Archive for December, 2006

Experiment Until You Find It

December 30, 2006

Where is the passion in your writing? It’s an important question to ask and answer if you want to find someone to publish your material. I’m not just talking about getting your writing published online (which anyone can accomplish). I’m talking about getting your writing published in printed magazines or books from traditional publishers. The standards, quality and expectations are much higher in these areas of the market. They require a greater commitment to the craft of writing. You have to understand what the editor wants then deliver that particular product.

Have you found that particular area where your writing passion matches the needs of the marketplace? From my years of experience in publishing, it is rare for you to instantly fall into the right place. You will have to experiment and find that place. I can’t predict how it will happen for you. Many people enter the writing world through children’s books. They have small children and read many books to their small child and think, I could write one of these. They sit down and in a few minutes produce something, then try and send it out into the marketplace and gather a bunch of rejection letters. Then they determine they need some instruction and market information. Maybe they attend a writer’s conference or they take a correspondence course such as the Institute of Children’s Literature. They successfully complete the course but still don’t get published. These writers need to continue to experiment and gain experience in the marketplace.

Many writers want to publish a book and ignore the magazine market. If you ignore the printed magazine market, you are missing some key training and publishing experience in my view. Most magazine articles will reach many more readers than the average book. Also magazine credits are important to acquisitions editors because it shows you have experience in publishing. If you write for a magazine, you learn valuable skills such as writing to a particular audience, writing to a particular length (word count) and writing on deadline. In addition, you gain experience about how the editorial process works. For example, if the magazine editor asks you for a different lead paragraph, how will you handle that request? Or if you need a different focus to your submission, can you follow the editor’s directions? When you receive the edited version of your story, how do you react and which areas do you push to fix or change? Each of these questions is a regular part of the writing process for magazines and the writer learns valuable skills from this process. It’s something you will completely miss if you are only focused on writing book-length manuscripts.

Recently I foChristmaslettersund this article from Publishers Weekly interesting about Bret Nicholaus. Initially Nicholaus self-published a Christmas book, The Christmas Letters, and sold almost 60,000 copies. Now a traditional publisher (Center Street) has released the book with a 75,000 copy first print run. Within the publishing community, Christmas books are considered seasonal and evergreen. They have a limited sales season right around Christmas yet readers buy these types of books year after year (evergreen). Also notice from this article, Nicholaus and his writing partner, Paul Lowrie, have a six-figure deal with St. Martin’s children’s imprint for a seven-book nonfiction series.

You don’t have to be locked into one genre or type of book. You do have to experiment with different types of writing until you find the best fit for you. It might be the best step you could take for your writing life in the weeks ahead.

Understanding the Bestseller List

December 29, 2006

I’ve always noticed certain bestselling authors books never appear on some bestseller lists. While authors like Max Lucado or Charles Swindoll have sold millions of books, their books have never appeared on bestseller lists like The New York Times or NY_Time_Best_Seller-smPublishers Weekly. Earlier this year, I addressed this issue and pointed to an article from Jonathan Merhk in Publishers Weekly.

Michael Hyatt, President and CEO of Thomas Nelson, wrote a recent post about the inaccuracies of the bestseller list. His explanation has helped my understanding of this area.  Yesterday, Mike added to the discussion and explained what it would take to get to a better bestseller list.

His post includes some fascinating links (make sure you look at them). The link which I found fascinating was his compiled list, The Thomas Nelson Top 100. Using proprietary data, he pulled the information from across the various sales channels for this list of the 2006 bestselling books. Why is it different? It is a list you will not find in any other place. Most bestseller lists will segment the hardcover books from the trade paperback books or the fiction hardcover from the nonfiction hardcover. Mike’s list rolls everything into one place and you can see which books were the top 100 books for the year.

Why is it important to consider in the first place? Success often drives more success. Many consumers use these list to determine their own reading choices. They will purchase a book of whatever persuasion or genre because it appears on a particular list.  Reading groups and book clubs use these list to make their selections.  If you write Christian books and those sales channels are excluded from a particular list when it it compiled, see how someone some place is limiting your choices and the overall results? At the end of his post, Mike throws out a challenge to the media outlets to compile a better bestseller list which represents sales across all the various channels. I’d love to see such a list. If that media outlet promoted the list and made news about the story of how their list was compiled, I suspect consumers would gravitate to such a list as a more accurate reflection of what the public is reading and buying.  The complete list could have strong exposure in the marketplace.

In the New Year, I hope someone will take up this gauntlet and compile a more accurate bestseller list.

