Archive for October, 2006

Boost Your Determination

October 31, 2006

I don’t know about you, but I find it really easy to get rejected.  As an editor, I regularly dish out those rejection letters. I take no pleasure in sending them and I know it’s business. At the same time, I’m keenly aware the writer has poured their heart and soul into the submission (at least that’s the hope) and my form rejection letter will not be what they want to hear from me.  It’s small consolation but I try and process my manuscripts with professionalism and an actual response. Many times the editor never responds or responds months after the submission.  As an editor, I attempt to be polite and relatively painless saying “Not right for my publishing house.” Hopefully the writer can note the consideration and move ahead to locate a champion. I say “hopefully” because I know some writers are going to get stalled and possibly not submit their material for a period of time.   Whether we like it or not, rejection is a key part of the business of publishing and it’s here to stay.

How do you boost your determination and belief in yourself and find the courage to continue? I’m going to recommend an out-of-the-ordinary resource for you. This spring at the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop at the University of Dayton, I met Jodie Lynn who is an international syndicated parent/family columnist.  Like most writers’ conferences, for anyone teaching, they seem to pass in a blur of running from one event to another. I sat beside Jodie at the autograph session and got a chance to get acquainted.  The majority of the crowd was stuck in a huge line for bestselling humorist Dave Barry, who was only at the conference for his opening address and the autograph signing.  I believe you get the picture: Jodie and I had plenty of time to talk.

Syndication secrets-bookJodie’s book, Syndication Secrets, What No One Will Tell You! released at the conference. This book was perfect for the Erma Bombeck audience where people recall the millions of Bombeck readers through her syndicated newspaper column.  I’ll admit I’ve never had any desire to have a syndicated column. Why?  You have to steel yourself for tons of rejection because the people who can actually pull off a syndicated column and be successful are few and far between.  Here’s what Jodie writes in her opening chapter called “Prepare for a Bumpy Ride.” “Prepare yourself for rejection. It may even happen over and over. You can compare the feat of achieving syndication to that of a high school athlete going on to play for a professional team. Something like one out of every 50,000 make it. Not only is that incredibly hard to swallow, but most syndicated columnists have other jobs just to make ends meet because the syndicate takes at least 40–60 percent from the sales of their column. It’s hard to make big bucks until you get popular enough to get numerous speaking engagements and/or offers for lucrative book or endorsement contracts.” How’s that for real encouragement? You maybe wondering but hang on here: Jodie includes 10 Must-Do, Tried and True Secrets of Getting Syndicated and her first one is: Believe in what you have to say. Now there is something I can get behind—and something that every writer (syndicated or not) needs to hear.

The power in this book is the attitude and the professional teaching about not quitting in the face of rejection.  Throughout this book, Jodie uses this phrase, “Never give up.” I love her sample phone script. She calls a newspaper editor and this editor repeatedly says no. Despite the words, Jodie teaches writers how to maintain a professional attitude—yet a dogged determination. She keeps looking for the champion until she finds one.  I don’t care if you write novels or nonfiction books or book proposals or magazine articles or book reviews, you can learn from this book. I suspect it will be something to read and re-read when your determination as a writer needs a boost.

Unspoken Proposal Rules

October 30, 2006

Many aspects of life have unspoken rules.  When you bump into them, you begin to learn, then use these rules to your advantage.  The rules are different in each culture. For example, in the U.S.,  women in particular like to dress differently. If there is a formal event, no woman likes to arrive in exactly the same dress as someone else in the room. Years ago when I lived in Guatemala, the culture was completely the reverse. Each town in the country maintains a separate outfit of dress. In particular, the women have maintained their cultural distinctness. Yet every woman in the town dresses exactly alike. It gives the advantage when they are outside of their town context, you can instantly know their home town from their appearance.  For me, this cultural distinction was fascinating because it was completely opposite of my expectations.

