Archive for January, 2007

Get The Story Down

January 31, 2007

Over the last fifteen plus years, I’ve had many opportunities to interview book authors and talk with them about how they practice their craft. Whether fiction or nonfiction, I’ve always been interested in how they start the process.

Gilbert Morris, a prolific novelist, told me about his unusual technique. He creates an outline of his story and knows the background on his characters. Then he sits quietly at his desk with a tape recorder and orally records his novel.  The tapes are transcribed and he takes this oral storytelling as the foundation to begin his rewriting process. Gil Morris told me about Sidney Sheldon, the bestselling author who also uses this technique. Yesterday at the age of 89, Sheldon died.  His initial technique to start his writing process was tucked into the Associated Press story: “Unlike other novelists who toiled over typewriters or computers, he dictated 50 pages a day to a secretary or a tape machine. He corrected the pages the following day, continuing the routine until he had 1,200 to 1,500 pages. ”Then I do a complete rewrite– 12 to 15 times,” he said. ”I spend a whole year rewriting.” Several of his novels became television miniseries, often with the author as producer.”

I have a full profile about Morris planned for an upcoming issue of Right Writing News, my free Ezine which is only available to subscribers. If you haven’t subscribed, follow this link and get a free bonus 150 page Ebook called Ezine Marketing Magic.

Each novelist has to find their own rhythm and storytelling technique. It’s the same for the nonfiction author about how they practice their craft.  There are many different ways to get the story down for the first draft. You have to determine which way works for you–your ability, your lifestyle and your available time to write.

Profile of a Risk Taker

January 29, 2007

Writers are risk takers to pursue their dreams of publication. They invest hours in shaping their idea (or they should) into a book proposal and sample chapters. Whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, they write the concept from their minds into print, then send it to the editors and literary agents.

Publishers are also risk takers. If you don’t believe me, just take a quick look at this publishing quiz from Putting Your Passion Into Print which I posted almost a year ago. [If you wonder how I remember such things, I don’t. Use the google search engine tool in the right-hand column.]

One of the publishing community’s risk takers is Judith Regan. I alluded to her in my last post. Several years ago, I was sitting in the office of a New York City literary agent and she told me a story about Judith Regan. This agent had shopped a proposal from a leader in the skateboard community named Tony Hawk (before the huge popularity of his video games). The agent presented the proposal simultaneously to a number of publishing houses. Each of these publishers rejected the proposal–except Judith Regan. She understood the vision for the book as well as the risk. Regan Books published this book and I recall the agent telling me this title sold over 100,000 copies.

There are strong feelings about Judith Regan and how she operated in the publishing world. Just look at this article in Vanity Fair from two years ago if you don’t believe me. In this post, I wanted to point out this recent profile from New York Magazine about Regan. It’s another perspective about this risk taker.

Today writers will pitch many different ideas into the editorial and agent offices around the country. How are you positioning your pitch? Is it exactly on the target for a particular magazine or a particular publisher? Or will it be outside the range of what they publish? My encouragement is to polish your submission before you make this pitch into excellence. If you’ve worked hard on the craft of your writing and your persuasive language, it will lower the risk and gain a fair hearing.

A Rare Look At Contract Details

January 27, 2007

A great deal of publishing has a public face where the details are easily known about different aspects. There is also a rarely seen part of book publishing and that’s the book contract.

Several times, I’ve been privileged to write a couple of books which garnered a six-figure advance. One of my book proposals with a six-figure advance appears in the appendix of Book Proposals That Sell.

When you receive a book contract from a major publishing house, it can be daunting. Often these contracts are about 18–20 legal-sized pages of legalese. No wonder people turn to literary attorneys when they receive such an agreement. The parties to the agreement (the publisher and the author) sign the arrangement then tuck it away in their files. It’s not a public record for other people to read it or see how it even looks–normally.

Last year, I moderated a panel on contracts at the American Society of Journalists and Author meetings. One of the panelists brought a handout of the Random House Joan Collins contract from the pre-computer days. I posted it (follow this link) because the contract is in the public domain. You can see the cross-outs and how it appears.

Now because of another legal matter, you can see an actual Regan Books/ HarperCollins contract. It’s complete with the signatures and everything. The Media Bistro Blog posted an article about the cancelled OJ Simpson book. Because the contract went into a public court document, Media Bistro posted this agreement and you can see it from a link in the article. If you scan through it, as I did, you will notice the writer was paid $125,000. Many have discussed the inappropriate nature of this book and celebrated when it was cancelled–and I agree.

My point in this entry is to show you something rarely seen–a recent, signed full-length, complex book publishing agreement.

A Great Resource Now Better

January 25, 2007

If you want to write for the Christian marketplace, one of the essential resources is the Christian Writers’ Market Guide by Sally E. Stuart. For more than twenty years, Stuart has been the go-to marketing person helping writers.

Because I’ve got personal relationships with many of the book editors and magazine editors, I’ll admit that I don’t purchase one of these massive guides each year. Instead, I get it about every third year. With the 2007 edition, Christian Writers’ Market Guide became even better. Now this reference book includes a CD-ROM for either Windows or Mac which includes a Word document and a PDF format of the entire text of the book.

