Archive for June, 2007

Does It Sound Like Writing?

June 12, 2007

I’ve been reading Jurgen Wolff’s book, Your Writing Coach. It’s broad look at various types of writing from fiction to nonfiction from books to screenplays to magazine writing. I’ve appreciated his vast writing experience and his solid bits of advice. Because Wolff comes from a film background, he has included online bonuses for each chapter. Of course, you have to go to his website and register (smart) plus type a key password from the book to access the bonus film clip (also wise because it forces people to purchase the book to have access). I’ve only looked at a few of the bonus clips but plan to look at more in the days ahead. This book is loaded with practical and tested advice from a practicing writer who has helped other writers.

As an example in his chapter called Watch Your Language, he includes a brief look at novelist Elmore Leonard’s ten rules for showing and not telling. I found the expanded list online at Leonard’s website. They are fascinating and helpful rules. After these rules, Leonard writes, “My most important rule is one that sums up the 10. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It’s my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing.” I loved that line: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. It’s good advice from my perspective.

A bit later in this chapter, Wolff writes about how to master dialogue saying, “The most useful skill for someone who wants to write good dialogue is eavesdropping. By listening carefully to how a variety of people speak, you absorb a lot of useful information. There is a fantastic website for any writer who wants to get a sense of the voices of real people: http://www.storycorps.net/. It features more than 10,000 recordings of people talking to each other about aspects of their lives.” It’s another resource for you to use in improving your dialogue. It makes it easy to eavesdrop.

I recommend Your Writing Coach as a solid investment in the future of your writing life.

Control What You Can

June 11, 2007

After several days on the road at the Frontiers In Writing Conference in Amarillo, Texas, I’m home before I take off later in the week for another conference. I’m using a beautiful new coffee mug that I received from the Amarillo conference. It’s one of those Barnes and Noble Cafe montage with illustrations of different famous writers. Fun.

Best-selling thriller writer Barry Eisler was the keynote speaker at the conference. I had never met Eisler but enjoyed his messages to writers and I purchased his first novel, Rainfall and enjoyed my conversation with him. Eisler was driving across country promoting his latest novel which landed one week on the New York Times bestseller list. He told about arranging to go to 200 bookstores in 15 days. It was an innovative way to tour the country and stir interest in a new title.

A former CIA agent turned lawyer turned novelist, Eisler gave writers some solid advice and I wanted to repeat part of it. He determined that he would not be at fault for not realizing his dream of publishing his novel. Yes, the fault would arrive with someone else–publishers who didn’t see his vision or agents who turned him down or ______ (you can fill in the blank here). Eisler encouraged writers to control what they can control and that they can not control if they will get published. He said the journey is not all about luck and it’s not all about hard work. Yes, luck and hard work are involved. While you can influence luck through some decisions, you can’t control luck. His message was for writers to write their book because if they don’t write their book, then they will regret it. He said, “If you can to it, finish your novel then you will have nothing to regret. And your mission as much as possible is to get it published.”

He encouraged writers to break down their writing goals into weekly and daily and even hourly chunks of writing and to approach their task one day at a time. Each of us make choices about how we will spend our time. For example, Eisler doesn’t watch much television or even have a television in his home. Instead, he’s committed to the task of writing. It was a solid message that I appreciated.

The Weekend Traveler

June 6, 2007

For the next few weeks, I’m turning into a weekend traveler. I’m out on ether Thursday or Friday and back on Sunday. It’s one of those schedules that looked good on paper but as the dates approach, I’m wondering what compelled me to agree months ago and some times well over a year ago. I’m committed to helping new writers and training other professionals.

Tomorrow I’m headed to Amarillo, Texas and the Frontiers in Writing Conference. I met some great folks there several years ago and look forward to seeing them again and making new friends. If you check the link you will see that I’m teaching a couple of workshops. I could have pulled out my old notes and handouts and used them with the group. It’s tempting since it is in a different part of the country from where I’ve taught the information in the past. I’ve attended such workshops where it feels like the speaker has pulled out their shop-worn notes to try on a new audience. As an audience member, I don’t like it so I’m not going to do that to others. Instead, I’ve put some extra effort into reworking my materials and bringing new information. It takes more effort but I believe it will pay off in the long run.

On a completely different topic, from time to time I read the Church of the Customer blog and enjoy their information. I found this post fascinating about how a blogger took a customer service matter and turned it into a PR nightmare for CompUSA.

If these entries about the writing life are some times sparse during June, just remember that I’m a weekend traveler this month–and on the road the next three weekends in a row.

Interesting Book Buyer Statistics

June 5, 2007

Some people are purely nonfiction readers. I will often ask people what they read and they will tell me. Other people are purely fiction readers.  Novels and stories are about all they will turn to during their reading time. I’m one of those people who attempt to follow a middle ground in this area. I read both nonfiction and fiction in a wide genre of categories.

From my years of reading, I know there is one dominant genre in the fiction area of the market: romance. In response to this domination, there are some strong writer’s organizations which have supported and fostered these writers like the Romance Writers of America, the American Christian Fiction Writers (originally called the American Christian Romance Writers until a couple of years ago) and other groups.

Several times a year, Publishers Weekly includes a cover story featuring romance writers. Their latest is called Love for Sale in the May 28th issue. While the article is interesting, make sure you scroll to the bottom of this article and notice the statistics. With 31% of romance readers purchasing their books from mass merchandisers, it certainly explains why the grocery stores and bookstores continue to stock their mass merchandiser display. Whether you read the romance genre or not, it’s information worth knowing in my view.

