Archive for May, 2006

To Do The Do Over

May 30, 2006

It happened again last night. Another author whose book had gone out of print approached me to see if Howard Books would be interested.  With the large volume of books published each year (somewhere around 190,000 new titles), it’s to be expected a number of books go out of print each year.  It is a lot of work to get a book into print with a traditional publisher. Yet with a single letter to the author from the publisher, the book can be taken out of print.

Whenever the publisher stock on a book gets low, then the publisher prepares to reprint the book and replenish the supply of books. At this point in time, the publisher also carefully checks the sales history of the book.  Internally the sales history of a book is constantly monitored but it gets special focus at this time.  The sales history is one factor to help project the future sales and determine how many books to reprint.  It’s a basic principle of printing where the larger the print run for a book translates into the cheaper the per unit cost for each book. Against this printing principle is the concern about storage for the publisher’s warehouse.  It’s not effective or efficient for a publisher to have thousands of books in their warehouse. It’s a delicate balance with these variables and decisions. During this time, a publisher will also consider whether they want to keep your book in print or not. If the sales history for the book doesn’t meet their expectations (and it’s different for each publishing house), then someone in the publishing house will write the author a letter and alert them the book is going out of print.

Contractually the publisher offers the remaining copies of the book to the author at a great discount. In actual practice, some publishers are better at handling this situation for their books than others. For example, I recall a four book series where the publisher reached this decision point about taking the book out of print. They had completely run out of two of the titles and had plenty of stock of the remaining two titles.  I was not offered the chance to buy the two books which had no stock but only the two titles where they had copies. From talking with many authors, I know that my experience in this area isn’t isolated but it happens a great deal. When you sign your book contract, no one is thinking about the time when your book will go out of print yet it happens.

Your book has gone out of print. Do you do it over as a self-published book? Some people take this step and sell the book at conferences and other events. Do you find another publisher? It’s not impossible for your out of print book to be taken with another publisher. As an acquisitions editor, I have contracted these books and brought them back into print. But know these situations are rare.  Much more often, I have turned down these types of possibilities.

Like many things in publishing, it will boil down to your pitch to the publishing house. What type of first impression are you going to make to get the acquisitions editor and the publication group at the publishing house excited about your out of print book? Unlike a brand new book idea, the out of print book will involve another set of questions. Why didn’t your book work the first time? What happened within the publishing house or with the marketing or with the launch or with _____?  What length of time was your book in print? What length of time has it been out of print? Are those old copies still around and sold on the used market? To what extent? What were the sales numbers for your book wMaking the Perfect Pitch coverhen it was originally published? What is the market for this book and will this publisher be able to reach that market? What about the new edition will be different? Will you rewrite it? Will it have updated statistics, stories and information? Will it have a new foreword and new high profile endorsements? You have to present some key bit of information about how your new book will be distinct and different and have a better possibility of reaching the audience than it did during the first attempt. Otherwise you let your out of print book slide into oblivion and that’s OK—but it is your choice.

I recommend you use books like Katharine Sands’ Making the Perfect Pitch to refine your pitch to a new publisher.  While this book is focused on how to pitch books to literary agents, it could give you the tools you need to do the do over for your out of print book.

Conference Extras

May 29, 2006

Over the last few days, I’ve been writing about some of my experiences at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  If you haven’t been to this conference, it’s near Asheville, North Carolina and home to some of the most beautiful scenes in America—especially in the springtime. (I know that was a subjective statement but it’s my writing life.)  As you can see from my entries, it’s an intense experience for anyone on the faculty and especially the editors. Writers have spent their time, money and resources to come to this conference to learn and meet the faculty. From the minute I walked outside of my room, I was engaged with various people. Ridgecrest Mist

Some of you may wonder why I do it? Publishers have a long-standing love / hate relationship with these writers conferences. The editor is away from the publishing house, misses meetings and the day-to-day work of publishing (which continues to pile up when you are away). Some editors never attend these conferences. Others have limited their conferences to one a year (or maybe two).  If you’ve been checking my speaking schedule, you know that I’m out a bit more often.  I have many different reasons for going to these conferences. I enjoy the opportunity to give back to writers and help others on the journey. Also for my acquisitions role, I’m keeping an eye for the undiscovered treasure of a manuscript. It’s always on my radar.

