Archive for June, 2006

What Is A ThrillerFest?

June 30, 2006

Last Sunday, a series of newspaper articles about the first ThrillerFest caught my attention. The International Thriller Writers sponsored the event. I had never heard about this writing group with over 300 members. My personal schedule for the week was already pretty full but I decided to make time to attend part of the schedule. If you check the schedule link, you can see most of the event begins tomorrow and Saturday. I’m not going to be able to get to it tomorrow and even Saturday is questionable.

Thursday afternoon, I did manage to catch four workshops and some great content. I’ll be using some of this material in a forthcoming magazine article. I was fascinated to learn over 400 people will be attending this event. You can scan the schedule and recognize a number of names from the current bestseller list such as Steve Berry or R. L. Stine along with many others. Besides authors, literary agents, want to be writers, retailers and librarians were attending the ThrillerFest meetings.

Here’s just a taste of what I learned in the afternoon session called “Buzz Your Thriller” with M.J. Rose, David J. Montgomery and Sarie Morrell.

David J. Montgomery is an author and a critic. He writes a regular book review column for the Chicago Sun Times. His number one point to emphasize to writers?: Make sure your book reaches the book reviewer. Sounds simple right? He said, “You’d be astonished how often the publisher never sends the book. The author has to be vigilant and make sure the people who review crime fiction get your books.” Then he explained the list of possible reviewers isn’t very large—maybe a dozen. “If nobody else gets the book, make sure those few people get it and follow up with the reviewer to make sure he has received the book.”

Beyond receiving the book for review, also Montgomery recommended you make sure the reviewer receives the book early enough to be able to do something with it. It takes time to read the book then write your review. For example, right now Montgomery is writing his September column for the Chicago Sun Times. If your book released earlier this year, it will be too late to get into his September column. It was a basic which you would presume as an author would happen. Montgomery encouraged authors not to presume but to follow-up.

That’s a taste of ThrillerFest. I found it fascinating.

Another Publishing Location

June 29, 2006

Whether it is magazine or book publishing, many people instantly think of New York City.  A feature article, “Singing Nashville’s Praises” by Edward Nawotka in Publisher’s Weekly puts the spotlight on another place in the central portion of the United States. You can read the entire article and study the publishing numbers and statistics which contain a lot of great information.

Some people wonder why the rise of interest in spirituality in the marketplace. Thomas Nelson CEO and president Mike Hyatt provides insight in this article. Nawotka writes, “Hyatt attributes the success of inspirational publishing to three trends. The first is demographics: “As baby boomers grow older and confront their mortality, they are returning to their faith,” he says. Next is globalization, which is “bringing new religions to our shores and causing people to reconsider how they worship.” Last is the rise of megachurches, which turn preachers into celebrities (think Joel Osteen) and can turn out a huge audience for a single author appearance.”  These three trends make interesting food for thought. How can you write something which connects with one or two of these trends? It might be the missing key to your next book proposal.

If you carefully read and process this Publisher’s Weekly article on Nashville, you will learn about other publishers and some interesting statistics.

Finally, let me recommend another place to spend a bit of time reading. In the same June 19th issue of Publisher’s Weekly, the inside back cover of the magazine caught my attention with a bright green ad and the large words: big bad book blog  Everything you need to know to ROCK the book industry.  OK, I typed in the URL and went for a visit. I added this site to my blogroll. I didn’t get everything read but I’ll be returning often to see what I can learn here.

The Heart-Shaped Book Cover

June 28, 2006

The magazine cover instantly caught my attention.  For their June 19th issue, which I pulled out of my mailbox yesterday, a red heart-shaped hardcover book with simply “XXOO” graced the cover of Publisher’s Weekly. Each week PW covers a different aspect of the book publishing industry.  While I have varied interest, some weeks contain more interest for me than others. I could tell this week was going to be about romance fiction. The headline teased, “Romancing the Author, How a publisher turned a housewife into an industry.” While I know a number of housewives turned romance authors, one author popped into my mind as a possibility—Debbie Macomber.

