Archive for April, 2006

Believing When No One Else Does

April 14, 2006

As a young journalist, I was fascinated with the writing and life of Gay Talese. As one of the founders of “new journalism” in the 1960s, his commitment to the craft of writing has been something that I’ve found inspirational. Now at age 74, Talese will release a new book later this month called A Writer’s Life. In the April 3rd issue of Publisher’s Weekly, one of the feature stories was called “Talese Gets the Story.”  Some times the subjects of Talese’s writing are completely different than anything I would tackle as a writer or editor. Never the less, I’m attracted to his commitment to craft and excellence. A Writer's Life cover

In the PW profile, Karen Holt recounts a story where Talese spent a lot of time and energy on a piece which never appeared in print. I recognized the story because many times it’s happened to my writing life. I’ve chased a particular topic, interviewed a bunch of people, created material and for one reason or another, the project never reached the intended reader. There are many different reasons why a particular story never worked out. I was intrigued with this well-known journalist’s answer to the question.  Here’s a couple of probing paragraphs from this profile (which you can read online to see it all):

“I ask him what it takes to invest so much in a piece of writing, knowing it may never make it into print. “What you have to do is believe that what you’re doing is really important. Not that anyone else believes it,” he says. “And this is what A Writer’s Life is about. The odyssey of a writer.”

It’s a good answer, though a little too smooth, so I press. The word “obsessive” comes to mind, but I cop out with the more polite, “Does it take a kind of faith?”

He considers the word “faith” for a moment. “What it takes beyond faith is the willingness to be out of print and the willingness to be off the radar screen without any public acknowledgment that you are a writer,” he says.”

Isn’t that the life of a writer? You create and pursue stories and words with an internal belief. You believe that the words and the story are important—even when no one else believes it. 

Rarely Discussed About Bestsellers

April 13, 2006

I’ve been in editorial meetings where we sit around and look at current bestseller lists.  Leaders will set goals of getting on these bestseller lists. If you are unaware, there are many different versions of bestseller lists for books.  Some people focus on the New York Times list while others concentrate on the Christian Booksellers Association lists. Yet others look to publications like USA Today or Publisher’s Weekly (the trade magazine of the publishing industry).  I find the details of how the list is compiled are often lost to authors and observers of publishing.  How the bestseller list is compiled falls into the same category with how books are sold into bookstores. When you walk into a bookstore to purchase a book, unless you are an author, you don’t often wonder about how the book got there.  If you get looking into it, how that book is sold into the bookstore is often a pure mystery. The same mystery surrounds the bestseller list.NY_Time_Best_Seller-sm

For greater understanding of these issues, I recommend the April 3 issue of Publisher’s Weekly and in particular the last page column called Soapbox.  Jonathan Merkh, a senior vice president and publisher of Nelson Books and Nelson Business pulls back the curtain on this issue in his article, Jesus and the Bestseller List. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from his article to entice you to read the rest of it, “I study bestseller lists obsessively. Often I find that some Christian books that don’t make the general market lists are outselling the books that do by two to one, and sometimes more. In recent years, for instance, our house has had books land among the top 10 of the New York Times hardcover nonfiction lists that were consistently outsold during the same period by other in-house authors such as Max Lucado and John Eldredge—yet neither of these authors ever made the list. The reason? Over half the sales of Lucado’s and Eldredge’s books were through Christian retailers, whose sales are not reported to Bookscan or counted by the New York Times or USA Today, and are only counted for PW‘s religion bestseller list.

“If bestseller lists counted sales in Christian bookstores, the list keepers would be surprised to learn how big the religion category really is. When I point this out, I’m told, “We count Christian book sales because we count Ingram, and they own Spring Arbor [a division focused on the Christian market].” Yet Ingram numbers represent only a fraction of Christian market sales for frontlist titles. There’s close to, if not more than, $1 billion in retail sales of Christian books unaccounted for by these lists.”