I’m going to give you a glimpse at some of these other reasons I go to these conferences and some of what happened last week at Blue Ridge. In many ways, it’s like going to a huge meeting of old friends mixed with new relationships. In some cases, I’ve known writers and editors for more than twenty years. In other cases, faculty members are some of my Howard Books authors and it gave me a chance to get the update on their particular project.  Many of the people at the conference (participants and faculty) would not know these people are Howard Books authors because their books are still in the publication pipeline and will not be released for some time.

While there aren’t televisions in the rooms at Ridgecrest (at least I didn’t have one), after the last meeting of the evening, I enjoyed going to the lounge near our rooms. The faculty stayed in a similar location and there was a TV on our floor. I’ve never watched 24 but a large number of editors and writers instantly went Shhhhhh when I spoke (even quietly) during the program. Obviously I encountered a room full of 24 fans. On two other nights, we gathered to watch American Idol.  People cheered and talked but only when the muted commercials were playing. Everything was quiet when the actual programs were on the screen.

During another off moment, I walked around the Lifeway Bookstore at Ridgecrest and talked books with some of the participants and faculty members. It was great fun. I enjoyed the ride to the conference and from the conference. On the way in, I rode with McNair Wilson, the creative keynote speaker. He had one of the more unusual book ideas that I saw at the conference—and it wasn’t for me since I acquire fiction.  He has a manuscript called Donuts on the Moon, Brainstorming Secrets of a Theme Park Designer. Instead of creating a book proposal, McNair has a mock manuscript with cartoons and other fascinating bits that I enjoyed looking through it. Who knows where that manuscript will be published and if it will even retain the same title and feel before it appears in print. On the way from the conference to the airport, Alton Gansky was also in the van. It was fun to talk shop about fiction and catch up on family during that brief trip. From going to these conferences, I’ve known Al and Becky Gansky for several years.

One last experience from the Blue Ridge conference.  According to the published schedule, Monday evening was supposed to be the movie, Vow to Cherish based on a book from Deb Raney, who was also on the faculty. Through some snafu, the movie wasn’t shown that evening but was shown on Tuesday evening.  Some of the participants along with the majority of the faculty bailed out of that movie. How do I know? I was standing in the back of the auditorium and about to return to my room to handle some pending work. I got a frantic wave from another faculty member and pulled into the back of the room. The scheduled movie wasn’t going to happen so they decided to substitute with the editor panel. Where were the editors? There were a grand total of four of us in the room: Len Goss, Senior Editor from B & H Publishing Group, Jesse Florea magazine editor at Focus on the Family, Dan Penwell acquisitions editor from AMG Publishers and me. Instead of a stage full of editors from magazines and book publishers, the four of us conducted the panel. Literary agent Janet Benrey from the Hartline Literary Agency moderated the panel, fielded the audience questions and did an excellent impromptu task at keeping things moving. This panel was an unplanned surprise.  Each participant was able to talk more about their particular company and have more of a presence at the conference from the limited number of available editors. It was great fun and a conference extra from my perspective.

Yes, you go to these writers conferences for the scheduled events but be on the lookout for these extra unexpected benefits. It can feed some unusual opportunities into your writing life.

Information Overload

May 28, 2006

I can see it in the eyes of the participants about 3 p.m. every afternoon.  People invest a great deal of time, energy and effort to attend a writer’s conference.  During this mid-afternoon period, most of them have reached their maximum absorption rate. Last week at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference, I was a part of this process.  I taught the continuing class on the nonfiction book. Each writers conference is different in their pattern. At Blue Ridge, we taught four hour and fifteen minute classes.  As I mentioned in this post, I use a lot of handouts in my teaching. I use handouts for several reasons. 1) It allows me to reinforce the points that I’ve made orally. 2) It allows me to give additional information beyond the classroom for added value and benefit. 3) It reinforces the fact that we can’t learn everything about the nonfiction book in a few hours at a writer’s conference.  The classroom time mostly points people in the right direction and helps them understand some of the dynamics of publishing.