Debbie MacomberOver a year ago at the Frontiers in Writing Conference in Amarillo, Texas, I met Debbie and her husband Wayne. She was the keynote speaker at the conference and is one of the most personable and approachable authors—especially when you understand that she’s regularly on the New York Times bestseller list and has sold over 60 million books during the last 25 years. More than a simple housewife, Debbie is a savvy businesswoman.  I purchased one of her books carry home from the conference. As she signed it to me, Debbie said, “Now, Terry, you know this book is the second of a five book series.” Talk about the power of suggestive sales. I admitted my ignorance about where this book fell into the sequence of books.  I recommend you carefully read this link about how Debbie entered the publishing world. It’s a fascinating story about how she read, studied and wrote to begin her career on a rented typewriter.

Back to my guess about the subject of the Publisher’s Weekly cover story.  The story was about Debbie Macomber with a quick search online I found this article for you to read.  When you read this article, make sure you notice several key facts:

* “Romance dominates the American fiction market, accounting for 40% of all sales.”

* Debbie was not an overnight success.  She began writing for the Silhouette Special Edition series at Harlequin which dozens of authors write and it contains more than a thousand different books.  When I go to writer’s conferences, I meet so many writers who want to instantly land on the bestseller list but Debbie has been in the trenches faithfully writing and work for years. Now she’s written more than 150 books and each year her sales continue to increase.

* She’s grown her audience and fan base. Craig Swinwood, the executive vice president of retail marketing at Harlequin said in this article, “Debbie’s writing is consistently high quality. But we’re careful not to drive new readers to an old series that doesn’t relate to a new book they might just have read. But in general, new readers want to read all they can. There are probably 200,000 core Macomber readers who we can count on to read everything.”

While I’ve only heard a hint of this project, Debbie has a forthcoming nonfiction book and I’ll be watching for it. I was celebrating this exposure for Debbie’s work. It couldn’t happen to a nicer writer.

Worth Watching for Time Alone

June 27, 2006

The Lake HouseLast weekend, my wife and I caught the movie release of The Lake House. From the reviews, we suspected it would be different.  The Arizona Republic movie reviewer tagged the movie as bad, which doesn’t make you want to run right out and see it (provided you agree with his opinion and in this case I don’t).  This film with Sandra Bullock and Keanu Reeves released on June 16th and not even two weeks later, it’s already fading in the box office. I can tell you right away that we enjoyed the film and it contains something special—especially if you are looking for something different.

The story evolves around an independent-minded medical doctor (Sandra Bullock) who once occupied a lake home. She begins exchanging love notes with a frustrated architect (Keanu Reeves).  Through the exchange, they learn they are both living in the same house and yet separated by two years. Throughout the film, they unravel the mystery of this time separation. For most of the storyline the couple is apart and trying to figure out how this weird time warp has happened and what they can do to resolve it.

I can understand why the reviewer didn’t like it. The time situation alone in this film broke the typical conventions and expectations of the viewer. Yet the time difference also elevated this film out of the ordinary and made it a fascinating romance. It kept my attention. My feelings about the film were confirmed as the closing credits rolled and my wife turned to me and said, “I loved it.” It is a rare film that I will watch repeatedly but I suspect I could see The Lake House several times and learn something from each viewing.

With our own storytelling, we want to do something which will elevate it from the ordinary into the extraordinary.  Admittedly, it is not easy but is part of our task as writers. We need to continue to work at our craft.

The Last Minute Book Title

June 26, 2006

Each month more than five million people receive National Geographic magazine. If you’ve already read this story, I apologize for the duplication.  The detail was buried in an article by David Doubilet in the July 2006 issue called “Remembering Peter Benchley.”  It related to the title for the best-selling book, Jaws. “The book was still without a title half an hour before it went to press. Jaws was published in the spring of 1974.”Peter Benchley

According to this article, Benchley had been freelancing.  Also note Benchley’s family background to become a writer when Doubilet writes, “The son of the novelist Nathaniel Benchley and the grandson of celebrated humorist Robert Benchley, Peter was raised in a world of words.” Then we learn about the origins of Benchley’s landmark novel. “The idea of a shark story had been rattling around in Peter’s mind for a while as he scrabbled for work as a freelance journalist. Tom Congdon, an editor at Doubleday, saw Peter’s June 1970 Geographic article on Nantucket and liked it. He invited Peter for lunch. Later that afternoon, Back at Doubleday, Peter borrowed Tom’s typewriter and wrote a proposal for the book in 15 minutes; an advance for four chapters of a shark story soon followed. This was one time when Peter’s sense of humor didn’t help the situation. The chapters arrived, and Tom had to tell Peter, “Gore and funny don’t mix.” Peter went back to rewrite.” Well-known National Geographic photographer David Doubilet has much more to say about his friend in this well-written article.

