Archive for July, 2006

The Economy of Handouts

July 31, 2006

GPCWC

It’s been several years since I’ve been to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference.  I’m looking forward to this opportunity to give back to writers and meet new people.  Also I look forward to spending a few minutes with various faculty members on an informal basis and as I can fit it into the schedule (always a challenge). Each one of these writers conferences has it’s own mood or ambiance and I have great memories about this particular conference and the people I met last time.  This morning I learned this conference has joined the blogging world.

In the past, I’ve taught a few workshops and met with individual writers about their projects.  This time, I’ll be meeting individually with writers but I’m also teaching a continuing workshop called Book Proposals That Sell.  Typically I’m invited to these conferences months before the actual event. Then they can coordinate the mix of workshops and the various faculty.  Behind the scenes for each event, there is a great deal of effort—which no one thinks about until they decide to put on or teach at one of these events. The schedule for each conference is different.  It was only a few weeks ago that I realized my continuing class has five sessions and about 6 1/2 hours of total teaching time. Often I’ve taught these on-going classes in the mornings of a conference.  For the Philadelphia conference, the first two days I will teach twice (once in the morning and once in the evening), then on the third day a block of time in the afternoon.

Also months in advance, you work with the conference director to shape a little promotional information about my specific sessions.  They only have so many words for each class so it’s a challenge to cram the scope of your class into the required space.  OK, now we’re down to a few days until I head to Philadelphia and I’m working on the specifics for each session. Sure I have some idea of what I’ll say and do for each one but I’m constantly changing and improving the information for each session. Also I understand each person in my workshop has chosen to be there. It’s always my intention to provide the greatest value for the entire conference through my sessions. It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly—but I have to incorporate into the other activities crowding my schedule before the event.

I’ve been to conferences where the workshop leader is using a power-point and the computer connection fails so they are forced to improvise on the spot.  Normally it turns out to be very awkward for everyone. Other speakers love an overhead projector or a blackboard. I’ll not be using either one. My handwriting is borderline unreadable—yes, even my printing. Instead, I’ve gone the direction of low technology. I use handouts in my workshops.  For some handouts, I go through them in-depth while others I simply reference during the session. My intention with these handouts is to provide a lasting resource which will go way behind the conference. At a conference earlier this year, one person explained they had taken my continuing workshop several years ago.  When they went home, this person organized my handouts, poured through them and has repeatedly referenced them for various parts of her writing life. It was remarkable to me—especially since I have no idea what I used during those sessions since it was several years ago. I am delighted that my teaching had ongoing impact in the life of this writer.

Some conferences provide no limitations on the number of handouts.  At one conference earlier this year, I had four large boxes of handouts with an array for each class.  For the Philadelphia conference, each of us have been given a limitation. I understand the budgetary concern and the limit—but I’ve had to rework several of my handouts to cram as much information into a tight space as possible.  Yesterday I sorted through these handouts and I’m almost ready to send them for duplication. It will probably happen today for this conference.

Here’s the question for each of us: in some area of the writing life, you are facing a limitation. Maybe it’s the number of words for your particular book. You have a 160,000 words story and you are only able to send 100,000 words or 50,000 words. Or you have a 1,500 word magazine article to submit and have way too much material—in fact double the required amount. Do you whittle it down to the required limit or do you send in the extra for the editor to cut? My recommendation is to send the required amount and learn the value behind the limitation. Admittedly I’m not going to be able to give all of my information to my class in Philadelphia. But they will receive right to the limitation from this presenter.

A Lifetime Process

July 29, 2006

If I have any theme to these musings about my life as an editor and writer, it’s the necessity to continue growing and learning about the craft and the business of writing. In my view, there is no season of the journey without this trait. We never arrive and simply crank out wonderful prose. Every sentence can be improved and writers profit, learn and grow from the input of others.

In my time of interacting with authors, I’ve met a few who act like they have arrived. They add clauses to their contracts where the manuscript has to be printed as it’s turned in (seriously I’ve heard about these arrangements). I find this attitude contrary to what I’ve experienced in the journey and what I continue to experience in this business. My belief in this key ingredient was affirmed a couple of times this week in some things which crossed my desk with a couple of well-known authors.