I sent my handouts ahead of time to Blue Ridge and when I arrived, they were waiting in my classroom.  This conference allows each faculty member to have the same room for the entire week.  I had five large boxes of handouts waiting for distribution. After the third day, one of the participants turned to me and said, “It’s great you give out so much information through these handouts and your teaching. I was here last year and I don’t remember getting this much information. Were you here last year?” I confirmed that last year I also taught this session yet I change change/ improve and add to the handouts. “I must have made a different choice for my continuing session,” she replied.

Other people have told me about taking these handouts home and organizing them and using them extensively throughout the months and years ahead as they work on different parts of the nonfiction book. Throughout my teaching, I use different illustrations and even add personal experiences from the last few months into my speaking.  Also I include recent statistics or publishing information that I’ve picked up from my reading. Each of these morning continuing classes were packed with almost every chair in the room filled. In a couple of these morning sessions, people had to find chairs from other rooms and bring them into my session or sit on the floor.

Twice I taught workshops in the late afternoon.  These sessions had few attendees but were recorded. My afternoon sessions had only a handful of participants—read less than six. Many people purchase the tapes of these sessions and even if there were few people in the classroom, the workshop went ahead as planned. With the conference director, I questioned the value of these sessions. She instantly said, “Well, what are we supposed to do, Terry? Plan a nap or hike or something? People pay good money to come to this conference and you can’t have a blank schedule—even if people don’t go to it, at least they had the possibility.” I didn’t have a creative alternative answer to this situation. I knew for a fact that late in the day, people are on information overload so they are ready to return to their room and rest or shop in the bookstore or something different. I know for my part of the conference, I built a lot of value into the teaching sessions. It was a great opportunity for me to help people learn about various aspects of book publishing

Gentle Reality at a Conference

May 27, 2006

As Heather mentioned in her comment yesterday, at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, there are traditions to follow.

Once again we followed the bagpipe player to the opening session of the conference.  At the opening session, the faculty gives their introduction.  From attending these conferences, I understand the importance of this introduction.  I wasn’t giving a keynote or devotional talk to the conference so it would be my only time to appear in front of everyone. I prepared several short statements.  Many participants use the faculty introductions to plan their time at the conference. I taught the continuing class on the nonfiction book. My introduction went something like, “There is a huge blockbuster film related to a book which released this weekend with a lot of publicity and buzz. I’m here to report the book sales numbers for 2005 are in—and the truth or nonfiction outsold fiction. I’m Terry Whalin, the fiction acquisitions editor at Howard Books and I’m teaching the continuing class on the nonfiction book. Come to my class and see these sales numbers and learn about how you can create a nonfiction book which finds a traditional publisher. I’ve brought an important book related to this topic (I held my book—see a bit of my preparation?) called Book Proposals That Sell and I have a conference special discount. See you at my class.”

I was short, focused and off the stage quickly yet with a solid point to my introduction. You’d be surprised how long some people talked with their self-introduction. At the end of the opening session, the participants could sign up for their 15–minute meetings with various faculty members.  I wasn’t in the room for these sign-ups. The faculty meeting room was in another building and we sat at a series of long tables across from the participant.  My sessions were limited because I taught over eight hours during the four day conference.  Other faculty members didn’t teach much but met throughout the morning and afternoon with participants. 

Tuesday afternoon I did a solid afternoon from 1:30 p.m until 4:45 p.m. with supper scheduled at 5 p.m. (where I hosted a table of others who didn’t get a session). Many conferences send out this schedule ahead of time to the faculty members to allow them to check it and make sure it has some breaks. I must have missed that email (I doubt it was sent for this conference) because my schedule was completely full.

These face to face meetings with individuals are always a challenge.  While it’s still difficult to say no (and as editors we say no a great deal), often we send a form rejection letter. Many years ago, I made a personal promise to use these sessions to help writers have a gentle dose of reality.  It’s easy for the editor to take a completely different stance. I’ve heard of some editors who have every writer send them the manuscript. Then the writer leaves the appointment happy and expectant. The editor is off the hot seat and takes home a bunch of stuff (or has the writer send them stuff), then holds it for a period of time—then rejects everything. Now what does that process accomplish or teach the writer? Almost nothing other than they began to ride the roller coaster of publishing.