I’ll admit there are some unusual elements in this story—the last minute title and the 15 minute book proposal. Writers love these stories and they provide great encouragement and hope. Maybe we an throw a title on our book proposal at the last minute or crank out a super short book proposal and land a book contract. Also notice how the Doubleday editor Tom Congdon sent Peter Benchley back to rewrite his sample chapters.  This developmental coaching often happens along the way for a good result. Some literary agent or some editor or some critique partner spurs the writer to rewrite and retune their material before they send it into the marketplace.

From my perspective, we need to lift up the writers who spend six months crafting a solid book proposal in their late evening hours.  As an editor who reads a lot of these submissions, I guarantee such craft will not go unnoticed. It will garner additional serious consideration from the editor and the publisher. Be encouraged from these stories yet also be realistic with the expectations for your own journey to publication.  From my experience, there are few short-cuts to doing the hard work.

Value of Amazon Reviews

June 24, 2006

Write A Book Without Lifting A Finger coverWhen the phone rings, you never know who will be on the other end. Yes, you may have caller ID and be able to sneak a preview but someone has to make that initial step to call. To my surprise, Mahesh Grossman, who has been called the ghostwriting guru, was on the other end of the line.  Several years ago I learned about Mahesh through a tele-seminar on Annie Jennings PR (another great resource). I was fascinated with his information about ghostwriting. Many writers are reluctant to become involved in this aspect of the work because they want their name to appear on the book or get “credit.”  From my perspective, it is much more important to have the writing work than to receive the credit. If you do excellent work, the credit will come.  Also many writers are reluctant to ghostwrite because of the difficulty of working with another person in the writing process—which admittedly is a challenge but I believe a good stretching challenge. Anyway, I want to return to the unexpected phone call.

Mahesh Grossman was calling to thank me for my Amazon review of his book, Write A Book Without Lifting a Finger. This book is targeted to people who have a book idea or a book manuscript and don’t know how to get it published.  Mahesh teaches the reader how to find a ghostwriter and gives practical examples about book publishing. Why would a writer want to read this book? Because it contains statistics and information that I’ve not seen in any other place about books.  Now this book has a 2004 copyright but here’s one interesting quote, “According to estimates by the Times of London, there are 120,000 new books published annually in the United States. That number is growing every year. Of these, roughly 102,000, or 85%, are non-fiction.” Now whether you agree with this statistic or not, nonfiction regularly outsells fiction—as I’ve pointed out in other entries. There many types of resources and tips in this book which are excellent for writers. 

If you notice the customer reviews of this book, there are only a few—and not many of them are very recent. Originally I wrote this review in mid-May. This morning, I adjusted something grammatical that I noticed so the date of my review changed on it.  Yes, Amazon gives you the ability to adjust your review (or even delete it) on my profile page.  Mahesh was calling to ask permission to use a quotation from my review. He tracked down my phone number (there are many ways to get this information online). My simple review of his book on Amazon gave me an unusual connection and the beginnings of another relationship.

Over the last several weeks, I have been pulling books off my shelf which I have read and adding short reviews on Amazon. If you begin to look, you will be surprised how many times a bestselling book has no customer review. Or in some cases, it has negative customer feedback (maybe a single bad review). Your positive review can bring some sense of balance. It doesn’t take long to write a few sentences of review and help the book.  I have written a number of these reviews over the last couple of months. I’m not spending days of time writing these reviews but only a matter of minutes. It’s like many other things related to writing—if you do it a bit at a time, after a while, you will end up with a lot of material. It is not rocket science but easy to accomplish. I’d encourage you to set a reasonable goal for yourself—such as one review a week, then fit it into your schedule. 