Nora RobertsThis week I was reading the Romance Writers Report (August 2006) and it includes an interview with mega-selling author Nora Roberts. The word “best-selling” just doesn’t seem to be enough for someone who has more than 280 million books in print (not a typo). The well-crafted interview from Eileen Putnam begins asking her for the secret to her success. She says, “Sorry, no secret. Unless it’s believing storytelling is magic, in addition to hard work. Regular, habitual do-it-every-day work, and the discipline it takes to keep the butt in the chair. Loving what I do certainly helps.”   I know many people looking for a quick fix but according to Roberts (who has done had huge success) there isn’t one.

I’m only giving a short quote from the actual interview but the second question related to the six unsuccessful manuscripts she wrote before she was first published in 1981 and the lessons for aspiring authors.  In part, Roberts answered, “The lesson is not to quit. How much do you want it? How hard are you willing to try? How many of your glorious words are you willing to kill to make it really sing? I unearthed the story in five out of six of the early manuscripts (one was just DOA) and sold them…And 25 years or so later, I’m still learning my craft. You should never stop learning.” (My bold on the quote to make it stand out for you.)

I’ll confess that I’ve not read a single Nora Roberts book (or J.D. Robbs which is the other name she uses). I admire her commitment to the craft and her encouragement for us to continue learning.

Dean-koontzThe second bestselling author to come across my desk this week was Dean Koontz. According to the Random House site, Koontz has sold more than 175 million copies and this figure increases each year by a rate of 17 million. He’s also in the mega-selling category from my view. I’ve met Dean Koontz on a couple of different occasions.  I’m certain that Koontz will not recall meeting me but it was in the mid-80s at a one day writer’s conference at Chapman College. Koontz was one of the featured speakers. During the coffee break, I spotted him standing alone and looking awkward. I walked over and struck up a brief conversation with him. 

Koontz came into my mind when I wrote a few words of review on Amazon about his long out-of-print book for novelists, How To Write Best Selling Fiction.  At age 20, Koontz won an Atlantic Monthly fiction award and sold his first short story that same year.  Here’s a bit of irony for you. This how-to book was published in 1981 and marked Koontz second how-to write book with his first one Writing Popular Fiction released in 1972. He hasn’t written another how-to book since my 1981 book. 

In the introduction, Koontz writes about why he’s putting out a second how-to book saying, “My knowledge of both the art and the craft of fiction is greater than it was in 1972. That doesn’t mean I’m terrifically bright and clever. Any greater understanding that I’ve acquired has come about because I’ve remained open-minded and self-critical about my work and because I’ve labored hard since 1972–-an average of seventy hours a week, year after year. I’ve written, rewritten, and re-written, polished, sanded, buffed, and repolished quite a few books in a variety of categories and styles. I’d have to be exceptionally thick-headed not to have learned something from all those hours at the typewriter.” Koontz is likely using a computer now and the emphasis in this last sentence was in the book—not me. Over the years I’ve read a number of Koontz books and I love his commitment to storytelling and the craft of writing. It shows in each of his books.  Many books pass through my office but How To Write Best Selling Fiction is definitely a keeper and much loved book.

My learning process about this business and the craft of writing continues. It’s a journey and not a destination.

The Interactive Encyclopedia

July 28, 2006

Wikipedia globeSome members of the younger generation believe they can find almost anything on Wikipedia.  You can’t but the interactive online encyclopedia is an amazing story to burst on the cultural scene. 

Last night I was fascinated with this article in the current issue of The New Yorker by Stacy Schiff titled, “Know It All.”   I will admit that I don’t turn to Wikipedia as a great source of information but I know people who do use it all of the time as a reference source.  A couple of paragraphs from Schiff’s well-written article stood out to me: “Wikipedia, which was launched in 2001, is now the seventeenth-most-popular site on the Internet, generating more traffic daily than MSNBC.com and the online versions of the Times and the Wall Street Journal combined. The number of visitors has been doubling every four months; the site receives as many as fourteen thousand hits per second. Wikipedia functions as a filter for vast amounts of information online, and it could be said that Google owes the site for tidying up the neighborhood. But the search engine is amply repaying its debt: because Wikipedia pages contain so many links to other entries on the site, and are so frequently updated, they enjoy an enviably high page rank.”