Instead I’ve tried to gently tell the person the truth about their manuscript—no matter how hard it may be for me to say it to them face to face. I confess that I’ve received over 200 fiction submissions since January and can only contract six to eight of those books (a year). I attempt to find something encouraging and some recommendation for improvement—either on their manuscript or some resource they can use for other submissions. I hope you can see the challenge from the editor’s view for these meetings.  No one likes to make people cry—but often I find people close to tears because of these honest words.

One pastor eagerly called me before this conference and planned to meet with me. He had received great encouragement on his poetry from the Scriptures and had written something patterned after Calvin Miller’s The Singer Trilogy.  I read the Miller books years ago and was familiar with them—but it wasn’t what I’m charged to acquire or consider for Howard Books. I read the poetry during the session (something I confessed that I know almost zero and have no real skill to evaluate).  I have to admire this pastor. He came prepared with a flow and agenda of information that he wanted to accomplish during his 15 minutes. His plan was to culminate with my taking his manuscript back home and consider publishing.  I tried to bring gentle reality into the situation—yet I could see this man almost in tears of disappointment as the session ended.

Because I was teaching on nonfiction, some people signed up to show me their nonfiction and get my input about it.  One nurse who was taking my class came to her 15–minute session with her editor/ publicist had worked on a personal journey with an extremely ill child. Her book idea had a number of pluses including statistics about the audience, marketing ideas and application for the reader. Yet the pictures of her child were scattered throughout each chapter. This feature would be a costly issue for a publisher to produce and the publisher would have little motivation to actually do it—since this author was unknown. Again my challenge was gentle reality.

Another 15 minute meeting was with an attorney from Virginia who wrote suspense fiction in her limited free time. In the middle of caring for her children and husband as well as working a challenging law career, she was writing stories. I expressed my admiration for her diligence in writing this type of material. I liked her basic plot and she had an agent representing her work. Yet again I had to gently tell this author that I didn’t have any room on my small fiction list for such a project. I encouraged her to keep at it and continue looking for the right connection at the right time and place.

The process is draining for the individual and the editor—but hopefully you get a taste of what happened last week. It’s valuable for each person from my perspective.

Wide-Eyed Excitement

May 26, 2006

It feels like I might have my fingers on the wrong keys a bit today.  It’s a four-hour flight from Charlotte, North Carolina to Phoenix, Arizona and with the start of Memorial Day Weekend every single seat was filled. I’m glad to be back home again after five days at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writer’s Conference. If you haven’t ever been to this particular writer’s conference, I’d encourage you to consider coming next year. It has grown to become one of the larger Christian writer’s conferences.  Last year, they had about 275 and this year they had over 400 attending the conference. In addition to those 400 people, a large faculty attended the conference. Why do you care about the size of the faculty?  It gives you much more opportunity to see and meet different types of professionals and learn from their experiences.

Ridgecrest headerTucked into the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, the Ridgecrest Conference Center is one of two large Baptist conferences in the United States. It is almost magical in terms of the facility and the staff. Because I’ve been going to this conference for several years, it’s almost like old home week for me to greet some of the staff members of their bookstore and other places. While the place doesn’t always matter for these writers conferences, it is a factor in your consideration.

My bent in these settings is to focus on the various people who are attending and also to get to spend a few moments with the various faculty members. Some people return to this conference each year while for at least half of the participants, this conference is their introduction to the world of writing. I love their wide-eyed excitement.  Most of them have planned for certain things to happen at the conference.  For example, they have written a book and they plan to sell that project—or at least interest a particular editor.  After about the third day, most of them have radically shifted those expectations and understand they came to the conference for a completely different unplanned reason.