If you’ve invested the time to read the book, then take a few more minutes and crank out a review. You never know what can come from one of these reviews but it will never happen if you haven’t written a review.

Interview Marathon

June 23, 2006

Two Men InterviewingThis week I spent a full day interviewing a well-known leader in a Christian ministry.  Our time together marked the beginning stages of a book project which I will be writing over the next few weeks.  Through the years, I’ve conducted a number of these types of intense sessions. It’s like an interview marathon where instead of a 30–minute interview or an hour long interview, you spend the entire day with the person.

At the end of the session, this man said, “I’m all talked out.” I could completely understand. At that point, we had been talking for over nine hours together.  I walked out of that session with a legal pad full of notes and a series of recorded tapes with the stories.  I was weary of the intense listening that comes with these sessions for stories yet I was glad to have a high volume of material.

You may wonder, Why do you have to interview in such an intense manner?

These sessions happen more often than you might think because the author doesn’t have time to write a book. Or possibly the person has no experience shaping his story material into a full-length book project which will work for his particular audience.  Instead of devoting a set amount of time each week (for example an hour or two), this individual will block his schedule for the day and spend it with a writer in interviewing. 

How did I prepare? I had several short phone conversations with this person and had some general ideas about possible stories and content for the day.  I created a list of questions, story topics and key points to cover during our time together. Also the individual had prepared for our time together. He pulled some confidential memos, reports of various trips and background books with related materials to hand to me during our session.  Also I came with a number of cassette tapes and a tape recorder along with plenty of paper.

One of the keys from my perspective is to continually think about the eventual reader for the book. This reader will be different for each book but as the author, you have to keep your eye on that reader. What will this reader take away from the story content? Each story must have a key point or principle to be included in the eventual chapter for the book.  If you don’t continually focus the stories and the interview on the results for the reader, then you can end up with a bunch of disconnected stories which ramble and don’t help you gather content for the book.  It’s easy for the writer to get focused on fascinating stories which are not used in the book, if you don’t keep that focus for the entire session.  Continually at different points throughout the day, I recapped and looked for the guiding principle or the point to a particular story. Maybe I wasn’t able to see it initially but my subject was able to verbalize and summarize the point for the reader—but only if I prodded him during the session. 

Walking away from my session this week, the story isn’t over but still in process. I believe I have enough content to write a full-length book.  My experience from writing these books tells me that have enough material.  I feel good about the overall shape of these stories and how they will eventually be woven into a book.   During the writing process, I will know if I’ve gathered enough material or not. If not, this leader and I have a contingency plan to get together again for another interview marathon.  I’m hopeful for this person’s schedule and mine, such a session will not be necessary. Time will tell.

Maturing Chick Lit

June 22, 2006

I’ve been traveling and returned home a few hours ago. When I travel, I usually read USA Today and there was a good overview of Chick Lit the Life section. Carol Memmott wrote an article called Chick Lit Matures. The article gives an overview of this genre in the general market. There are a growing number of Christian Chick Lit titles as well from a variety of publishers. Language is the general caution with the general market titles.  I read one of these books several years ago. The author is a friend of mine and when she autographed it, she said, “Now, Terry, remember all of the sex in this book is fiction.” I thought it was a funny comment since the book was a novel or the entire book was fiction. As I read it, I began to understand what she was talking about.  This author knew I was a Christian author and the four-letter words and the sexual actions would stand out. It was a key part of the entire plot and I found the reading experience eye-opening.

You can follow the link and read the article but one paragraph in particular stood out to me from Carol Memmott, “The bottom line is the quality of the writing. “The genre is all about voice, and if you have a really fresh, really arresting voice, you can still tell a story about a single girl in the city,” [Jennifer] Weiner [bestselling author of In Her Shoes] says. “It’s such an interesting time in a woman’s life. There will always be interest in that moment when every decision is still right in front of you.”

Like many other types of publishing, the quality of the writing is going to be key. It’s something that many people forget when they send in their query or their manuscript. Here’s another enlightening few sentences from the article. If you don’t have a good definition of this genre, it was defined in a small sidebar:

“What puts the chick in chick lit?