BookProposalsThatSell-smallThese unspoken rules happen in publishing as well. One of my readers for Book Proposals That Sell wrote and raised some questions. I began to think about these rules which I had learned naturally yet I haven’t seen them explicitly in writing.  Within a publishing house, the different acquisitions editors are colleagues, yet each editor locates new projects, then prepares the paperwork to bring those projects into the editorial process. Often this editorial process involves a meeting where the editors meet together and present their different projects, discussing how they can be improved before they are taken to the publication board. If the editorial group agrees the proposal is something that should be considered, then it is taken to the publication board (which includes representatives of sales and marketing and the leadership of the publishing house). While there isn’t an overt rivalry between the acquisitions editors in the same house, there is a sense that each person is bringing unique book proposals into the publication process.  The writer is eager to have as many people as possible consider their book proposal.  Here’s the unspoken rule: you don’t want to have two acquisitions editors inside the same publisher enthused about the exact same book proposal.

Just imagine in your enthusiasm for the book proposal, you give it to two editors inside the same publishing house.  Because they present these projects at an editorial meeting, the duplicity will be discovered—to the detriment of the writer. It’s simply giving both editors cause to reject your project. More importantly than the single rejection, it will raise questions about your future submissions—as to whether you have blanketed the publisher with your proposal submissions.

Let’s carry this situation a bit further—and reveal a more subtle rule.  Often a single publisher will contain many different imprints. Depending on the publisher, some of those imprints are not even located in the same building or even the same city. It is not appropriate to submit your book proposal to different imprints of the same larger publisher.  Let’s imagine you have an excellent book proposal which could easily go in one company or the other company so you decide to send it to both imprints.  An acquisitions editor in each imprint gets excited about your contents and champions your cause to get it contracted. Even if it progresses through each internal system, eventually the duplicity will be discovered—and it will not go well for the writer in this process. Your “excellent proposal” risks rejection from both publishers and the questions will be raised with your future submissions.

As a writer, I completely understand your eagerness to get your proposal to as many places as possible—and submit them at the same time because the process takes a long time. Yet there are some cautions to observe in this process.

Here’s a final one that few writers seem to consider—and it happens primarily with fiction.  It’s almost universal that first-time novelists have to complete their entire manuscript—before they can receive serious consideration from a publishing house.  Admittedly it’s a great deal of work to craft an excellent story and sustain that excellence over 80,000 to 100,000 words.   You go to a large writer’s conference with your manuscript or your pitch or your proposal.  During the conference, you meet with a number of editors and literary agents. The editor looks at your work and asks you to send it to them. At the same time, the agent looks at your work and sees merit and requests a copy of the manuscript.  You return from the conference and follow-up with all of the various requests.  What if for a variety of reasons (there are many reasons), all of the publishers look at your material and decide to reject it. But the literary agent carefully reads your manuscript and decides they want to represent it for you. You love receiving this news from the literary agent.  If your agent is worth their salt, they are going to ask you, “Who has seen this manuscript?” You provide the list of these publishers who have rejected your work. Essentially you have tied the agent’s hands through your enthusiastic efforts to find a publisher.  You will have to transform the manuscript into a completely new work—new title and new emphasis for the literary agent to gain a repeat hearing with those publishers who have rejected your work. Why?  Editors keep logs of the submissions (I do) and if I see something which seems a bit familiar, I can pull up this file and search through it—for your name, your title and whatever details about the story that I wrote into my log. Unknowingly in your enthusiasm to market your manuscript, you’ve actually limited the possibilities—and mostly through some unspoken rules of the process.

It may strike you as unfair. You are new and didn’t know the rules. It probably is unfair yet take a minute a consider it from the editor’s perspective. There are only a few available spots—and a great deal of possibilities—in fact millions of possibilities. I’ll give you one frightening statistic in this area from Get Published! “Finished manuscripts for an estimated 8 million novels and 17 million how-to books are lying in desk drawers all over the country, waiting to be published.” (Here’s the source of this statistic). You may wonder why it’s frightening? It’s because of the large volume and intense competition.