Hopefully when you attend these conferences, you learn that editors don’t have all of the answers. That editors are human beings and make mistakes. Yet you’ve learned to listen to our experiences and our insight because we have been around in this business for a while and do have some valuable insight for your own writing life.  For the next few entries, I plan to give you some details about my time in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Escaping the Heat

May 20, 2006

If you follow the weather, you will know it’s been unusually hot in the Phoenix area. We hit the “triple digits” nine days ago and have stayed with it every single day since that time (yes over 100 degrees). Yesterday they tied the 1973 record of 105. Now you can talk about the low humidity and dry heat all you want but that’s pretty warm.  Within the last several months, I downloaded a little free program from the Weather Channel which puts the outside temperature on my toolbar. I’ve found it fascinating to watch the temperature changing throughout the day. The program is full of surprises. This week we had a freak thunderstorm roll through the Valley of the Sun and the national weather service issued a severe thunderstorm warning. My  little temperature turned red and even sounded a bit of thunder, which I didn’t know about until it happened. It definitely caught my attention that something was happening outside my window.Blue Ridge 2006

Early tomorrow morning, I’m flying east to Asheville, North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference.  The conference is a pure change of pace and I look forward to the opportunity to teach my continuing class on the nonfiction book plus a couple of individual workshops. It amounts to about eight hours of teaching about writing. I love this opportunity to give back to others and help them in this journey of publishing. Last year 275 people attended this conference. This year 410 are registered so it will be substantially bigger and busier. I’ve already had one eager author call me—yes, he tracked down my phone number (long removed from the Howard Books website because of another story).  I was fascinated to listen to this author make his oral pitch for his fiction project (something I encourage you never to do) then I said I look forward to meeting with him and looking at his work (which is true).

From going to these conferences, I understand many of the people attending are investing in their first conference experience (usually about 50%). These writers are attending with high goals to sell a particular book or meet a particular set of editors.  For another group at the conference, it will be like old home week of any reunion. They are eager to see old friends, catch up on the news and learn more about their craft or the publishing business and gain some inspiration. Usually about the third day, the first time conference people have gained something valuable—perspective. They have shown their manuscript to three or four people and received some honest help and know they need to redouble their efforts when they return home.  When you make the effort to attend a conference and receive this type of feedback, it is priceless and can save years of heartache and rejection.

My challenge as an editor and fellow writer is to be diplomatic yet honest. I’ll never forget what a fellow faculty member told me about another editor, “He takes everything and encourages every writer to send him their manuscript. That encouragement dispenses lots of hope until one or two months later when he rejects everything.” I doubt this editor was taking this type of stance but for me that’s unfair and not what I do. I try to find something that needs work, provide some encouragement and information, then return the manuscript—on the spot. Because I receive many submissions and have few spots, I will be hard pressed to take home anything. Yet I am always open and looking for that stand out submission. I could be surprised at what I discover. It’s part of the adventure of these conferences.

I’m going to be teaching about the value of nonfiction and how your nonfiction idea can impact your world. Here’s a little behind the scenes detail about the Blue Ridge Conference. Most conferences restrict the faculty about the number of handouts for their classes. Some editors don’t use handouts but I do. I can understand the restriction because it adds to the overall expenses for the conference. I’ve had no restriction at this conference so I take full advantage of the situation.  I try to build so much value into my few hours of teaching that the participant feels like my sessions were worthy of their time and energy to attend. I’ve not counted my handouts but I believe I have close to 100 pages (no there wasn’t an extra zero there). The contents of my handouts are completely different than Book Proposals That Sell (which will be available in the conference bookstore). My oral presentations will be completely different from my book. It will be fun to see what happens during these sessions.

While I could potentially write something about The Writing Life, it will be difficult to find any time over the next few days. If you don’t hear anything from me for a few days. You’ll know the reason. I’m escaping the heat to the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains. I hope to see some of you there.

No Fun But Necessary

May 19, 2006

For the last several months, I’ve been had a repetitious email correspondence with a magazine editor at a well-known publication. According to my past experience with this publication and with the verbal and email reassurances from the editor, they pay on acceptance. My article was written and accepted months ago, yet I haven’t received payment.

Faithfully I’ve been checking on my check every two or three weeks. Each time this editor responds quickly and said she has checked again and it will be going out on Monday. Then two more weeks go by without payment so I check on it again. I needed to apply more pressure and wondered what to do next.

