Archive for February, 2007

Great Interview Tips

February 28, 2007

Through the years, I’ve interviewed many different people in various situations. Some times I’ve interviewed in a restaurant or in the corner of a busy room. At other times, I’ve been in the home of a particular person and interviewed them in this environment. Each interview is unique and calls on a different set of circumstances and skills, which I’m constantly developing and improving.

This week I found a great article loaded with solid tips for anyone who is interviewing someone else. That interview may be background for your fiction novel or the interview might be for a magazine article that you are crafting or numerous other writing projects. Eric Nalder at the San Jose Mercury News has valuable insight into this key area. While you are reading the article, also follow Bill Stoller’s various links at Publicity Insider. He’s another solid resource to check out.

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My entries about the writing life will be a challenge over the next few days. Tomorrow I head for Los Angeles and Mega Book Marketing University. It looks like a tremendous learning experience.

Controlled Success

February 27, 2007

Some days as I slug along in the trenches of publishing, I believe I could enjoy a bit more success if it came my direction. I know success is all in how you define it. Through my years in publishing I’ve been fortunate to work with some great people and have some terrific opportunities. The projects continue to come and I’m grateful for each experience.

In past posts, I’ve mentioned the final page of Publishers Weekly called Soapbox. They have different industry people give their perspective on some part of book publishing. Often I learn something and find it fascinating. February is African American Month. Several years ago I wrote a book which released in this month called Running On Ice by Vonetta Flowers, the first African American to win a Gold Medal in the Winter Olympics. In the February 19th issue of PW, Curt Matthews, CEO of Chicago Review Press Inc wrote the Soapbox column titled “A Killer Bestseller.”

How could a bestseller be a killer? It’s one of the rarely explained aspects of publishing–at least to authors. Every author assumes they finally write a great book and it lands on the bestseller list (which is often an orchestrated miracle). Then the author figures their book sells and sells. As Matthews explains in this short article, the publisher has to control their enthusiasm and success. I’m talking about the print runs for your book. If the publisher grows heady and unwise about how many books are moving out of their warehouse into the bookstores, they print too many copies. What happens when these books don’t sell after a certain period and are returned? The returns can be a killer to a publisher–even from a bestseller. While it’s not reported in the press, it happens. The supply chain is a delicate dance. You want it to be full so no one runs out of books yet you don’t want to print too many and get stuck with the returns.

These types of book controls are happening throughout the publishing industry and someone in each publishing house is monitoring these numbers–at least if they want to have a killer bestseller on their hands. Most authors are oblivious to this important part of the process.

In April, the American Society of Journalists and Authors will have our annual conference. Jeanette Walls, author of the bestselling memoir called The Glass Castle, is our keynote speaker for the large Saturday gathering at the Grand Hyatt in New York City. As usual, I’ve ordered Walls’ book and plan to read it before the event. Checking different sources on Bookfinder4u.com, I bought my book from Wal-Mart (a first time experience for me with books through their online site). This morning I received an email informing me The Glass Castle is backordered and they are trying to get this situation resolved as soon as possible. I admire that Wal-Mart had a system in place to tell me this information but as a first-time customer, my experience isn’t going too well for future orders. It depends on how quickly they are able to resolve it. I suspect this backorder has something to do with the exact subject discussed in A Killer Bestseller.

The Cliff Hanger

February 26, 2007

I love a good pageturner. Years ago when I lived overseas I appreciated listening to Radio Personality Paul Harvey. For part of his broadcast, he called The Rest of the Story. At least one book was created from these stories. He began telling some details about a particular person and the hook drew you into it. Except you didn’t know the name of the main subject wasn’t revealed until the next to last sentence. After speaking the name of the subject, Harvey ended with the trademark phrase, “And now you know the rest of the story.”

Last week I was reading The New Yorker magazine and noticed a special advertising section from Lunesta called The Art of The Story. The title alone caught my attention. The ad includes a story from former White House press secretary Joe Lockhart. His story was interesting on the topic about some of the first days in his new job when he traveled with President Clinton to Moscow. Visiting an old friend, he stayed up all night and returned to his hotel at 5 a.m. Here’s how the printed story in the magazine ended:

“So I got back to my hotel and made one mistake, which was to sit down on the bed. And, obviously, I fell asleep. I’m telling you, you don’t know anxiety until you’ve woken up as the White House press secretary on your first foreign trip at 6:15 a.m., in Moscow, without a passport, knowing you’ve missed Air Force One. Now, the only good thing that I could think of was, the day couldn’t get worse. I was wrong …” “Then it says read the story in entirety at www.themoth.org/artofthestory

You can see why I had to read the rest of it. Thankfully the full story was online. It was an effective cliff hanger technique.