Don’t allow this entry on the unspoken rules to get you discouraged. There are many ways to make your proposal stand out from the others. It’s key to look for the right publisher for your work—and continue to look. Perseverance is important. One of the principles of Pyromarketing is to find the driest tender. Over the weekend, I noticed a spot which would qualify when it comes to Book Proposals That Sell. Scott Waxman leads a top literary agency in New York City and has agented several of my book projects. Some time ago, I suggested that he add Book Proposals That Sell to his list of resources for writers.  His website is a “driest tender spot” because writers looking to get published will follow his counsel. It was great to see Book Proposals That Sell among these recommended resources. I continue to look for these “dry tender” locations to include this resource. It’s a step I also recommend to you with your book projects.

Finally, let me point out another first—the Premier Carnival of Christian Writers.  I joined forces with some other bloggers for this particular effort. Hope you enjoy the variety.

Use All The Senses In Your Storytelling

October 28, 2006
During the last week, I’ve been listening to novelist David Morrell who taught a special one day fiction class at the Glorieta Christian Writers Conference. If you haven’t heard of his name, David has 28 million novels in print including Rambo and First Blood.  He is also the co-president of the International Thriller Writers.  Last summer, I met David and heard him teach about dialogue at ThrillerFest, which was a terrific event.
When he taught at Glorieta, David told about working with screen and television writers whose prose came off as one-dimensional and flat.
Why? They were only using the sense of sight in their writing and when they added any other sense (including smell), it enriched the effect of their writing. As a part of his teaching, David read a page and a half from his latest book, Creepers (now out in paperback) which won the 2006 Stokers Award for the Best Novel from the Horror Writers Association. Here’s the first two paragraphs of Creepers–notice the words incorporated into this sample besides sight words:
“That’s what they call themselves, and that would make a good story, Balenger thought, which explained why he met them in this godforsaken New Jersey motel in a ghost town of 17,000 people. Months later, he still would not be able to tolerate being in rooms with closed doors. The nostril-widening smell of must would continue to trigger the memory of screams. The beam from a flashlight wouldn’t fail to make him sweat.”
Use all of your senses in the words you select (and especially nonsight words) to improve your storytelling techniques.
Also don’t try and pick up this conference recording, you won’t be able to do it.   Apparently David didn’t allow Manna Recording to record his fourth session–and only allowed those participants at the conference to purchase it.  It is not available to anyone else.  I’m going to be hanging on to my CDs from David Morrell—now that I know his teaching is rarely recorded. It was excellent and something I will listen to several times in the days ahead.

The Comic Truth about Books

October 27, 2006

The latest installment in Ed Briant’s Tales From the Slush Pile comic reveals an interesting insight into the book business.

Maybe you’ve had this experience (I know I have). I’ve walked into a bookstore (any bookstore) and looked for one of my books. Either it is not there (always disappointing considering how many different types of books that I’ve written over the last 20 years but my most frequent experience). Or I find do see one of my books, then it is located in some place that I do not want to find it—like way in the back of the store on a lower shelf with the only visible portion of the book (the spine) out or worse yet on the remainder table (where the discount books are sold).

Comedy always strikes us as funny because it strikes a chord or touches on some element of truth.  From my perspective, Ed Briant gets it right with this Tale. I hope you will check it out.

Amazon Shorts Connect With Readers

October 26, 2006


The Amazon Shorts program has been around for at least a year. Frequently I meet published writers who do not know about it.  Follow the link and get acquainted with this program. Why?  If you get a group of authors together to talk “shop” about their books, if they are honest, I can almost guarantee they will tell stories about a book where they poured their heart and soul, yet it never did much in the marketplace. In other words, this great book never sold or had minimal sales.  In other entries, I’ve talked about how publishers are looking for authors who will partner with them on these sales efforts for books. It’s the same situation with the editors. If they honestly discuss their books, they will mention books which were excellent, yet their disappointment in the author’s willingness to market and promote their own books.  I’ve listened to both sides of this discussion and I know everyone has challenges to reach readers and sell books.

Amazon Shorts could provide a means for you to connect with more readers. Can you write a short, original nonfiction or fiction piece which is related to your book? If so, you can get it into this system. If you explore the program, you will learn it includes a number of bestselling authors such as historian David McCullough or novelist Danielle Steel.  Explore their Frequently Asked Questions to learn how to begin the process. A minimum requirement is to have at least one product for sale on Amazon.