Notice how in a relatively short amount of time (six years), Wikipedia started from nothing to being such a dominate force. Also further in the article notice these statistics: “Wikipedia may be the world’s most ambitious vanity press. There are two hundred thousand registered users on the English-language site, of whom about thirty-three hundred—fewer than two per cent—are responsible for seventy per cent of the work.” While there are many registered users, only a small percentage is actually responsible for the work on the site.”

Isn’t this typical for many types of these efforts? There is a small percentage from the overall number of users which actually work on the site.

Earlier this week, I wrote about finding business in the niches.  Wikipedia allows anyone to create entries in their system—without cost.  I believe it creates an opportunity for writers and authors. Can you be the “expert” in Wikipedia on your topic? Can you take a few minutes to add an entry or two or three to their system which will help you at some point?  I’m writing to myself as much as anyone here since I’ve not done it. I believe it’s worth exploring.

Help The Amazon Searches

July 27, 2006

As a book author, I’m constantly on the look out for tools to help people locate my books.  As an editor, I’m encouraging my authors to look for cost effective and simple ways to increase the buzz on their books. The more people talk about a particular book, the more it will get into their minds and hearts and often this talk translates into book sales.

Amazonconnect-logo

With some of my past entries, I’ve encouraged authors to learn and use Amazon Connect. Why? In the past, the page for your book on Amazon (the largest online bookstore on the planet) only talked about the book. Often this page doesn’t contain much information  — unless the publisher or the author adds to this information.  I’ve talked about how authors can improve this information in other posts. One of the keys is Amazon Connect so I hope you are using it.

Today I want to show you another tool that I learned from one of a Howard Books author, Jerome Teel.  Throughout the Internet, it’s a much trumpeted fact about the importance of search engine optimization. It’s fairly simple to understand—if the search engines can find your site and you’ve created it in the “search engine friendly” manner, then you will gain more traffic or exposure from the search engines.

What can you do to improve the search engine at Amazon? Amazon has a mechanism so anyone can suggest improvements to their search engine. As an author, are you tapping into this resource? The author is more familiar with the content of their book than anyone else. You are the perfect person to take control of this process. It’s not your publisher or anyone else—enough for my soapbox.

Every Amazon page includes this spot:

Help others find this item

 
The question is are you using this tool? I wasn’t until recently. Amazon makes it easy with a wizard to walk you through the steps. It does take a bit of planning. Recently I suggested Amazon brings up Book Proposals That Sell whenever anyone searches for the words “writing a book”  Your search suggestions aren’t accepted automatically into the system.  They are reviewed then “approved” so it takes a few days for this process to happen.  I received an email that my suggestion was approved. I checked it out and found my book on the first page of the search.  Check this link to see what I’m talking about here.  You may have to scroll down a bit on your browser. Do you see my sentence that I crafted? : “Most people write their book backwards. They create a book manuscript. Almost every nonfiction book and many fiction book are sold from a BOOK PROPOSAL. This book acquisitions editor removes the mystery and shows you how to craft a book proposal. Learn Whalin’s 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success.” 
 
Notice you have no italics or links or bold—so you have to use capitalization for this process. You have a limited number of characters for this sentence. I suggest planning ahead and crafting a few sentences, then playing with the Amazon wizard for this process.  I had to cut out a bit of this post because of how it appeared—but you can walk through the wizard on your own—believe me—it’s easy.  This process is helpful to the person searching and the author who wants the searcher to find their books.

Startling Beauty book coverOK,  here’s one final example—outside of my Book Proposals That Sell. One of my friends, Heather Gemmen, wrote a narrative memoir called Startling Beauty. I was stunned to hear this story because Heather is one of the most joyful people that I know—and you would never know about her personal experience with rape captured in Startling Beauty.  What if she used this Amazon suggested search and added terms like “rape recovery” or simply “rape” plus her own enticing words about why someone needs to read her book? It could help her overall sales on the largest online bookstore on the planet. It certainly doesn’t take a lot of time and it is worth trying.

My hope is to have captured this process for you with clarity. It’s not hard. It’s menu driven but does take a bit of thought and planning to achieve success. To me, it’s like many other things in the publishing world.

Write in a Genre or not?