Drinking the Koolaid

February 23, 2007

I’ve been challenged to get another entry written this week. It’s been wild with activity—good activity.

Yesterday I traveled to a lunch meeting but it consumed the entire work day. I had more than a little concern about how this commitment was going to throw off some of my writing production. I’ve signed up for some steep deadlines recently and need to be producing each day to meet those deadlines. It’s one of those necessities in the writing life.

While my non-technical wife thinks I have a bunch of gadgets, I’m a relatively gadget-free person. I don’t have a blackberry or an ipod or some the other more common gadgets. Several years ago, other writers were telling me about their great accomplishments on their AlphaSmart. I went to ebay and purchased one. I tried it a few times but never invested enough energy to learn how to transfer the material to my computer or any of the simple features in it. That barrier changed this week.

For my day trip, I pulled down my AlphaSmart and tucked it into my travel bag. During each flight when they sounded that bell to allow electronic gadgets, I reached under my seat and pulled out my AlphaSmart and began to pound the keyboard. The keyboard feels better than my laptop and it’s a funky-looking thing with only four lines of type–but oh, can you crank on it!

This morning, I transferred the material to my desktop computer in a matter of seconds. It’s a matter of taking off my printer cable and plugging it into the hole on the AlphaSmart. Then I open a document in Microsoft Word and hit the send button. Each file pulls right into my desktop. I created several different ones and combined them into a single double-spaced document which was nine pages. My initial draft isn’t perfect yet this entire project is much further along than if I had not written anything–which is normally the case for me.

It looks like something out of the stone ages but who cares? I went over to ebay and typed in a search for “AlphaSmart” and you can purchase these machines for very little money. My AlphaSmart has done little for me tucked on a shelf in my closet. It’s like many other things that only pay if you use them. I’m a convert and have drunk the koolaid on this one.

In less than a week, I head to Los Angeles for Mega Book Marketing University. Instead of a bunch of books, I’m going to slip my AlphaSmart into my laptop bag and use it on the flights. I’ll have my laptop along on the LA trip. Now I can see why my writer friends have been raving about this gadget.

Agents and Charges

February 19, 2007

I’ve been reading the Street-Smart Writer, Self-Defense Against Sharks and Scams in the Writing World by Jenna Glatzer and Daniel Steven. This book is loaded with wise advice. Glatzer is the creator of Absolutewrite.com and has been around the writing world for many years.

Unfortunately a number of people have figured out how to scam and profit tapping into the intense desire that writers have to get published. Because of the numerous rejections along the journey to get published, writers tend to gravitate toward anyone who gives them hope. Yet some of these people are only dispensing this hope to get into their pocketbook.

The first chapter is called Agents and Managers: Hone Your Shark-Spotting Skills. It tackles questions like Do You Need an Agent?, What a Good Agent Can Do for You, How a Bad Agent Can Hurt You, Deadbeat Agent Warning Signs and How to Research an Agent.

One of those telling signs to sound off internal warning signals relates to agent charges. When an agent charges a reading fee, this expense should make the writer turn and run. The Association of Author’s Representatives has strong statements about these fees in their ethical guidelines and membership rules. Also understand not every good agent is a member of the AAR.

It’s not a black and white rule like, “No agent should charge anything.” That’s not true because depending on your agency/ author agreement, the agent can invoice and recover standard business expenses–provided you’ve agreed to this process in the beginning of your relationship.

I loved the simple chart Glatzer and Stevens have included in their book because it helps writers sort through the hard-working legitimate literary agents from the scam artists. I’ve scanned this chart from page 12 and included it here.

The agent’s relationship with their authors is based on trust and good business practices. While the writers can be fooled with these scam artists, the publishers and editors are not. Glatzer and Stevens include discussions about screenwriting as well as books in this chapter and write, “The thing is, publishers and producers aren’t fooled by bad agents. They know which ones send them garbage or, at best, completely inappropriate submissions. And having that bad agent attached to your name can only hurt you, because it looks like that’s the best you could do.” Ouch.

It should give you something to think about in this area of the marketplace.