Isn’t it odd? We simply look at the lists—and don’t think about how it is created or how the books are counted—yet those questions are critical to the understanding process and making realistic goals for your own writing life.

Another Magazine Disappears

April 12, 2006

I belong to several online forums. A post from yesterday caught my attention, with the subject heading, “Marketing Update Christian Parenting Today.” The writer said Christian Parenting Today had ceased publication. Another fine magazine has disappeared off the marketplace. If you spend many years writing for magazines (as I have), you learn the magazine business had a high failure rate. If a publication stays in business five years or more, they are unusual. Christian Parenting Today was around probably about twenty or twenty-two years. CPT-COVER

As a fairly new writer, I remember getting a call from the founding editor of Christian Parenting Today. He and a small staff were putting together the first issue and in the process of lining up their regular contributors and columnists. At the time, I was reviewing many books (something that continues to a small degree). Most of my reviews were for trade magazines and Christian Parenting Today was launching as a consumer publication (for the general news stand and marketplace). With my verbal marching orders from the editor, I became the first book review columnist for CPT. The magazine launched as a bi-monthly—every other month. My assignment was to review the best and newest books for parents and also to suggest children’s books (a variety of ages). I’m unsure of my word limitations (that was years ago) but it was probably about 2,000 words. I crammed as many short, positive recommendations into that space as possible. Because I was selecting which books to include (with little or no input from my editors), the floodgates of books opened from the publishers. Almost every Christian and many general market publishers added my name and mailing address to their “A” list of reviewers. Let’s take a major publisher like Zondervan who releases about 150 books a year. I would get almost every one of these releases. Just opening the packages from the publishers became quite a challenge—much less selecting the particular books which I would write about for the magazine. Each publisher was eager to reach the growing audience of this publication. I believe at one point the magazine circulation was at least 150,000.

I wrote this material for the first two or three years of Christian Parenting Today. Plus I wrote several feature articles on parenting related topics. My children were younger then and I was in the throws of parenting and found it easy to write about these aspects. I was in touch with the editors because of the book review column. Eventually I watched these editors move to other parts of the business. Both of the founding editors are still in publishing but in book aspects of the business and not in the magazine area. Eventually the editorial staff moved from Sisters, Oregon (where the magazine began) to Colorado Springs. I continued writing for the new editors because only a few of them made the move with the publication. From several editors, I’ve heard the story of the day the magazine (there were several magazines) were purchased and moved. Those editors lost their jobs and were forced into other positions.

I’m recounting some of these moves so you can understand the importance of continuing your relationships with the editors. I continued my relationships with the editors who moved away. And I began my relationship with the new editors. Some of these editors have left the business while others continue in thriving careers.

Why is the magazine business so difficult and why do these publications disappear? It returns to an aspect many writers don’t think about when they write for a publication—the business side of magazines. Like commercial television, what pays for the programs? It’s the commercials. In the commercial magazine business, it’s those full-color ads which pay for the publication. Subscribers only pay a small percentage of the actual value of the magazine. The rest of the cost is carried through advertising. Inside the magazine, there is this constant juggling between editorial and advertising for space. It’s a delicate balance and the costs are many—staff, overhead (building, lights, etc) along with paying the freelance writers. The writer has to roll with the punches—or so I’ve learned after years of working with different magazines and editors.

While I understand these changes, it’s still a bit sad to see a fine publication like Christian Parenting Today disappear from the magazine landscape. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to be involved in the early years of that magazine.

Slow Burn or Wildfire

April 11, 2006

I’ve seen that starry-eyed look from a new author with a new book. They are dreaming about becoming the next bestselling author. I applaud their enthusiasm yet if you took this little quiz, you learn that bestsellers are a small percentage of the overall market. Yes, everyone wants their book to catch on like wildfire and soar into the marketplace. Except too often the author doesn’t want to do anything to reach that market and delegates the responsibility into the hands of the publisher.