July 26, 2006

At a writer’s conference this spring, I met a science fiction writer. With his bushy hair, thick glasses and flowing beard, he certainly looked the part of what I would imagine a science fiction writer. He was committed to his particular genre of fiction yet at a Christian had written a number of science fiction manuscripts and was trying to find a home for them.  After I completed my stint on an editor’s panel, he was one of the first people to engage me in a conversation. Then he followed it up with one of my one-on-one sessions with various participants.  Each time, I tried to gently tell him about the limitations within the Christian fiction market. Every now and then you can find one of these types of books but it’s admittedly rare. This tenacious author even followed up after the conference and sent me his manuscript.  If you read these entries very often, you know I dislike sending rejection notices—but I sent one to this author.  Since January, I’ve received and logged over 300 queries, proposals and manuscripts for few possible spots. I didn’t see any room on the list for a Christian science fiction book.

A recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly featured a story called A Reality Check for Fantasy. The opening paragraph from Susan Corbett raises an interesting question for fantasy writers, “Magicians-in-training, genies-in-exile, apprentice wizards, belligerent fairies, plucky orphans, kind dragons, kind orphaned dragons—a reader cant enter the children’s department of a bookstore these days without tripping on a wand or falling into a portal. Has the saturation point been reached?”  There is interesting information in this article about fantasy and whether there is too much of it or not. I concluded from reading the article that it has not reached the saturation point but publishers and customers are more selective. It’s what you face if you are writing for the fantasy genre. 

You’d be shocked how often at a writers conference various participants pitch a project to me saying their book will be the “next Harry Potter.” When editors hear such a pitch you want to roll your eyes around and say, “Right.” Instead, we sweetly smile and say, “Interesting. Let’s have a look.” Why? Because that eager writer is sitting right across the table from you and you want to be encouraging and not crush their dreams. Maybe they have written the next Harry Potter type of book. I will tell you on the Christian fiction landscape, it’s rare to find much in this area. In recent years, it has opened up a bit—but only a tiny bit.

If you are writing a particular type of genre fiction (romance, horror, suspense, thriller, Gothic, fantasy, science fiction, historical, or any other genre), here’s some ideas for you.  First, make sure you are reading in this genre. It happens far too often when I talk with writers that a particular story has sprung into their mind and heart and fingers—yet they don’t read in the genre. It makes the editor question if you understand the intricate workings of the genre. It’s not the type of impression that you want to make on the editor.

Next, look for a group of writers who emphasize this genre and join the organization. Each of these various groups have different requirements and standards. There are many reasons to join and you will learn a great deal from the experience. Also you will develop friendships with other authors who write in your genre and gain from the interaction.  Also as you grow in your experience in the genre, it will give you a place to give back and help others.

Naturally whatever you write is your own decision. My hope is you will go into the particular area of writing with your eyes wide open to what is happening in it.

Book News Abounds

July 25, 2006

Book news seems to be everywhere I look these days. Almost every magazine highlights some book. Publishers are constantly pouring out news about their books—at least this should be happening. It’s a challenge to sort through it some times—and determine which books to purchase and read—and which books just to read the reviews or the back cover. Each of us make these decisions day by day and overall they are a huge factor in which books sell and which books don’t sell.  As I’ve mentioned many times before in these entries, authors need to be proactive in helping this mystical buzz factor.  It takes pure hard work and a bit of good fortune along the way.

I’m not going to write much today but wanted to highlight a couple of recent reviews. This morning I turned in another batch of reviews for Faithful Reader.com (next month’s material) but today I wanted to make sure you saw my words about a couple of books in the July issue. First Allison Bottke, the God-Allows-U-Turns author, has written an excellent first novel called A Stitch In Time. Here’s where you can read my review. It’s a fun way to pass a few hours.

 A number of times in these entries I have mentioned the Left Behind books. I reviewed the latest addition to this series called The Rapture (follow the link). Today I learned the Left Behind series was one of the top selling series in Amazon’s Hall of Fame—since the online bookstore launched ten years ago.  Also here’s the link with the specific authors who got into this top area of volume sales at Amazon.

The Left Behind website includes a media alert about Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins. They are scheduled to appear on Good Morning America on Thursday, July 27th. It was good to see both of these authors (mostly from a distance) at the recent trade show in Denver.  I did get to talk with Jerry Jenkins for a few minutes at the Christy Awards banquet.  It was fun to see this long-term friend.