Someone To Believe

February 18, 2007

My wife and I love to go to movies. It’s one of our fun weekend recreations. This weekend, we caught the new Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore romantic comedy called Music and Lyrics. Grant plays a washed up 80s pop music star named Alex Fletcher who is looking for his next hit. His life has spiraled downward until about his only course of action is to play small events for his group of aging fans. Then a new pop sensation Cora gives Alex the chance to write a new song for her next mega-hit album. Yet Cora does not make an exclusive offer. Alex is one of seven different songwriters competing for this single opportunity. Barrymore’s character, Sophie Fisher enters into his home helping out her friend who waters plants. Alex sees something in Sophie that makes him believe she could be the lyricist that he needs to write the hit song. Through Alex’s encouragement and persistence, the pair work together on a song. (Yes, Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore really do sing during the movie.) I loved how Sophie clicked her ballpoint pen while she was trying to create her lyrics.

The longer I’m involved in publishing, the more I’ve found that every writer or a creative artist of any type needs someone to believe in them–and to spur them to greatness in their craft and work. In this movie, Alex Fletcher could see something in Sophie Fisher that she couldn’t see or even if she did see it, she discounted her talent. It’s more than having a person who cheers you onward, it’s a matter of the other person believing that you can do it–even if at first you don’t believe it yourself. Some times it’s a spouse and other times it’s another writer or an editor or a literary agent who will perform this function. As an editor, I’ve often drawn these qualities out of others. In my life, my wife, Christine, provides me with the lion’s share of this function. At times, some of my writer friends provide this belief for my life. I’ve seen it called different things but it’s a talent to spot valuable skills in others then draw these skills into action. You want to have someone who believes you can get it done and provides verbal encouragement.

If you don’t have this type of person in your life, can you take some steps today to begin looking for this person? I liked what Mike Hyatt said in his post about how to boost your energy–particularly his final point. If you have energy depleting people in your life, then you need to be aware of it and take steps not to let them drain your energy. And if you are looking for a great way to spend a few hours in the movie, I recommend Music and Lyrics.

A Dose of Reality

February 16, 2007

Writers are creative people who are dreamers. Now there is nothing wrong with dreams and I’ve got them as well as the next person–and I’m working toward achieving these dreams every day.

In the midst of your dreaming, every now and then it’s good to get a dose of reality to spur you in the right direction.

I actively participate in a large online group of writers. This morning one of the writers in Florida put out some figures of a presentation from a small publisher (who was not identified and that’s OK because the information is widely applicable). Here’s a bit of what was written:

“They get an average of 35 book submissions every week. Agented and otherwise. That’s at least 1500 per year and they publish only 5-7 every year. That’s about 99.5% rejection rate. We asked about criteria for rejection. They take first 30 pages of your manuscript and give it to at least 5 independent “readers” who then suggest to the publishers which manuscripts to read in full. They also give advances, which means you sell them your book. When they decide to publish they go with traditional printers and print 5000 copies or so to have a very low cost and leave as much margin as possible for promotion and marketing costs. They announce a new title at least 6 months before it is scheduled and then send up to 100 copies of book to reviewers.”

In today’s post, I’m going to include most of what I responded to this post and maybe it will give you a healthy dose of reality and encouragement toward excellence:

As someone who has read these over the transom, unsolicited submissions sent to a publisher, I can agree with these percentages. It can be pretty discouraging–yet you need to understand that most of these proposals are untargeted, unfocused and incomplete.

As an acquisitions editor, I can only help you if your proposal is about 70 to 80% perfect. Most of them are about 20% and a few are in the 50% category. They are missing some critical element like the word count or the vision for the book or the competition or the author’s marketing plan (yes every proposal whether fiction or nonfiction needs a marketing plan from the author–and don’t tell me you will appear on Oprah and are willing to do interviews–people actually write that into their proposals and it’s their marketing plan). As a result, these proposals are sent back with a form rejection letter. It is not the editor’s responsibility to fix your incomplete proposal–that’ s your responsibility as the author.

Book proposals are hard work–plain and simple–and most people aren’t willing to do that hard work. They’d rather dream about their fiction getting published yet they’ve not done the hard work of learning their craft and practicing their craft in the PRINT magazine world (and building publishing credits). Why print? It’s a much more demanding form than online–anyone can put stuff online.

I guess the question is whether you will be one of those people who write a riveting proposal that gets publishers climbing over each other to get your project. Yes, it’s possible. I’ve had those proposals in my hand–and I’ve even written a couple of them.