Publishers spend their days trying to educate their current authors and also locate authors who understand the importance of marketing (besides the key quality of creating an excellent manuscript).  You’d be surprised how few authors understand and appreciate the ongoing work to let people know about their book—and encourage them to purchase it. With the volume of books published each year, it’s fair to say that some good books simply don’t make it in the marketplace.Publicize Your Book cover

I have a fairly worn out marketing book on my shelf called Publicize Your Book! by Jacqueline Deval. Several years ago I met Deval and listened to her at a seminar in New York City. The publisher at Hearst Books Jacqueline has worked inside a number of general market publishers as the director of publicity. She’s been on the inside track to watch how books enter the marketplace. I love the realistic view which begin this book, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book. This means that some books will get publicity campaigns and budgets while others will go without.”  I continually turn to this book because it helps the author mount realistic plans to promote their book alongside their publisher.

When I worked at another publishing house, I worked with the marketing department and we purchased several boxes of Publicize Your Book! and sent them to new authors. It was a small investment in author education but a hopeful one to encourage the authors to be proactive in their efforts.  As for the results of this effort, I’m uncertain since I’m no longer connected to this publishing house but if even a few authors used the methods in this book, I believe the publisher received a solid return on this investment in their authors.

It’s true that in general a book gets it’s greatest publicity push in the months ahead of its release then three to six months after the release. But what about after that period passes? Does the author press on to other books (probably) and stop promoting their book (hopefully not)? The effort to tell people about your book and get the word out is ongoing.

After you pass through this initial period, look for other ways and other methods to spread the news about your book and encourage people to purchase it. Some of the strongest books at different publishing houses are their backlist or previously published books. These backlist books click along year after year with steady and increasing sales. These books may never appear on any bestseller list yet publishers love the consistent sales (and earnings) from them. Can you tap a sector of the market that will have a continual need for your book? I’m thinking of schools (which use textbooks) or conferences (ongoing needs) or even a church Bible study group.

Many books are more of a slow burn than a wildfire and slow is OK and works—for the author and the publisher. My Book Proposals That Sell just returned to second printing. I cheer because this event happened in less than a year (always a healthy sign for any book) and gives me something else to trumpet and promote. Yes all of us want to become pyromaniacs yet it takes consistent effort from the author.  You have the greatest passion for your book—much more than any publisher.

Something new in this area is Amazon.com Connect. If you haven’t seen it, it’s another way for authors to connect with their readers in a consistent basis and involves one of the largest retail spots on the planet.  I recommend taking a few minutes to check it out and learn about it. It might help you spread the burning enthusiasm for your book.

More Agent Dislikes

April 10, 2006

Agents and editors have some strong opinions about what they dislike to receive from authors. It’s critical to understand these dislikes so your submission gains a proper hearing from the recipient.  Otherwise you are wasting your energy on even submitting the material.

There are twenty-five dislikes in a chapter of Author 101 Bestselling secrets from Top Agents, The Insider’s Guide to What Agents and Publishers Really Want by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman. I wrote about five of these dislikes and today I’m going to cover five additional ones.  Like the previous list, these came in a random order and I’m going to mix my comments with some quotations from this book.Author 101 agent

Not revealing what a book is about

Firsthand I’m familiar with this kind of pitch because as an editor, they come into my mailbox. The writer believes they can write a “tease” to the agent and get them to request the manuscript. All too often this type of teasing query just gets flatly rejected or ignored.  Here’s what Frishman and Spizman write about it, “Simply saying that a book is good is not sufficient to motivate an agent to look at a manuscript. Agents need more information, including what the topic and premise are, in order to decide if the book is something they wish to consider. So tell them up front and save everyone valuable time.”

Writers who call and pitch

It’s pretty easy to understand this dislike from agents.  When it comes to pitching book ideas, it’s the written word that is going to make the greatest impression.  Some writers prefer to pitch their ideas on the telephone—which makes an impression—just not a positive impression. As Author 101 says under this point, “Agents are busy and they’re not looking for salespeople. They’re looking for writers. Although they screen their calls, some stragglers slip through…Many writers insist on calling and trying to pitch their books over the phone. Their pitches waste agents’ time and can irritate them. Agents are reluctant to get involved with writers who don’t learn about their policies and follow them.”