My encouragement is for you to follow this book information as a writer—and if the book looks interesting read it and support the author’s efforts. Some day the role may be reversed and you will be out on the road telling people about your book.  I’m convinced as you give out the good will that it will come back to you.

Business in the Niches

July 24, 2006

The Long Tail coverThis weekend I was reading my latest issue of Publisher’s Weekly. It’s a thick one and emphasizes the various children’s books to be released in the fall. In recent months, PW has started a column in the back of the magazine called Soapbox. I’ve referred to several of these articles and I often find something worthwhile and interesting. It happened again with an article from Chris Anderson called A Bookselling Tail. Anderson is the editor-in-chief of Wired (another publication that I read) and he has a new book from Hyperion, The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More. This new book is bouncing around toward the top of the bestselling books on Amazon.com. Over the weekend, I added to the hoopla and ordered my copy. I know the book started as a Wired magazine article and I’m interested to see what I can learn from it. I’ve already referred to this area in an article from The New Yorker. I’ve also seen the book mentioned in other publications.

I want to point out a couple of paragraphs from the PW article (and you can read the entire article online): Anderson writes, “Here’s the reality of the book industry: in 2004, 950,000 titles out of the 1.2 million tracked by Nielsen Bookscan sold fewer than 99 copies. Another 200,000 sold fewer than 1,000 copies. Only 25,000 sold more than 5,000 copies. The average book in America sells about 500 copies. Those blockbusters are a minute anomaly: only 10 books sold more than a million copies last year, and fewer than 500 sold more than 100,000.”

“So are all the rest of the books simply failed blockbusters? Of course not. As the book industry has known for decades, there’s virtue in niches—books that aren’t for everyone, but really thrill those they are for. The trick is finding a way to make a business in niches, rejoicing in the rare blockbuster if it comes, but not having to depend on it.”

Some book authors are going to find these statistics startling—then discouraging. Is it a dose of reality? I recommend you take this information but look at it critically. The statistics from Bookscan may be correct but do they present the total bookselling picture? No. Anderson is using the statistic to prove his point and didn’t intend to give you a full picture of where books are sold. It’s true the blockbuster bestseller is rare but not every book sale is recorded or recognized. For example, in a few weeks, I’m headed to the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. I’m going to tuck a box or two of Book Proposals That Sell into my suitcase. Yes, I have other books that I could bring but I’ve learned through hard experience that during a writer’s conference, people purchase how-to books about writing—and little else. I’m finding the niche for this book but the sales are outside of the bookstore and will never show up on something like Bookscan. In fact, according to author Brian Jud, more than half of the books sold are sold outside of the bookstore. It’s why Jud put together this excellent book, Beyond the Bookstore.

Not every book takes off in the first few months which it is introduced into the marketplace. In fact, many books don’t take off initially. A book is only “new” for a short period of time. Some publications only want to talk about new books. Also the majority of the publisher promotion work will happen in the first few months, then the publisher will be forced to leave your book and hope it sells on the backlist because they have to move on and promote even newer titles. There are many books which take off after they are published. Recently at the trade show in Denver, I sat beside an author whose book took time to take off. It’s only in the last few months, Joanna Weaver’s book, Having A Mary Heart in a Martha World has started appearing on the bestseller lists. If you check, this book released in hardcover in 2000 and just recently began selling to the volume where it appears on the bestseller list. According to Joanna, it was word of mouth (something every publisher hopes for but doesn’t control). It was the buzz. Authors can continue to stir the buzz months after this initial push to get the book into the market. As authors, we are the ones with the greatest passion for our book and it’s success. Admittedly it takes ongoing effort.

For a minute, celebrate with me this review on Amazon for my Book Proposals That Sell:

SUCCESS!, July 23, 2006

Reviewer: Beth K. Vogt (Colorado Springs, CO USA)

Terry Whalin’s book was my guide when I wrote my first book proposal. My copy of Book Proposals That Sell is dog-eared, underlined and marked with multicolored sticky notes. And–just like the title promises–my book proposal SOLD. My first book will be published by Revell in 2007. I referred to Whalin’s book again and again as I polished my proposal. Whalin’s expertise helped me write a strong proposal, one that I was confident in submitting to my editor. I’m working on my next book proposal and, once again, Book Proposals That Sell will be my main reference.”