I believe there are many potential benefits for the author and the publisher. Here’s my story and you see how it will apply to your own writing life: Over a year ago, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success  released.  The book continues to receive five star reviews on Amazon and impact the people who want to catch the attention of traditional publishers and editors.  Last summer I learned about Amazon Shorts, then purchased several of these books and studied them for their format, length and topic.  It’s a step anyone could take related to their own subject.

I wanted to create a related product to Book Proposals That Sell through the Amazon Shorts venue.  Over several days, I wrote an original nonfiction piece titled: Straight Talk from the Editor, 18 Keys to a Rejection-Proof Submission. It is a substantial length with numerous tips, stories and value for the reader.  When I purchased several of these Shorts, I discovered some of them are “short” or less than 2,000 words.  My Amazon Shorts submission is over 6,000 words. I sent it in late August then like any author, I waited for a response to my submission. When I didn’t hear anything within the four to six week period of their guidelines, I wrote the editor and gently asked if he received my submission and noted the time limitation of their guidelines. This editor wrote saying they had many submissions and asked for my patience (and affirmed they received my original submission). Yesterday, I received the Amazon contract and welcome packet. It will take a few more weeks (after I return my completed paperwork) for my submission to enter their program.

How will it work for me? The verdict is out and only time will tell. I’m eager to move ahead and explore it.  Think about it for your own writing. Can Amazon Shorts become another method to attract more readers?

It’s Good To Take Stock

October 25, 2006

Most of us are running pretty hard every day and all day. It’s rare—yet wise to occasionally pull back and take stock about why we do what we do (and how we got started doing it).

Blogging101_5questionsRecently I had such an opportunity when it comes to the topic of blogging. Cory Miller is running a five question series about blogging for pastors on his Church Communications Pro website.  It gave me a chance to briefly evaluate why I continue to write information into this blog and the value and focus.  Here’s my answers to Cory’s questions.

Each of us make daily decisions about what we will write and what we will leave behind. This process doesn’t have a single answer but the response will change from time to time.  There are many times in my life when I’ve taken stock and moved in a different direction with my writing or my editing.  There is value in taking stock, learning something new, then applying this new insight to your daily work. It’s a regular part of my writing life to make these types of adjustments. I’m off to work on some book proposals which need to be completed and pushed out into the marketplace of ideas.

Like someone told me many years ago: it doesn’t get written when you only think about it. The writing only comes from simply putting your fingers on the keyboard and keeping them on the keyboard until the words are written. It’s not very profound but true.

Surprised Again

October 24, 2006

Yesterday morning I headed across Phoenix to a breakfast meeting. When I arrived, I discovered it was a pastor’s appreciation breakfast and a local bookstore invited ministers across the city to provide some inspiration and encouragement.   I attended the meeting to interview one of the attendees and gather more story material for one of my writing projects.  The scheduled speaker was someone I heard at a writer’s conference probably fifteen years ago: Bill Butterworth.  An entertaining speaker, Bill gave a timely message to this audience from one of his recent books, Balancing Work & Life.  It was a surprise to have the chance to see Bill briefly after many years—but that wasn’t my real surprise.

Frequently writers will tell me about their struggles to reach editors and communicate with them.  From the editor’s perspective, I understand the challenges. Many editors are consumed in meetings from when they arrive in the office until they go home—and it leaves little time to answer email or phone or write authors or would-be authors. While we are in the communication business, communicating is a constant challenge—for everyone.

Whalin-name-in-bookAs a part of this pastor appreciation breakfast, each person (including me) was given a bag of books.  After I got home, I sorted through these new books.  One item was a “preview booklet” and a compilation from a well-known magazine who were joining forces with a Christian publisher. (I’m not going to include either in this entry so I can tell you the story.)  I’m always interested to see who is contributing to such a volume. I knew most of the names on the cover of the book and I flipped over to the index.  Like most writers, I checked to see if my own name appeared—and imagine my surprise when I found my name in the index.