* The heroine is either looking for Mr. Right or getting over Mr. Wrong.
* She’s in a dead-end job or is looking to climb the corporate latter.
* She often works in public relations, advertising or for a women’s magazine.
* The tone is often light and funny.
* The story usually is told in the first person.
* By novel’s end, the heroine usually has worked out all her problems and has learned important lessons about life.”

If You Need A Book

June 19, 2006

Each month I read Fast Company as one of the magazines that comes into my home.  In the May issue, I was intrigued with this column from Stirling Kelso called My Book, by Me. He describes the easy-to-use online service called Blurb which offers free software to make your own book.

For an experiment, Kelso took his journal entries from a year in Spain and mixed it with his photos. With a day of effort, Kelso created his own commercial-quality book for under $30 that he called Espa�a (follow the above link and you can see the book).  Of course, the cynical question in this article, who will read it? Is it another way to create more poor-produced books? I hope not.  Here’s an important detail buried in this article, “It’s not as if there aren’t enough books out there already: Nielsen BookScan reports that 1.2 million titles were sold in the United States in 2004, and just 2% sold more than 5,000 copies.”  You can certainly make as many books as you’d like to make but who will read them? How will they be sold and to which market?

This weekend, I received a pitch from a would-be author who has teamed with another author/ illustrator.  In a generic email, she pitched her children’s books. The irony is that I don’t acquire children’s books.  While the email was sent to my personal publisher email address, it  had nothing addressed specifically to me in the body of the email. I could have been the only person who received it—or it could have been massively submitted to many editors at the same time. I suspect the majority of that type of submission will be deleted without any response.  As an editor, I sent a response to this author at least explaining her futility of such a blasted email and encouraging her to read the publisher guidelines and follow it for a better response rate.  I may or may not receive any response from this submission but in a small way I’m trying to help the author—and also do something to stem the tide of these unnecessary submissions.

While almost no one wants to hear it, traditional publishing takes time. It takes effort to shape a book proposal so it will capture the interest of publishers. This book proposal can help you capture the attention of a literary agent. Then the literary agent can market your proposal to different publishing houses. Even after you get a book contract, it will take time for that title to get on the publisher’s schedule and get sold into the bookstores and available to the general public. 

Anyone can use a company like Blurb to take the short cut route and make a book. But do you reach the audience with a quality product? It’s highly improbable from my experience.

For the Skeptics

June 18, 2006

Letters From A Skeptic CoverI suspect when it comes to our loved ones, you will know a few skeptics about Christianity. Father’s Day seems like a particularly good time to talk about a book for skeptics called Letters From A Skeptic by Dr. Gregory A. Boyd and Edward K. Boyd. Greg Boyd wrote a series of letters to his agnostic father, Edward Boyd. Even though you’ve never seen this book on any bestseller list, it is one of the top selling titles at Cook Communications. During the years, I worked at Cook, the elder Boyd passed away and I worked with Greg to add a slight addition to the cover. It’s a flag that you can barely see on this small illustration but it says, “Over 100,000 Copies in Print!”

Also I worked with Greg to add a two-page tribute to his father at the back of this book as a part of the reprinting process. Here’s a couple of paragraphs from this tribute to give you a taste of the book, “While I was overwhelmed with joy by my father’s decision to accept Christ, I wasn’t very optimistic about how much transformation would take place in his post-conversion life. At seventy-three years old, my father was much older than most people who come to Christ, plus he had always been very set in his ways. My pessimism couldn’t have been more misplaced. Indeed, it’s difficult to exaggerate the profundity of the Holy Spirit’s transformation of my father during the last eleven years of his life.”

“One dramatic change was in my father’s emotional tenderness. The pre-Christian Ed Boyd rarely expressed his emotions–certainly not in public. But the Christian Ed Boyd became a man who wore his heart on his sleeve. My father literally wept for joy every time he heard of a person coming to Christ through our correspondence—and over the course of eleven years he heard this hundreds of times!”

This book is another example of the potential impact of our writing. It can be the spark for someone to change their life or change the direction of their life. If you have a skeptic in your life, I recommend this book. Or if you want to wrestle with and discover answers for common questions like Why is the world full of suffering? or Does God know the future?, then I recommend you consider this book. It may be just what the skeptic needs.