It’s a hard situation. You don’t want to kill your relationship with this editor (and publication) yet as a writer, you did the work and deserve to be fairly paid for that work. It’s a tricky balance. If you are too threatening and forceful, you may get paid but never write for them again.  If you are too lax about payment, you may get stuck.  After over 20 years of freelancing, I’ve seen many publications come and go for no explanation to someone on the outside looking in. The magazine business is a difficult one with small profit margins and it’s tricky to stay in business.

It’s in times like these where writers need to stand together and learn from the experience of others. It’s another reason I belong to several writer organizations and play an active role in one of them. The American Society of Journalists and Authors was formerly known as the Society of Magazine Writers. The organization is much broader than magazine writers so many years ago they changed their name to ASJA. The ASJA has a Grievance Committee to help members in this particular situation. The service is only for members so please don’t go to them with your payment problems (unless you want to join).

The Grievance Committee advised me to write a letter to my editor. The letter with my letterhead should go through the regular mail (not email) and be sent certified with a return receipt acknowledgment. In this letter, I recounted the history or our interaction on email, sent copies of the email, sent copies of my invoices and gave a firm deadline date for payment.  While it wasn’t any fun, it was a necessary step for me to take in this case. I wrote my letter and mailed it this week. Hopefully it resolves the situation and I receive my payment. If not there are additional steps I can take to apply more pressure on the publication. I’m not eager to take any of these steps but I will take them if necessary. Thankfully as a writer, I’ve never had to take these steps—even sending the printed letter via certified mail was a first for me. I hope it does the trick—spur whatever internal process to secure my payment.

You will note that I’ve tried to disguise the specific magazine where I have this “situation.” It may be quickly resolved (my hope) yet it’s probably happening to other writers. You need to stand together with an organization or take proactive steps for payment rather than just shrug it off. It’s another different glimpse into my writing life.

Getting A Foot in the Publisher’s Door

May 18, 2006

Last week I received another new how-to writing book which is just hitting the bookstores from my friends Len Goss and Don Aycock. These two men have years of commitment to producing excellent how-to books for writers. One of my long-time favorite books from this pair is Inside Religious Publishing which Zondervan released in 1991 (now out of print).  One of the chapters in that book from Mike Hyatt is an earlier view of his thinking about nonfiction book proposals. The updated article from Mike Hyatt is one of the appendices in Book Proposals That Sell.  You have to admire Len and Don for their teamwork and continued work to mentor Christian writers.

Little Handbook coverNow The Little Handbook to Perfecting the Art of Christian Writing, Getting Your Foot in the Publisher’s Door is available and loaded with great advice and information.  For full disclosure, I sent a tiny bit of material to these authors and it appears scattered throughout the book. What I like about The Little Handbook is how the authors have turned to a variety of writers, agents and editors within the Christian industry for their advice, then woven it into a solid book.

Everyone is looking for the answer to this question: how do I get published? Or if you are published: how do I write a bestseller? The answer is there isn’t a single path or a single solution. It’s different for each person and that’s why it’s a combination of art and science that we call publishing.

Today I want to give you a small taste of The Little Handbook. I’ve intentionally selected a piece from Goss and Aycock. Chapter 5 is titled Writing From the Editors’ Perspective. “Throughout this book we have stressed the importance of doing your homework and research into both your subject matter and the publishing process. Some writers say, “I love to write, but I can’t stand the business stuff. I’ll just leave that up to the publishing house.” That is an understandable sentiment but a misguided one. As a writer seeking publication, you are responsible for everything regarding your work, from the initial idea through the printing process culminating in helping to sell the book. Thus, the more you know about the entire process, the better off you will be.”

“One important piece of the publishing puzzle is to understand what makes editors tick. Why do they make the decisions they make? What factors cause them to reject some manuscripts and accept others? What mistakes do they see writers make over and over? In order to help answer these and other important questions, we asked a number of editors to talk frankly about the entire scope of Christian writing today. They responded enthusiastically and gave us the information you will read in this chapter.”

“We asked several questions that the editors represented here answered. If you study their replies and take to heart their advice, you will be light-years ahead of the person who does not know this information. Remember, no one will do your work for you. Getting your foot into the editorial door can sometimes result in bruises, but all wounds heal! Learn from the editors then go on and slide your shoe right in there.”