“Idea-a-day” authors

I’m sure you know these types of writers—and maybe you are one. Ideas are everywhere but the critical matter is which idea do you spend your focus and energy to carry out? When it comes to brainstorming ideas, don’t turn to your agent but instead bounce these ideas off another writer or a friend or let your research about the market, gather your validation for the idea.  Frishman and Spizman write, “Try not to wear your agent out by barraging him or her with more ideas than he or she can digest…Agents appreciate authors who respect their time and don’t continually use them as sounding boards for unformulated ideas.”

Authors who forget that agents have private lives

It’s pretty easy to understand this dislike from agents. The point returns to a basic wrong assumption. Yes, the agent works for his clients but they have a life beyond the business aspects of publishing—at least we try to have that type of life.  I tend to give the wrong impression at times in this area when I answer email on Sunday afternoon or late at night. As Author 101 says, “Some authors are demanding and insensitive with agents; they call them ten times a day, on holidays, after hours, before hours and even on weekends. Agents are not on call 24/7. They are not your shrink or your babysitter; they have families, lives of their own, and clear working hours.”

Arrogance

You may find this last dislike surprising but agents (and editors) can detect this attitude in a heartbeat.  Each of us should be aware of this attitude and how easily it can creep into your communication with the agent.  With the type of volume of work and years in this business, I still have a lot to learn. Here’s what Frishman and Spizman write in part about this dislike, “Some writers believe that they know more about the publishing industry than their agents do, when they actually know very little about it. When some individuals read an article or two or a book about the publishing world, they begin to think of themselves as authorities on it. While it’s important for writers to know and understand the book business, it’s foolish and arrogant for them to believe that their knowledge is equivalent or superior to that of professionals who have had careers in publishing.”

I’ve covered ten of twenty-five agent dislikes from this how-to book.  Hopefully it gives you some things to consider for your own writing life and interaction with agents and editors. 

Selective Listening

April 9, 2006

I know I promised to return to the dislikes of agents—and that will happen tomorrow. For today, I’m focused on a different matter.

Whether we realize it or not, each of us selectively listen to a conversation. I’m most conscious of this fact when I’m trying to write down material from an interview or record notes from a speech, then use those notes to write something at a later date. I can’t write fast enough to capture everything so while I’m making notes, I’m missing something.

Since college, I’ve been composing my words at the typewriter or keyboard. It’s the common way that people write these days but in the 1970s, it was an unusual method. It’s helped my production and writing that I gained this skill many years ago and have been consistently using it ever since I learned it.

When I read the newspaper, I always make a point to read the comic page. The only exception is when I read a newspaper like The New York Times or USA Today which doesn’t have a comic page. Today I loved the comic For Better or Worse. If you don’t follow this particular comic, Michael, the son has become a writer. His wife is trying to get his attention yet he is listening selectively. I’d encourage you take a look at this permanent link for this comic. I showed it to my wife and she wanted to save it (highly unusual for her). Consider how selective listening plays into your own writing life. It certainly rang true for me.

What Agents Dislike

April 8, 2006

Whether you have an agent or not, it’s always good from my view to learn about agent’s dislikes.  Because agents have to turn around and sell their projects to editors and publishers, it’s great information. You can be fairly certain the dislikes are similar for editors.

The chapter with this content comes late in the new book from Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman called Author 101 Bestselling secrets from Top Agents, The Insider’s Guide to What Agents and Publishers Really Want. I was interested in their preface to a list of the top 25 agent dislikes: “The fact that agents have so many gripes graphically drummed home to us the message of just how much agents judge and evaluate writers. When writers try to get an agent, they are asked to run a difficult course, and run it under a microscope. Although the level of scrutiny that writers receive is huge, it is definitely surmountable. However, it may take some adjustment and work. Read the following items that agents dislike and alter your approaches accordingly. Hopefully, the changes you make will improve your chances of convincing the agent you want to represent you and will help you work better and more productively.” Author 101 agent

Instead of covering all 25 dislikes, since Frishman and Spizman built a random list, I’m going to select five entries to give you a taste of what is here.