A Look At The Top Publishers

December 22, 2006

Despite my long-term involvement in publishing, it would be a challenge for me to pull together a list of the top general trade publishers or the top Christian publishers.  Often this data is hard to find but Michael Hyatt, CEO at Thomas Nelson, has done the publishing community a great service with his recent article The Top Ten Publishers in America.

Any time you look at list, it’s important to consider what type of data was used to compile the list. Mike writes, “Over the past several months, we have compiled a proprietary database made up of various point-of-sale databases. It includes all the major retail sales channels. It does not include international, ministry, book fairs, direct-to-consumer sales, etc. If it did, we would be higher on the list because of our robust ministry, school fundraising, and live event sales. Scholastic would also be higher on the list because of their huge book fair business. However, this database only tracks sales through retail channels. We are now updating this on a monthly basis. As far as I know, we are the only publisher in world who has this information. The bold is my emphasis.

Several times in these entries, I’ve mentioned one of the hardest things to find is something that is not there. While I understand bestseller lists often use the imprint rather than the parent company name, a number of publishers are not on either list. Yes, they may have some bestselling books but those titles don’t boost them into this top ten list from retail sales. I’ll give you one name through this link but others also came to mind.

It’s an interesting look at some hard to find publishing data.

Are You A Right Writing News Subscriber?

December 21, 2006

Over the last couple of years, I’ve developed the website Right-Writing.com as a help to writers for many types of writing. If you haven’t subscribed to the free newsletter, I’d encourage you to subscribe. Why? It’s free but it also gives you access to how-to information which you can’t reach if you aren’t a subscriber. When you subscribe, the welcome message includes the link to the back issues. Also each newsletter includes this link to the older newsletters.

Last night I sent out issue #23 of Right Writing News and it contained 15 pages of how-to information on different topics for writers.  Much of the information was my own writing but several of the articles were from other writers.  If you print all of the content in the back issue of the Right Writing News, it is over 400 pages of material.

If you haven’t subscribed, click this link and fill out the form. It’s simple and on every page of Right-Writing.

It might be just the perfect boost for your writing life.

Bookmark These Resources

December 20, 2006

If you ever need to create a quick bibliography, then check out Ottobib.com. While it only works for books, you put in the International Standard Book Number (ISBN), select the type of bibliographic entry that you need (MLA, APA or Chicago/Turabian), hit the button that says, “Get Citations” and instantly you have the citation along with a permanent URL to reference. It’s a  resource worth bookmarking into a folder in your favorites.

BackflipI mark a number of websites into the favorites of my computer, but what if through some disaster, my computer crashes, what happens to all of that research and experience? Does it disappear? It does unless you protect it. Or what if you are away from your personal computer at the library and need to find a particular website but can’t recall the exact location? Are you stuck? Maybe unless you have stored all of your favorites into a place called Backflip.com. I’ve mentioned this site before but it was almost two years ago.  If you are at someone’s office or wherever, you can always access your favorite links.

Both of these resources have a great price tag: free. Take a few minutes to look around but make sure you bookmark them for your needs and your writing life.

Get Down to Basics

December 19, 2006

Recently I began reading the Church of the Customer blog entries from Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba. I like their no nonsense, straight forward focus in their entries. Their focus on the customer (or reader for book people) is excellent.

Last week, they sent an entry called 10 things about writing your first business book. They made some excellent points. Many of these points are something the author will have to answer as they write their book proposal. In order to get a publisher interested in a project, the author has to know exactly who they are targeting with their book proposal. No book is for “everyone” but each book is targeted to a particular audience—whether it is a business book or a romance novel.

With the thousands of business books which enter the market every year, Church of the Customer contains some insight with the points about marketing and promotion. I tend to disagree with point eight about the six-month rule. The months right before a book releases and the months immediately after a release are important to the author and the publisher. During this period you will likely receive the greatest help from the staff of your publisher. The flip side is that not every book takes off in those first few months. Some times, the author who has the greatest passion for the book will continue to push the book into the marketplace and months after the release it begins to appear on the bestseller list.

The key rule? There are no rules—just guidelines and experience from the past. If there were rules, then everyone would be successful. Some books make it while others do not. It’s part of the fun and excitement of the journey. I loved the sixth point about not planning to buy a BMW with your book royalties. It’s a new twist on the common saying for new writers: Don’t quit your day job. One of the crucial elements from my perspective is to keep working at building your audience and encouraging people to use your book and give it to others.

The Story Struck The Familiar

December 19, 2006

WearemarshallSeveral times a year, my wife and I take advantage of the “sneak previews” at our local movie theater.  If you’ve never been, these are movies which will release the next week or some times even two weeks from that viewing.   It’s like reading the pre-release of a bestselling book so you can write something for a magazine. For those people who attend a sneak preview, you feel like you are on the inside track. Actually the theater folks are smart because they generate one of the most powerful mediums of advertising–word of mouth. I’m guilty because I’m going to tell you about a sneak preview we caught on Saturday night. The movie releases this week.  We watched We Are Marshall.

