my chaotic days in the news room of a newspaper office, it’s a wonder that anything got written—but it did—every single day on deadline.  There were no quiet offices or even cubicles but simply a long room with desks and typewriters (pre-computer days). You could hear a reporter across the room handling an interview while you were writing your own story. It was a matter of crawling into your personal space and hitting the keys to complete your own story. I’ll admit it was a challenging environment but a great training ground to learn you can write almost any place and any time.

The April 3rd issue of Publisher’s Weekly included this little bit of interruption insight about best-selling novelist Steve Berry. It comes from the Paperback Bestseller page where Berry’s The Third Secret is number 9.  About his writing routine, he says, “I still practice law and I serve on our local Board of County Commissioners (Camden County, Ga.), so my days are full. But I write every week day between 7 and 9 in the morning. There’s a rule at the office that those two hours are mine, but that rule is broken every single day. I actually can’t write without interruptions. I’ve grown accustomed to constantly starting and stopping. I told Gale, one of my employees, that if I’m ever lucky enough to write full time I’m going to hire her to interrupt me every 10 minutes.”

The key is to continue—no matter what. Press ahead with your writing and keep making progress.

Recapture the Conference

April 15, 2006

Last month, I spoke on the topic of Book Proposals That Sell at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton. This conference is every other year and has a maximum capacity. When registration opened earlier this year, it sold out in a matter of weeks. I had several people contact me who wanted to attend but could not.Ermabombeck

Yesterday’s mail brought an unusual package from this conference.  First, I received terrific feedback about my workshop and how it was received from the participants.  When I teach at a conference or workshop, I have a simple goal: that each participant feel like the information in my sessions gave them the value of the whole conference.  I understand it costs each person to attend a conference—and not just financial but time away from family and other responsibilities.  Over the years, I’ve been in some workshops which were a complete waste of my time. I never want anyone in my sessions to go away with that feeling.  It’s driven me to almost over prepare for these sessions and include detailed handouts (which contain information beyond what I cover orally).

With this background of how I prepare my workshops, it was encouraging to me when I received this type of feedback:

“I do believe I got the most out of this session than out of any other.” or “I came away with the real sense that editors are merely human beings just like the next guy you pass on the street, but the only difference is that he is in the book industry.” or “Terry’s information combined with the many handouts he offered to his class was exceptional!”

Besides this workshop feedback, the package included an unusual gift. I received an MP3 CD-ROM of the complete conference audio recordings.  If you’ve ever taught or participated in any of the behind the scenes work at these conferences, you know it’s almost impossible to attend any sessions (or at least all of the sessions that you would like to attend).  As a speaker, it marked a first for me to receive the recordings of my own session along with everyone else who taught. What a great idea for anyone who is a conference director!

If you missed this conference, you can purchase one of these complete audio recordings for a great value. Just follow this link. Listening to the audio isn’t the same as being in the actual session. You miss the networking and opportunity to get your questions answered on the spot—but it’s the next best thing from my view.