Unwillingness to promote a book

If you read these entries often you should not be surprised to find this dislike. Agents and editors alike are looking for authors who understand this essential part of the process. Here’s part of what they said under this entry, “Few nonfiction books can be successful if they’re not energetically promoted. Promoting a book can be grueling, and some writers are shocked when agents and editors tell them everything they are expected to do. If you’re unwilling or unable to promote your book, discuss it with your agent as soon as possible to identify efforts that you can make and find ways to do those promotional tasks that didn’t seem possible.”

Bad attitudes, or a feeling of superiority

Agents and editors quickly become experts at spotting someone who is overselling themselves or their idea. As these authors write, “Unless you have good verifiable reasons, don’t claim that the market for your book is exceptionally broad. If you think that your book will actually be the next Chicken Soup, dig up facts and figures to prove it.”

Writers who don’t trust their agents’ advice

You might find this one surprising. As an editor, you’d be surprised how often this happens.  You’ve established a relationship (read hired) your agent for a reason—their expertise.  As the authors write, “Agents are professionals; they know the publishing business and the literary market. They generally know more about what editors want and need than writers do. Also, they usually see the big picture better….It seems counterproductive to hire and pay an expert and not listen to his or her advice!”

Writers who don’t contact their agent when problems arise

If you don’t think there are problems or at least discussion points in the process of creating a product, then you don’t have a realistic view. It happens all the time and the key is to understand you have a resource when it happens—your agent. As these authors write, “Agents can provide creative second opinions. They usually have extensive experience in publishing and frequently they are accomplished editors. They can also be a writer’s best advisor.”

Writers who call their agent too much

“Many agents who are sole proprietors don’t have staffs, so they do most office tasks themselves. Find out when it will be convenient for them to speak with you, and schedule a phone conference at a time that will work for both of you.”

Maybe most of these dislikes were pretty obvious to you. I’m going to include five more in my next entry.

Reading About Agents

April 7, 2006

Over the last few days, I’ve been reading about literary agents. While I’m not finished with Author 101 Bestselling Secrets From Top Agents by Rick Frishman and Robyn Spizman, I wanted to write a bit about agents—and tell you about this Author 101 series. 

Author 101 is a new series of how-to books from Adams Media and two of the books have been released.  There is a free newsletter and other resources at their book site. Two of the books—book proposals and agents are in print. Two more books on nonfiction and book publicity are in process.  I’ve read the book proposal book and I’m in the process of reading this book on agents.  In terms of branding and cover design, I’m interested to see what these authors are doing.  They seem to be more interested in promoting Author 101 than a particular title or writing topic. Each book has a distinct color and content—yet what draws your eye is the large Author 101.  It will be something interesting to watch with this series.101_agents

As an editor and a writer, I’m always looking to learn more about agents.  I work with agents as they pitch novels for their clients. I also work with agents as some times they represent my work as a writer.  As many publishers close their doors to unsolicited manuscripts (because of the large volume of inappropriate material), literary agents are often screening material and looking for manuscripts and proposals which they can champion (read sell) to editors at publishing houses. I’ve always tried to meet as many literary agents as possible because I know these individuals may stumble across something that will be a perfect acquisition.  When I head to New York City in a few weeks for the American Society of Journalists and Authors meetings, I will likely spend a bit of that time meeting with a few more agents.