This movie is based on a true story when a chartered plane carrying 75 people including the Marshall University football team crashed into the side of a hill on November 14, 1970. It was less than a mile from the Huntington, West Virginia airport, Marshall’s hometown and there were no survivors. The crash was the worst sports-related disaster in U.S. history. The story is one of hope about how they rebuilt the football team and the rise of the human spirit in the face of such a tragedy.

I loved the interaction between the characters in this film and how they struggled to recover and live in the present yet remember and celebrate their past.  Early on in thMarshalle story, Marshall’s assistant coach doesn’t fly on the plane but makes a recruiting trip on the way home. He quits his job and is building a shed in the back of his property. The new coach for the football team comes out to talk to the old assistant coach and try and convince him to come back to the team. This conversation happens on the roof of the shed. While the pair are talking, a train whistle sounds in the background and you can hear the rumbling of the freight train down the tracks. From the shed roof you can see the muddy Ohio River in the distance. This point in the film was only one of many that struck the familiar in my life. It will be different for every viewer but it sure hit home for me right there. Why? I was born in Huntington, West Virginia. My dad took some night classes at Marshall University. We lived across the Ohio River in a small town in Northeastern Kentucky for the first twelve years of my life. That scene from the movie was just like lifting a page from my memory banks about my childhood.

While every person who watches this film will have a different experience, the movie touches on universal themes. Each of us will have some tragedy touch our lives at some point. It may be tomorrow or it may be years away but it will happen. When you face tragedy, how to you handle it? Do you face it head on and rise to the challenge? We Are Marshall is a story filled with hope and the experience of life after death. If you want to read a moving story which emphasizes the truth from this movie, I recommend this story by Mike Morehouse on the Christianity Today site. Morehouse’s father, Gene Morehouse, was on the plane that crashed.

Whenever you tell a story, you face a challenge. Can your story hit such a familiar theme that it transports your readers to the setting of your story? They can feel it, taste it, smell it, hear it and see it. It’s part of our joy as storytellers and the quest for excellence in learning our craft and practicing these skills.

Story and Movies

December 16, 2006

 Have you ever had great anticipation for a new movie which is based on some book which you absolutely loved? Then when you watch the movie you are disappointed the movie didn’t meet your expectations?  Or you felt the movie left out some of the key scenes in the book?

One of the most amusing situations in this area (at least time) was with the John Grisham best-seller The Runaway Jury.  The storyline for the book centered on the tobacco industry. In contrast, the movie centered on similar issues but was about gun control. I noticed many people walking out of The Runaway Jury movie saying, “That was a good film but I don’t remember the book being about guns.” They were right. It wasn’t.  A small percentage of the content of any book can be captured in the film adaptation. The challenge for the book author or the screenwriter is the same: they have to tell a good story.

I confess that I don’t understand this adaption process but I’ve located a great resource which is loaded with insight and background for the adaption process. Stephanie Harrison wrote Adaptations From Short Story to Big Screen, 35 Great Stories That Have Inspired Great Films.  I picked up a copy of this book from Harrison’s literary agent, Farley Chase, when I was in New York City last month. I’ve been reading through this book and found it fascinating. Harrison emphasizes this process of turning the short story into a feature film and includes the short stories in this book from authors like Ernest Hemingway, Graham Greene, Joyce Carol Oates, John Cheever, William Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

AdaptationsIn her introduction Harrison says, “When stories (or authors) have entered into popular mythology, both critics and public alike resist their being tampered with. (Remember the beating director Roland Joffe and star Demi Moore took for their “free” adaptation of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter?–The script takes more liberties with the text than Elizabeth Berkley did with that pole in Showgirls,” complained USA Today). For this reason, films adapted from excellent but lesser-known tales have often been better received. Here, the short story has a distinct advantage over the novel; few short stories are embedded in the public’s consciousness in the way that popular novels often are.” Then a few pages later, Harrison circles back to The Scarlet Letter saying, “Somehow we need to teach ourselves how to approach adaptations fairly, as neither movie barbarians nor literary purists. A film shouldn’t need to spring fully formed from a writer / director’s loins in order to be deemed good. Nor should an adaptation be tethered too tightly to its source. (The Scarlet Letter didn’t fail because it was unfaithful; it failed because it wasn’t a very good film.) For artistic, financial and practical reasons–(there will always be a large percentage of people who never read the literary source)–films must succeed on their own terms. At the same time, though, they shouldn’t replace the stories they’re based on–though we, the reading public, have let this happen all too often. In the best cases, adaptations extend, enhance, and elaborate on their sources.” 