I couldn’t think of what I had written for this compilation. It’s been a number of years since my magazine work has appeared in these publications (at least for the particular target audience of this book). I could have shrugged it—but I decided to take a proactive step and discover the details.  I crafted a short email (intentionally short because I know these editors receive stacks of email with limited time to answer). In my short email, I asked about the specific  project, asked about my contribution, if I would receive a copy of the completed book and if there was any additional payment.

As I expected, I received a short reply from the editor. I selected someone who I thought would respond to my question—but wouldn’t necessarily have the detailed answers.  The original editor forwarded my email to another editor with the answers. This morning I heard from the editor who handled the details of the project. She even attached my letter about the project (apparently mailed in March of this year).  My excerpt was for an article published in 1998 and the letter was sent to a company that I worked for in the late 90s which no longer exists (a dot com). My bio and some of the other details were updated without any of my input and it’s too late at this point since the book is either back from the printer or soon to be available. I’m not making any excuses for this company but I understand the challenges of pulling together such a massive compilation project. The details are mind boggling to anyone.  The letter was typical of these types of projects with the implication that we’re writing about this project and if we don’t hear from you, then we assume you have granted permission and everything is ready to move ahead.  If I had been the editor, I would have set up the response in the same way.

I’m delighted to have my writing appear in this new book. It’s a way to give new life to the how-to article which appeared in one magazine. I hope the recounting of this experience shows how surprises happen in the publishing business.  Also I gave you some inside scoop on how to gently (yet proactively) stir the communication with the editor.  My tone was cooperative and understanding.  These steps are important because you never know when one of these relationships will spring back into my primary focus.

Let’s Talk About Book Proposals

October 23, 2006

Institute-of-Children's-LitOn Thursday, October 26th, I will be chatting for two hours at the Institute of Children’s Literature. The topic is book proposals and how as writers submit better proposals, then they will improve the results from their submissions.

If you can, join us for the chat. I recommend you go to the chatroom ahead of time to register (free) then participate. Here’s the times:

9-11 p.m. Atlantic/ Canada
8-10 p.m. Eastern
7-9 Central
6-8 Mountain
5-7 Pacific

Also you can email some questions ahead of time to Jan Fields at

If you are reading this entry after October 26th, the transcript for this chat are stored online. These archives are a rich resource of writing information on a variety of topics from many different participants. In the past, I’ve been in this chatroom—in fact three times (one and two and three in two parts) but Thursday will mark the first time talking about Book Proposals That Sell. I hope to see you there.

Note: If you are a Feedblitz subscriber, it’s a “work in progress” and I hope to have everything looking perfect in short order.

Subscribe for Access

October 21, 2006

In the last few days, I put together another Right Writing News or the newsletter for If you are a subscriber, I’ve not put one out in a while. If you aren’t a subscriber, then you are missing out. The price is right—free. If you subscribe, the welcome email provides a link with access to the back issues of the newsletter. Why is this important? It’s the only way to access this information. Today’s issue was #21 and almost 20 pages (a typical length for one of my newsletters).

For filling out the form and subscribing, you have free access to over 400 pages of how-to write information. I’ve not written all of the articles but like the articles scattered through the various sections of, various writers have contributed material. If you missed the issue, then go ahead and subscribe so you can catch up.

Today, I’ll be teaching about Book Proposals That Sell and the craft of interviewing at the American Christian Writers Conference in Phoenix. I’m looking forward to it.

PR Newswire’s Free Teleseminar Series

October 20, 2006

If you want to write for publication, one of the best steps you can take is to listen to the various editors. As you understand the needs of these members of the news media you can pitch better ideas through query letters.

Recently I’ve discovered the free teleseminars from PR Newswire. For example if you want to write about healthcare (a popular topic), then you need to learn from the healthcare reporters how they cover their area of the market. Or if you are writing about family issues such as marriage or parenting then listening to these family-related editors could provide crucial information. Each of these podcasts are free and easy to download to your computer. They provide a new resource for you to study and learn more about the market.

Use the various tools on this page to subscribe and continue your learning. It’s one of the most important steps you can take in your writing life. This type of information could prove invaluable as you make your next pitch.