Beth’s story is exactly the result I dreamed about when I wrote this book. I know in a small way this book is helping writer improve the quality of what they are sending into the marketplace. Believe me as an acquisitions editor, I know firsthand authors need this type of help.

My application from this material is two fold: First, every book idea and proposal and book has a particular niche and audience. We need to be aware of this niche. Then second, the author needs to continually stir the waters to help people know about the book and it’s availability—and that effort happens long after the initial release period. So what is your niche and how can you take some concrete steps to reach it today?

The Front Page Touch

July 22, 2006

This past week, the national weather and the war between Israel and Hezbollah along the Lebanon border have dominated the news.   Five or six times a week, I usually get my update about the news while working out on my treadmill. Normally I’d be watching the news anyway and it lowers my stress and improves my overall health to be working out on a regular basis.  Often the news seems like something “way out there” and remotely connected to my personal work in publishing and writing.  This week I had a connection to both stories.

Let’s first consider the story about the weather. I know it’s been warm across America and it’s not surprising since it is July. Yesterday in the Phoenix area marked the warmest temperatures in a decade. Last month was the warmest on record with the average temperature well over 100.   It felt hot to me yesterday but I was surprised to see it reached 118 or one of 11 days to this temperature since 1895 or when they began to keep records on the weather. You can talk about the dry heat of the desert (a common theme around here) but 118 was plain old hot. Thank goodness for air conditioning and I took the AC less for granted yesterday when our power went out for over 45 minutes.

Martin-AccadMy connection to the battles in the Middle East is much less obvious but equally present. In March, I had the opportunity to attend the Sounds of Hope Conference on the campus of Wheaton College. Each of the speakers lived in the Middle East and the purpose was to listen and learn about the 50 million Christians who live in this part of the world yet are rarely heard.  After attending this conference, I wrote a couple of articles about this event (here’s one and here’s the other). One of the speakers was Dr. Martin Accad, who is the Academic Dean of the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beruit, Lebanon.  This Oxford educated Christian brought an articulate message and it was my privilege to talk with him a bit during the conference.  Last week, Dr. Accad was lecturing at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California and because of the bombing of the Beruit airport, he is stranded in the United States and unable to return home. I was surprised to learn this detail and see his fascinating article on the Christianity Today website. For me, it made the news a lot less remote and more personal. I appreciated the prayer advice Leonard Rodgers, the founder of Venture International has about this war situation.  Rodgers spent a number of years living in this portion of the world so has great insight.  Wherever you stand politically about this conflict, I appreciated the perspective of Brother Andrew and his book Light Force, who regularly travels to the Middle East and meets with leaders of Hamas (another part of the story which seems to have disappeared in the media).  For my model, I’d prefer to follow the example of Brother Andrew. No matter whatCopper Scroll cover the background of the person, he is talking with them about Jesus.

If you are looking for an excellent, well-told novel about the Middle East, I recommend you consider Ezekiel Option by Joel Rosenberg. Here’s my review of this book.  It is a page-turner and many of the characters continue into Rosenberg’s next book, The Copper Scroll which releases next week—and is equally well-done.

Ok, now you know how the front page news has touched my life. It’s much more than the images on the television or in print. I’ve got some personal experiences that connect me to these events.

The Importance of Details

July 21, 2006

I’ll admit it. I’m a reader—newspapers, magazines, books and whatever. You name it and I’ll be reading it. Maybe it’s the way I’m wired as I process a great deal of information, some details begin to come together and stick out.  It’s a practice on a regular basis, I recommend to others. It never fails to amaze me when I meet novelists at a conference who write romance or suspense—but when I ask some questions I learn they don’t read these genres.  I can tell you, it’s not the type of impression that you want to present on your editor.

Publishers-Weekly-logoTrade magazines like Publisher’s Weekly is another area where I regularly read. Now I may not get every single detail in every article but I do pick up on a large portion of this publication and try to carefully evaluate what I’m reading. You never know how these different details will come together into something significant into your daily work. It happens in my writing and editing life all the time. Now I understand the costly nature of a Publisher’s Weekly subscription. At $225 a year, it’s out of the reach of many people.  As I’ve explained in the past, for many years, I went to the public library each week (or every other week) and read PW.  Almost every public library takes this publication. In general, you will not find it in the library magazine section for the public. Librarians understand the value of this publication for their work and circulate this publication to their own staff. Make friends with your reference librarian and politely ask if you can read it.  I suspect you will find great cooperation.  Some times, I’ve had to physically stand right in front of them and read it—but they allow it.  It show you how much librarians prize the information in this publication and guard their copies. For probably the last fifteen years, I’ve been a subscriber. If you’ve never seen it, most issues are about the size of a weekly news magazine like Time or Newsweek except the contents are focused on publishing.