Book Reviews in the Newspapers

June 4, 2007

When I read my local newspaper, the Arizona Republic, I’m always looking for information about book publishing. Today the Living section included a terrific article about Books for Summer. It is increasingly harder to find these book reviews and in fact a crowded market is shrinking.

Yesterday I was talking with an author that I’m working with on a writing project. He has a new business book that is out and had been at the Book Expo America in New York City. He remarked his publisher was going to be working to get the book reviewed. I listened but I knew it would be a challenge to even get a few good reviews. If you want some insight into this area, check out Lissa Warren’s excellent blog entry over at The Huffington Post. Her entry points out the difficulties for publishers and authors with these shrinking pages.

Lissa knows what she is talking about and has an excellent book, The Savvy Author’s Guide to Book Publicity. We met several years ago at the American Society of Journalists and Authors meeting in New York. I have a brief excerpt from her book on Right-Writing.

Your Personal Invitation Plus

June 3, 2007

Today I created a simple audio postcard to invite participation in Tuesday, June 5th, free teleseminar event. Check it out right here.

I hope you will come to the event yet I want to do more than that in this entry about the Writing Life. Some of you are going to look at this postcard and believe I have some hired webmaster who I’m working with to pull off this postcard. That webmaster doesn’t exist.

Others will think that I have a high degree of technical computer skills with all sorts of programming training. No, that isn’t true either. Nor was the process so complex that it consumed hours of time to create. It did not.

This postcard was created using the templates within Audio Generator. If you can use Word for wordprocessing on your computer, then you can use Audio Generator. It’s all menu-driven or point and click. Anyone can use these tools. Find the courage and dive into trying it.

I’m personally inviting you to attend the Tuesday event. I hope to speak to you soon.

Gimmicks Can Work

June 2, 2007

The Weekend Edition of the Today Show was reviewing books to read at the beach and one of them caught my attention. It was a book called Poolside, or 14 stories from a number of well-known authors about their experiences around a swimming pool. The gimmick for this book is that it’s waterproof. In fact, they had a little plastic pool and fished it out of the water on the show.

I have no idea how the short presentation affected other people but I went to my computer and ordered one. It worked to get me and purchase the book. It’s definitely different and I’ll be curious to see what it looks and feels like–then to read the book. The real test is not going to be the gimmick. It’s going to be what is contained in the pages. If the writing and content is excellent, then I will probably be telling even more people about it.

With the proliferation of books, media and product in the marketplace, it is a challenge to get someone to purchase the book in the first place. The next step is to produce something so excellent the user becomes an evangelist for your product. You want to enable that person to actively spread the word about your book any chance they get the opportunity. It’s some of the principles of Greg Stielstra’s excellent book, Pyromarketing. If you don’t have it, get it and I recommend you read his introduction. I’ll be watching my mailbox for my copy of Poolside so I can check it out for myself.

One more thing: Numerous times in these entries, I’ve recommended snipurl.com. Their site has undergone a major overhaul. They say they are in beta mode but I applaud their improvements to the site. If you’ve never used it, register and log on to the site because then you can create your own private abbreviations for various links. It’s a terrific resource that I use throughout my day.

The Necessity: Ask The Right Question

June 1, 2007

I’ve watched writers over the years and know they are a creative bunch. The majority of them have some idea for a magazine article or a novel or a book, sit down and crank it out. Often they invest hours in the writing process and when it’s completed, they turn and try to sell that manuscript to a magazine editor or a book publisher.

Because there are literally millions of these ideas, queries, book proposals and manuscripts in the jammed pipeline, the writer waits forever for a response from some editor or literary agent. They burn a path to their mailbox or their email box looking for some response. And often when that response comes, it’s a rejection. That’s when the self-doubts set in for the writer.

It’s like the old chicken joke which has been around forever. What came first the chicken or the egg? Where in the creation process of the writing do you begin and write something that fills a need in the market? There are three large elements with this process: Messenger, Delivery System and Market. The majority of people believe they are the messenger, the book is the delivery system and they are trying to reach the market. It’s a long-shot way of touching that market in my view because not enough research has been put into discovering the need of the market.

Yesterday I was fascinated with this transparent post from Thomas Nelson President and CEO Mike Hyatt. While the writer invests vast amounts of time and creative energy in their idea, the publisher has the real “skin in the game” (as some people would say) or financial investment. The publisher has created a product and most of that creation is based on their experience and some “gut” reaction. Mike makes a case for the publisher to do more research before they produce the product. I want to take this idea a bit further and encourage the writer to survey the marketplace before they write another book proposal or another query letter.

How do you survey your market? I’d suggest you use a tool called the Ask Database. Behind the scenes, I’m using this Ask Database to compile the questions and data for my free teleseminar next week (and other teleseminars that are in the planning stages). I hope you’ve asked your question about book proposals or the publishing process because I’m eager to gather your input. Each writer should be building a list of people they can survey. It’s their market and they should be connecting with their readers to find out what they want–then write something that fills a need in that audience. You communicate to your audience on a regular basis through a newsletter like my FREE Right Writing News.

This process of asking the right question and meeting a market need is more important than ever for every writer. Why? We’ve been saying there were 170,000 new books published last year–and a very small percentage (something like less than 500 book titles sold over 5,000 copies–I’ve heard this statistic but can’t lay my hands on it–so I’m hedging) actually sold. Here’s the frightening detail: R. R. Bowker who compiles the statistics have reworked their method to compile the numbers. Now they estimate that over 290,000 books were published last year–a 120,000 jump from their previously published number of 170,000.

Whether the number was 170,000 or over 290,000, it’s a huge number of new books–and many of those titles are entering the market but not selling. I return to my key point in this entry: Are you asking the right question and what are you doing to get your answers?