The key from my perspective is each form has to be grounded in excellent storytelling.

Spread the Fire

December 15, 2006

Several times, I’ve exchanged emails with Greg Stielstra, the author of Pyromarketing. He closes these emails saying, “Spread the Fire.” Those simple words can be a call to action for every writer.

What are you doing to continue to grow in your craft of writing?  Hopefully for the year ahead you are planning to attend a writer’s conference. Besides learning more about your writing craft, what are you actively doing to spread the fire or market your books, your writing for magazines or yourself?  It doesn’t have to consume your day but it does have to be on your radar. I like the suggestions Jacqueline Deval makes in Publicize Your Book if you only have 15 minutes a day. Each of us can find a small amount of time. The key is to keep move ahead or spread the fire.

I returned to this concept of spread the fire when I watched this short YouTube video about Pyromarketing. My Feedblitz readers will have to follow the link where I’ve embedded the actual YouTube video in my Writing Life entry. In a clear way, this book trailer shows the changes in the ways people have to be reached with your product. It’s true we are bombarded with these messages much more than in years past and it calls for a fresh strategy to spread the fire.

As part of my personal effort to spread the fire, over a month ago I launched this Writing Tip of the Day.  It’s a viral marketing effort which spreads without any additional promotion or effort from me. Each version includes the message so anyone seeing it one place can add it to their own website. In about a month, I believe it is on over 1500 websites—and changing daily.

Can you create something which will spread like fire?

Dreams CAN Happen

December 14, 2006

What vision do you have for the future of your writing life? Maybe you aren’t able to verbalize or even speak that vision to someone else. Maybe you will need to work hard over the next few years to shape your idea into a book proposal then pitch it to the right person at the right publisher at the right time. Or possibly you’ll have to invest in yourself and some education through reading some how-to write books and attending some writers conferences.  It’s key to have a big dream then plot a strategy to achieve your goals.

You may be wondering how I got on this topic. It came from reading todays issue of Shelf-Awareness. If you don’t get this free publication, go to their website and subscribe.  This particular issue includes an interview with Richard Nelson Bolles (better known as Dick Bolles) and the 36th edition of What Color Is Your Parachute? 2007 A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers which has 9 million copies in print. This Shelf-Awareness interview is interesting and notice the books Bolles is reading and in particular the book which changed his life–the New Testament.

ParachuteThe story I want to call to your attention about this book isn’t in this article. Bolles is now 79 years old and has an incredible life from the various editions of this book. In 1995, the Library of Congress listed What Color Is Your Parachute? as one of 25 Books That Have Shaped Reader’s Lives. (Some of the other books are in this link on Bolles website).

I had to look elsewhere to find the story which I remembered about Bolles. He hasn’t always been successful. I found the story in a 1999 excellent Fast Company article, “As an ordained Episcopal priest, he was canon pastor of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. But he lost his job in a budget crunch. He then landed an administrative position with the Episcopal Church, meeting with campus ministers at colleges across the country. He discovered that many of these ministers shared his predicament: Their jobs were in peril, and they had no idea what to do. So Bolles did some research and wrote a 168-page guide to help the campus ministers he was supervising find jobs and change careers. Stuck for a title, he remembered his wacky question from two years earlier. He self-published the book in 1970. The first pressrun was 100 copies, which Bolles toted to a meeting in Philadelphia and distributed free of charge. Then something extraordinary began to happen. He started to get orders — first for 1 or 2 copies, then for 40 or 50. Before long, orders were pouring in — not from other ministers, but from such institutions as General Electric, the Pentagon, and UCLA.”

He wrote his book as an outgrowth of a personal crisis and self-published it. When it took off, Ten Speed Press published Bolles’ book. As this article explains, “By 1972, a small publisher in Berkeley, California produced “Parachute” commercially. “Of course, nobody knew what the title meant,” Bolles says. “I’d go into bookstores and find it in sports, with books about parachuting.” In 1974, a recession rocked the country, and “Parachute”‘s sales soared and have remained sky-high ever since. For all of the changes in the world since the days of the Nixon administration, the book’s core advice hasn’t changed much. Finding a job is all about strategy. Choose the right strategy, and you can snare a good job even in bad times. Choose the wrong strategy, and even roads paved with gold will lead you nowhere.”

I’d encourage you to read the rest of the Fast Company article because he talks about rejection and other issues related to the writing life. I admire the fact Bolles had a dream in his heart, plotted the right strategy and got his book published. To his surprise, it has lasted in the marketplace over the years.  An excellent idea has this sort of staying quality.