Just to give you a taste of this book on agents, I wanted to pick out a few choice quotes. Agents like editors look at a stacks of submissions. A subhead caught my attention, “What Turns Agents Off.” Here’s the first two paragraphs: “An immediate turn-off is when I receive an inquiry that shows the writer hasn’t done enough research,” agent Edward Knappman reports, “If I get an inquiry regarding a novel, it’s obvious that they haven’t done enough research to learn that we don’t handle fiction. If they haven’t researched our agency, the first thing I ask is, “How can they do enough research for the book?’  Another instant turn-off occurs when the agent’s name or the firm’s name is misspelled. Remarkably, agents informed us that such misspellings are common.” (p. 85).

If you’ve read these entries very often, you know that I’ve mentioned the same turn-offs as an editor. When someone misspells my first or last name, it instantly makes you suspicious about the rest of their submission. How you can misspell Terry is really a wonder but it happens a lot. Or the writer will send me a children’s book submission—when I only acquire Christian fiction.

OK, rather than end on a downbeat. I want to give two additional quotes from this book about agents. In a section interviewing different agents about queries, George Greenfield wrote, “When you have absolute belief in a project, you must sometimes walk through walls of cool rejection before you feel the warm glow of success.” Now that’s a statement each of us can put on our wall and recall often.

Here’s a good reminder about the process of getting an agent and the function of agents from Bob Silverstein, “Just as agents have to sell a project to publishers, likewise authors must sell themselves to agents. So always put your best foot forward when you make your pitch! And keep in mind the adage, “Publishers print, authors sell!”

The Debut Novel Controversy

April 6, 2006

Several weeks ago in the mid-March issue of Publisher’s Weekly, an article caught my attention with the headline, “Debunking the Debut, How valuable is the term ‘debut’ when it comes to pushing a book?”  Dutton is promoting the forthcoming coming of age novel from Eva Rice, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets and in the press materials calling it her “debut novel.”

Here’s the key information in Rachel Deahl’s excellent article, “Twice dubbing it a “debut” effort, the publisher fails to mention that the book, written by the daughter of famed White Way lyricist Tim Rice, is in fact the author’s third effort, since she previously published two books in the U.K. Whether the flub was an honest mistake or a sly PR move, the slippery language speaks to an abiding assumption in the industry: it’s always easier to sell a debut work. Right or wrong, this notion is creating some innovative, and perhaps questionable, behavior as some look for ways to claim the occasionally elusive tag.  Though Dutton failed to stipulate that Lost Art is the author’s U.S. debut, the director of marketing for Hudson Street Press and Plume, Marie Coolman, was unflapped by the oversight. “This book is a U.S. debut, so we’re calling it a fiction debut,” she said. Noting that Rice had “two very small books” published overseas, Coolman said she didn’t want to miss potential press coverage for the book by being technical. “There are some reviewers who really like first fiction, so we don’t want to lose those opportunities because something was written and published in a very small way in another continent.””

See the discussion? Rice previously published two novels in the U.K. and in fact, Lost Art isn’t a debut (or first) novel but it’s her first U.S. novel. A certain segment of the fiction reviewing press loves to look at first-time novelist and review those books.  Dutton is trying to take full advantage of their opportunity and include Lost Art among the books considered for this section. Supposedly you can only debut once and the article continues with the perspectives of different publishing insiders and journalists. Like it or not, the discussion about debut has garnered Eva Rice even more media attention.

Years ago, one of my long-time publicist friends told me that any publicity is good publicity. Whether that publicity is positive or negative at least people are talking about the book. It points out the challenge for any author and any book—to get attention. The author can’t leave the publicity and marketing efforts in the hands of their publisher. Instead, it takes a team—the author and the publisher constantly promoting their book. In some cases, the book takes a while to find it’s niche in the market. In other cases, the book never finds that niche and is taken out of print. Lissa Warren has some great advice in her article, Ten Things To Do If Your Book Isn’t Getting Media Attention. Use this article as a sWords That Sell coverpringboard for your own book publicity or marketing plans.And as you create those plans make certain you are using the most powerful words you can use to promote and sell your product.