I’m eager for writers to be successful and that’s why I put the energy into Book Proposals That Sell. Now if only more people applied the information to their own work…

And if you need any more reality about this business, then check out this publishing quiz from a great book called Putting Your Passion Into Print–and in particular notice the answer to question #9–which is another truth you should recognize. Sorry to be a bit cynical, folks. Maybe it’s the material that has crossed my desk recently. It IS possible–if you put it together in the right way and pitch it in the right manner at the right time. As I’ve said before–and it’s worth repeating here–every agent and every editor is actively looking for these top proposals.

Here’s a little challenge which was not included in my post to the other writers. It’s terrific to read these how-to-write books or attend a writer’s conference yet will you be in the small percentage of people who will actually take the information and apply it to their own project. Many people at the conference will be inspired and encouraged. Yet this encouragement is temporary until they receive the next rejection or get home to face their own challenges. The key is to practice the craft and do the hard work of writing with such excellence that your work is irresistible.

Don’t Be Caught Cardless

February 15, 2007

It happens often. I’ll be attending a convention or a conference and ask the person for their business card at the same time I offer them my card. The other person will rummage in their briefcase or bag and not be able to produce the card. Sometimes they will take an extra business card from me then scratch out their name, email and phone number on the back of my card then hand it back. Other times they will make a note and promise to send me their information–which sometimes happens and sometimes never happens.

Why should I care? I have a broad network of friends, acquaintances and people who have crossed my path over the last 20 years in the publishing community. After I’ve been in one of these settings, I return to my office and add their information into my database. If I’ve known them for a while, I check that business card to see if any of their information has changed–and often it has changed so I fix my records. Our society is incredibly mobile. I don’t use the information often yet these business cards provide a means of access. You don’t want to be caught without a business card.

Another frequent situation is where I meet an editor toward the end of a conference and we talk for a few minutes. I ask for their card and they say, “Oh, I didn’t bring enough and what few cards I brought were gone in the first day.” When this happens, I have to do something proactive to write down their information or some other means to get it. A number of times, I’ve been one of the few people in the room to receive this contact information from a speaker.

Several of my long-time friends have told me they collect my various business cards. I’m sure they have quite an array of different companies and locations. You want to make sure your card gives a physical mailing address, a phone number and an email address. You can be selective which address or phone number or email address that you include but it should have all of these elements. Also I have different business cards for different purposes. One card touts my writing credentials while another card promotes a particular book or another aspect of my work.

In preparation for my forthcoming conference season (check this link for my various speaking opportunities), I’ve made a business card for Whalin Literary Agency. For the first time, I used Overnight Prints and was impressed with the quality (and low cost) of their work.

With a bit of preparation, you will be able to make sure you aren’t caught cardless.

Role Reversal

February 14, 2007

Usually when it comes to interviews, I’m the person interviewing someone else. Usually at writers conferences, I meet people who have never done a single interview. They are petrified to ask those first questions and complete their first interview. I’ve been conducting interviews related to my own writing since I was a sophomore in high school–more than a few years back. After high school, throughout the first couple of years of college, I worked on the campus daily newspaper. As a part of writing my stories, I conducted many more interviews. Throughout my magazine and book work, it’s been a constant skill which I use in my work. In fact, if you use the search tool in the right-hand column of The Writing Life, type the word “interview” then search my blog (not the web), you will find many pages with different articles.

It’s rare for me when the roles are reversed and I’m the person interviewed. Recently MaryAnn Diorio interviewed me for her blog, Musings That Matter. She has just posted our interview. Long-term readers of these entries, will probably see a few of my stories they’ve heard in the past. Others will learn some new things about my life through this interview. To my surprise it ended up over nine pages. I hope you will check it out and find some encouragement for your own writing.

Resource for Book Marketing

February 13, 2007

Early next month I’ve been invited to participate in Mega Book Marketing University in Los Angeles on March 2, 3 and 4. I’ll be meeting with participants and listening to their pitches and reading some of their book proposals as a literary agent. I’m looking forward to this opportunity and what I can learn from the experience. Also I’m eager to help the participants with their various book ideas.

If you look at the various speakers and read their backgrounds, you will see each of these people are heavily involved in selling millions of books.

Whether you attend Mega Book Marketing University or not, you can take advantage of their Free Preview Teleseminar Series. After you register for the calls, you can listen to these calls either live (the next one is Thursday, February 15th or you can listen after the call. The various calls are stored on this page and include the notes. Each one can be a valuable part of your personal education about book marketing.

As you listen to these calls, look for the transferable concepts. The speaker may be talking about a business book or something else which is completely outside of the type of book which you want to write. How can you take the principles and methods then apply these aspects to your own situation? If you approach these calls with the right mind set, then you can gain more than the normal listener.