As an example of the details you can learn from Publisher’s Weekly, let me return to a couple of recent entries. First, I wrote about the reason behind the rumor on the sale of Multnomah. In the July 17th issue, this rumor continues when you read this PW article. Notice the lack of denial as reported in this article. We still don’t know who purchased Multnomah but this news will be revealed in the days ahead.  Also in my post about some trade show observations, I noted the lack of green badges or retailers.  These details were verified in the numbers from this article.

I point out this article because it contains some interesting details about the publishing community. I do have one small but significant beef about one detail in the article. For weeks, I’ve been using the words “Howard Books” in my posts. While there is no official company press release about this name change, Howard Books appears on our business cards, the new catalogs and most importantly on each new book. Yet this article still uses the old name. I guess some habits are hard to change.

Who Gets the Credit

July 20, 2006

For almost five years, I’ve been a panelist and participant in an online writer’s group. It’s a closed moderated forum with about 650 professional writers and we’ve had some lively discussions on various topics (check the link if you’re interested in joining). Over the last few days, the discussion has been about ghostwriting.  Some topics receive only a few comments but people have opinions and views when it comes to this topic.

An important aspect of any forum (online or a writing workshop or a book) is to check out the credentials of who is speaking. Are they knowledgeable about the topic? Some people are and some people aren’t. Often I read these opinions with a huge grain of salt because of the experience of the speaker.  To some people it’s critical that the writer or craftsperson receive a byline on the cover of the book. To others it is less important. Other people react as readers and feel cheated to learn that some celebrity didn’t actually write their story.

The longer I’m involved in publishing, the credit issue has faded. I understand that someone has to be the “author” for a book. Yet some times as an editor, I have crafted a large portion of the prose inside the pages—and my name isn’t in the book (or it’s a one line thank you on the acknowledgment page that almost no one reads). And that’s OK with me. I’m much more concerned about the content of the book and whether it is excellent than the credit. I’m much more concerned about getting the word out to others about excellent books (the marketing and promotion) than seeing my name on one more magazine article or one more book. Possibly, it’s became my name is already on a bunch of books but I don’t think that is the key element.  As my days have increased in publishing, I’ve learned that it’s not a single person’s effort that creates an excellent book—fiction or nonfiction. Yes, the writer came with the basic idea but others also believed in the idea to make the decision to publish it—I’m talking about in a traditional publishing situation—not self-publishing. If the process is working properly, a number of people have impact on the actual contents along the route to a book’s release into the marketplace. Some times this impact can be very significant—yet is completely uncredited.

Just to give you an idea of what I’m talking about, let me tell a specific story. Several years ago, I contracted a book with a couple. A bestselling author had told me this couple had been teaching on this topic for over 20 years—yet never created a book on it. I met this couple, championed their cause within the publishing house and eventually contracted this book.  In the developmental process of working with them on it, I could see they were not going to complete the manuscript—and especially on the required deadline.  With the backing of my publisher, I flew to the author’s location and spent five days interviewing them and pounding my keyboard. I came home with the completed manuscript which passed to another couple of editors before it was published. When I flip through the pages of this printed book, I can easily point out huge portions which I created. Yet my name doesn’t appear on the book except a single line of appreciation in the acknowledgment page—and I’m perfectly fine with that level of credit. It’s the content of the book which is important to me and I celebrate this couple finally has a book which captures their life message.  I hope you see that my focus is on the work—and not the credit. Ultimately I understand it’s the publisher who makes these decisions during the publication process.

I was intrigued with a recent issue of Publisher’s Weekly which featured a one of a kind literary agency. They specialize in ghost writing. It’s an interesting article if you haven’t read it.  Some people are horrified to learn about such a part of this business. It’s a focus on getting the work out—not getting credit. The debate about this aspect of publishing will not be resolved in this entry but hopefully it gives a bit of insight into my world and the journey.