How do you learn those words? Some people are naturals at using these words to draw people to a product. Others struggle to find the right word. If you fall into the struggle category, I recommend you get a copy of Words That Sell by Richard Bayan.  As I was writing this entry, I noticed last year, the publisher released a new edition of this reference book.  As I’ve written promotional material for different books or projects, I’ve turned to this book as a resource. The new edition shows how the words to promote are constantly evolving and changing. As writers and editors, we have to continue to work at our craft and make sure we are using the most power-packed words in our news releases or advertising or promotional letters.

The controversy over the use of words like debut will continue. Maybe it’s taught us how to gain more attention for our project.

Truth Sells Books

April 4, 2006

Each week I read a great deal about publishing and what’s going on in the industry.  Also I’m actively involved acquiring fiction for Howard Books.  In a previous entry on the writing life, I pointed out the greatest number of increased titles for 2004 was in the area of fiction.  As I’ve said before, those numbers were the number of titles created or produced. It’s fairly easy to get a book produced these days. Now selling that book into the market is a completely different story. It’s the sales numbers which are critical when it comes to bookselling.

The headline of the Publisher’s Weekly article blared, “Truth Is Stronger Than Fiction.” The article examined the sales numbers for books sold during the calendar year of 2005.  Nonfiction sold substantially higher than fiction. It’s a message rarely heard but let’s look at the numbers.  Here’s a key quote from long-time publishing journalist Daisy Maryles article, “More new nonfiction titles sold 100,000+ copies in 2005 than in fiction—154 vs. 136. Also, in nonfiction, nine books reported sales of one million+; four of those were in the two-million+ range. In fiction, only six books had sales of more than one million (and two of those were by Nicholas Sparks).”

This article in Publisher’s Weekly is loaded with sales numbers and statistics. It’s available to subscribers. I want to show you the top five books in fiction and nonfiction along with the sales numbers:

Fiction
1. The Broker by John Grisham. Doubleday (1/05) 1,827,877
2. The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown. Doubleday (3/03) *1,576, 342
3. Mary, Mary by James Patterson. Little, Brown (11/05) 1,103,036
4. At First Sight by Nicholas Sparks. Warner (10/05) 1,093,717
5. Predator by Patricia Cornwell. Putnam (10/05) 1,040,250

Nonfiction
1. Natural Cures “They” Don’t Want You to Know About by Kevin Trudeau. Alliance Publishing (6/05) 3,724,422
2. Your Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living at Your Full Potential by Joel Osteen. Warner Faith (9/04) *2,562,906
3. The Purpose-Driven Life by Rick Warren. Zondervan (10/02) *2,500,015
4. You: The Owner’s Manual by Michael F. Roizen, M.D., and Mehmet C. Oz, M.D. HarperResource (5/05) 2,000,000
5. 1776 by David McCullough. Simon & Schuster (**1,730,000)

Here’s the great irony with this sales information from my perspective.  Many writers are gravitating toward fiction. They wrongly believe they don’t need to create a marketing plan or have a “platform” to sell a good story.  Because I go to the writers’ conferences and read the submissions, I see firsthand the poorly-crafted results.

Some of these people who are trying hard (and unsuccessfully) to write fiction should probably move into the nonfiction arena. There is value in learning the craft of storytelling in the magazine world. Then the writer can take that storytelling excellence and carry it into writing nonfiction.

Which categories of nonfiction? Some of the top 2005 selling books were in the religion inspirational category. Also cookbooks were a strong performer along with biography and autobiography.  Here’s another interesting quote from the article, “Biography and autobiography enjoyed lots of bestseller play this year, too. For the most part, historical biographies outsold books by and about contemporary figures.”

From my work in publishing, I know that 90% of nonfiction books are sold on the basis of a book proposal—not a book manuscript.  On the other hand with fiction, the author (particularly a first-time author) has to write the entire manuscript. The fiction writer produces a 80,000 word manuscript on speculation (without certainty of actually publishing that story?).

This message seems to be buried in the excitement of writers to produce fiction. The sales numbers are in for 2005 and the results aren’t what many of those writers expect—the truth sells books.