I’ve given a single short example of the wisdom in this book.

A Glimpse into the Life of a Playwright

May 17, 2006

Several weeks ago the New York Times magazine ran a glimpse into the life of playwright Richard Greenberg.  I love Broadway plays and every chance I get to New York, I try to get to the theater—at least once and some times several times. I find it a magical experience but even as a writer, I don’t often think about the playwright who wrote the words of the actors.  It takes a special gift to write such beautiful words and plays.

Just look at the opening to well-written piece from Alex Witchel, “As the playwright Richard Greenberg and the director Doug Hughes hung around the stage of the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center waiting for the noise to subside and their meeting to begin, some not-so-idle chitchat was in order. Hughes’s Broadway production of “Doubt” had just changed casts and been re-reviewed, mostly positively, the previous day.
“I don’t read reviews myself,” Hughes said. “I have someone who is on my side read them, then tell me about them.”

“I don’t read them at all,” Greenberg said.

“You’re a better man than I,” Hughes declared.

“I’m a scareder man than you,” Greenberg answered.

No one knows better than Greenberg that “scareder” is not a word, but with five plays in production — four of them new — he’s allowed.”

Later in the article, we learn, “Greenberg is somewhat misunderstood because he doesn’t get out much. At 48, he is already the author of 28 plays; the extent of the interviews he has given in the last 15 years or so consists mostly of snippets delivered by phone, from an agent’s office, a rehearsal hall or his local diner. His social reticence is a consequence, he says, of being burned by the spotlight of theatrical Schadenfreude when “Eastern Standard” became a sensation in 1989, combined with a renewed zeal to work after a bout of Hodgkin’s lymphoma went scarily undiagnosed in 1992 (it was later cured).”

Notice how Greenberg doesn’t get out a lot—to his own plays or other plays. Instead he’s tied to his computer and writing. It’s a life I can understand and appreciate.

Unlike the playwright, most of my work is tied to the printed page—the query letters, the fiction manuscripts and other projects—like the nonfiction books that I’m involved writing.  There are times when I do escape from my computer. One of those times are coming up next week. I’ll be teaching at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference which begins on Sunday.

Use What’s In Your Hands

May 16, 2006

Over fifteen years ago, I was wandering the aisles of the American Booksellers convention (now known as Book Expo).  It’s the largest general market bookseller trade show in the United States.  I had been published in a few magazines and hasn’t written a single book at that point in my journey. With wide-eyed excitement, I wandered the aisles looking at the new products and meeting different vendors and authors.  This type of book event is closed to the general public but retailers attend to learn about forthcoming products. Publishers create advance review copies of these forthcoming books and give them away at the event.Moody magazine

Walking past the Doubleday booth, I picked up an advance review copy (ARC) of a book called Covenant House by Bruce Ritter.  It was in late May and this hardcover book from the Catholic priest would not appear in the bookstores until the following February. I loved the writing and the message of this particular book because Ritter had worked in the inner city of New York rescuing runaways, providing shelter and a new fresh start to lives headed in the wrong direction.  With this ARC, I had an opportunity which I seized.  I knew the editor at Moody Monthly (which became Moody and is no longer in print). I wrote a query letter to this editor highlighting the riveting stories from Bruce Ritter and the stirring call for Christians to care about this little discussed aspect of our world.

The editor responded with a note to send the review and specified the word length and tone for Moody.  On the deadline, I submitted my review and it was eventually printed in the magazine. Notice the timeframe variable in this story.  I had this book well in an advance of the publication date. Magazines typically are working eight to ten weeks ahead of their publication date (some times there are even longer lead times). I pitched the right book at the right time and got it into the magazine.

I used what was in my hands to use. It’s the opportunity for each of us. You may not have an ARC but you have a neighbor or a friend with a fascinating personal experience. Can you write this personal experience story into a magazine article? Or you may be passionate about children’s books and are writing lots of this type of material and getting rejected. Can you switch gears and do another type of writing where you can get it published? Each of us face these types of decisions. I’d encourage you to use whatever is in your hands.