Why is this important? Let’s say you are looking for a literary agent, you can cut and paste the various addresses rather than retyping them on your labels. If you’ve written a query letter and simultaneously submit it to several magazine editors, you will save time using the cut and paste feature of the Market Guide.

Before you do a massive mailing from a printed guide book of any type, be aware this information is constantly changing. For example, my defunct email at Howard Books is listed in the guide. Stuart works on constant updates. I’m sure she’s hard at work on the 2008 edition while the 2007 book has just released. This example shows the constant movement within Christian publishing. The market guide is just the first step in your research process to understand the various markets. It’s the writers responsibility to address the right editor and the right publication rather than glut the system with a bunch of wrongly-targeted submissions.

Besides the contact information for different portions of publishing, Stuart includes analysis of bestsellers and lists the most popular topics for books. This information can help you select the right publisher or the right publication for your idea.

A Thrilling Contest

January 23, 2007

I don’t enter many contests. The writing world has many of them and often they have the word “scam” associated with them. Occasionally you find a contest worth entering–and I wanted to tell you about it.

The International Thriller Writers are offering the grand prize of 150 signed thrillers for their contest. The contest runs until February 15th and to enter you have to fill out a short form with your name and email address. Through this contest, you are signing up to receive their newsletter, which is a good newsletter. If you don’t want the newsletter, you can unsubscribe. I would love to win this contest. Of course I am lowering my chances of that happening as I tell you about this contest. Everyone has an equal chance so give it a shot and you will get a great newsletter no matter what happens.

Last summer the ITW held their first ThrillerFest in Phoenix and it was a virtual whos-who of thriller writers. I learned a great deal and wrote a short article with tips for thriller writers. This month my article appeared in a writing publication. Page One and Page Two Whether you write thrillers or any other type of fiction, you can gain some valuable tips through this article.

Hope Against the Naysayers

January 22, 2007

If you travel in publishing circles, you hear lots of different opinions about what topics will break through and become bestsellers. Mostly these thoughts are thrown out on the negative side of things. I’ve heard the same things. People have been saying, “The children’s book market is completely flat.” Now there is some validity to this viewpoint and I’ve read articles in the trade magazines to validate this comment. Does this mean that you shouldn’t write children’s books? Not necessarily. Bounce that view off another conversation I had in a major literary agency about a year ago. I was a few blocks from Times Square in New York City meeting with a fairly new literary agency. Two former publishers at a major publishing house had opened their own shop. While the bulk of their work was with clients in the adult book area, one agent told me that the week before she had negotiated a major deal for a children’s author.

If you are a children’s book author, it is difficult to find a literary agent. The reasons for the difficulty are fairly straight forward. Literary agents work on a commission basis for their sales. In general, these agents follow the ethical guidelines of the Association of Author Representatives (whether they are members of the organization or not). You probably don’t want to be working with agents who charge reading fees. Most children’s books have modest advances (especially first-time authors). It takes a similar amount of time and energy to negotiate a $1,000 advance book contract as it would to negotiate a $10,000 advance or a $100,000 advance. Where do you think the agents would rather spend their limited resources of time and energy? That’s why in general, it’s difficult to find a literary agent for children’s books–not impossible but difficult. Also many book packagers are producing children’s books. The naysayers are everywhere saying, “Don’t do it.” Or “It is hard.”

With fascination, I read this Soapbox article from literary agent Stephen Barbara in Publishers Weekly. Barbara specializes in young adult and middle-grade novels. It’s an area of the market where there are many book packagers and long odds to place a project with a publisher. Yet in some circles the teen fiction market is really selling like crazy. Read the entire article but look at the hope in his conclusion, “Maybe there’s another way: write a work of highly individual imagination and flair. Build a world. Push the culture in a new way. Explore a taboo. Reinvent a classic. Experiment with the language. For the packagers do have a weakness: they’re good at sniffing out what’s hot now and producing that book, but they can’t create the Harry Potters, the Book Thiefs, the Looking for Alaskas–works that are ahead of the pop culture or beyond the vagaries of time. For a writer–and for publishers, too–that’s a pretty good place to be.”

It’s easy to get discouraged in the writing business. Rejection comes hard and fast. It’s the writer’s responsibility to put together a compelling case why you should be given the chance to write your book. It may be your writing needs some work and improvement. Or it may be that you are not writing a compelling pitch or book proposal. What are you going to do in the face of this rejection? You have a choice to set it aside and try a new type of writing (which can be a step of wisdom for some writers). Or you can labor on looking for the right connection.

Another Resource About Publicity

January 20, 2007

I’m continually amazed at the vast online resources to teach you about almost any topic. For the writer, the key is to choose to learn about the particular resource at the time they need to learn about it. If you want to write children’s books, then you need to be learn more about this area. If you want to write magazine articles, then learn how to craft your articles. If you want to write books, then you need to understand how book publishers process ideas and be crafting a book proposal.

Yesterday I wrote about press releases as a tool to expand your message and reach new audiences. One of the comments came from Joan Stewart, the Publicity Hound. Until her comment, I had not visited her website but what a vast resource on this topic (and much of it free). In the press release area, Joan has created a free 89 lesson tutorial to teach you how to craft and use news releases. You gain her personal instruction and insight as a 20-year veteran journalist. Late yesterday I signed up to receive this instruction. Why? There is always something new to learn and I am continuing to learn and grow as a writer, editor and now agent.

As a writer, you can certainly delegate the publicity and marketing roles to your book publisher. That’s your choice and you will reap the results of such a decision–positive and negative. Publishers are looking for authors to partner with them in this process. I love the opening sentence in Jaqueline Deval’s Publicize Your Book! because it resonates truth from my experience, “The reality of book publishing is that there are too few resources to support every book.” While I haven’t examined each area of The Publicity Hound, it looks like a great place to learn more about this area.

Press Your Message

January 19, 2007

Can you use the power of the press to spread your news about a product, a milestone in your business or your writing life? It is a skill for every writer to learn about and develop. It will involve learning the skill of creating a press release.

There are some great online resources for you to develop this skill. I appreciate the work of Bill Stoller and his perspective in Publicity Insider. Check out this site to get his insight about how to write a press release. Also sign up for a sample of his newsletter. I’ve found each issue loaded with valuable information.

Why do you want to press your message with a press release? If you craft a press release, send it to the right person at the right time, they can quickly spread your news. Notice the conditions that I included (right person, right time, right shape of release). I’m letting people know about the launch of Whalin Literary Agency. This week I wrote a short press release, then sent it to a few key publications. Like a great deal of the work, there are no guarantees that anyone or any publication will use your material. My release was picked up in several online publications which reached thousands of people with this news.

Just to manage your expectations, press releases don’t always work. I was discussing this aspect yesterday and this person mentioned sending out a release about the addition of a new service. No one picked up on the news. It’s a gamble and involves many different factors outside of your control. You can control writing an excellent press release then sending it to targeted publications. Much of this type of work operates on the same principle: do what you can do and see what happens. It’s like the manuscripts which some writers stick into their desk drawers. That work will never reach anyone because it is not getting out to the marketplace.

The Literary Agent’s Role

January 18, 2007

For many years, I’ve been teaching writers about the book business, book proposals, magazine writing and the craft of writing. I shudder to think about those first few writer’s workshops where my own background was limited and what I could actually give to others was limited as well. Those writing tapes are probably still floating around some place. Occasionally someone will write and tell me they are listening to one of those old sessions. If that writer gets something out of it, then great but I’m a little unsure about that information because I’m constantly learning and growing in my craft.

I’ve met and worked with a number of outstanding literary agents. Also I’ve fired a few of them. There is great diversity among agents and each writer has to find the right match for their project and their particular needs. Many people have encouraged me to become a literary agent and I’ve resisted with all sorts of excuses which were mostly lame as I look at them. I’m in the process of telling people about Whalin Literary Agency. It’s taken me a few weeks to get some of the business structure for the agency in place (and that will continue to improve).

For most publishers, agents are serving as the developers and refiners of writer’s ideas. As an editor, I’ve often seen book proposals or manuscripts which could be improved–and maybe seriously considered for my publisher. Yet with the flood of submissions (which numerous people estimate to be in the millions), the editor can’t do much except send a form rejection. I’ve attempted to help writers through articles, these entries, Book Proposals That Sell and other venues such as teaching at writer’s conferences. As a literary agent, I will be taking on the role of helping writers shape their ideas and proposal packages into something compelling. I’ll be working back and forth with these authors to refine their proposals before sending them to various editors. I’ll also be looking at the big picture of their career and discussing where they want to go in the long run and planning the steps to get there. Then I’ll be fulfilling the other roles of a literary agent such as negotiating the contract, handling the business aspects and stepping in to help the writer if there is any problems in the process.

My personal vision about how I will handle my role comes from years of working with many literary agents. I continue to learn from these colleagues. I’m glad for the opportunity and expectant about my future. I’d encourage you to check out my agency website.

The Snap Difference

January 17, 2007

Bloggers love to include lots of links. It’s one of the trademarks of this form of writing and something I’ve practiced from the beginning of these entries on the Writing Life. The links are a way to give additional information and value to the reading experience. But what if you accidentally put in the wrong link or a link which doesn’t work? If you do, you frustrate lots of readers.

Yesterday for the first time, I went to Duct Tape Marketing, which has numerous blog awards. I’ll be returning here often. As I looked around the site, each time my mouse pointed to a link, to my surprise the actual site appeared in a miniature format. It’s a free tool called Snap Preview Anywhere that you can also get at Snap.com. It’s quick and a matter of pasting a bit of code into the blog template. According to Snap.com, 50% of searches end in failure. Their search tool is something you should look into downloading, installing and giving a test drive.

Attention Feedblitz readers: I’m including a little visual from Snap.com but this graphic doesn’t do justice to the experience. Please click over to my actual blog location from this email and test drive this addition to the blog. It is easy to install and free.