Archive for the ‘article’ Category

Mysterious Bestsellers

May 18, 2007

If you have not seen it, make sure you catch this article from the New York Times several days ago called The Greatest Mystery: The Making of A Bestseller.

The article is interesting because reporter Shira Boss interviewed a number of key players in the book publishing business. My conclusion after reading it remains the same: while you can point to different variables and factors, it is impossible to predict how a particular book will land in the marketplace. Yes the author can be active and make considerable effort but the results are unpredictable.

Look For A Mentor

May 7, 2007

Throughout my writing and editorial life, I’ve learned a great deal from many different sources. About twenty years ago, I had no idea how to focus my magazine articles for the marketplace. It was through the patient teaching of a more experienced writer that I learned the skill of crafting a query letter and writing the assigned magazine article. The learning process wasn’t easy. Often my manuscript was returned with many editorial marks and I could have grown discouraged and given up. Instead I pressed on and continued writing. It’s a lesson I hope you will do as well with your writing–press on in the midst of rejection.

One of the biggest authors in the thriller writer area is James Patterson. I’ve read several of these books and enjoy Patterson’s crisp style and fascinating plots. I’ve wondered he has been co-authoring some of his books and how that process worked. You can gain a bit of insight from this Soapbox column in the April 30th Publisher’s Weekly by Andrew Gross titled, The Patterson School of Writing. I found several fascinating elements of this article. First, his connection to James Patterson came from his publisher talking with his agent. Catch that little detail in this article.

Next look at the different lessons Gross learned as he worked seven years with James Patterson. He gives five specifics (you can read the article for the various lessons) but here’s the truth which struck me: “In sum, I learned how to write for one’s audience, not the people you want them to be.” It’s a common flaw in writers. They are writing for themselves and not the audience.

Another key lesson that I’ve been learning is to focus on the people and the relationships instead of trying to figure out how to speculate what will happen from an income or financial standpoint. Yes, we need to have the financials in mind but it’s the relationship which will hopefully continue long into the future. I’ve had many mentors in my life and I continue to be mentored. I’m grateful for each person who continues to teach me either through a book or an audio program or face to face.

Honoring Christ in Cartoons

April 9, 2007

Editor’s Note: I wrote this story at least ten years ago and it appeared in several print magazines. I also used it in the December 2004 issue of Right Writing News, a free ezine. If you aren’t a subscriber, please take a couple of seconds to fill out the simple registration form. I have not rewritten this story but I include it today as a tribute to Johnny Hart, who passed away yesterday at his drawing table after a stroke at 76. Our loss was heaven’s gain. I hope you will receive some inspiration from his story.

The wires were everywhere but it was the television test pattern–Christian programming–that caught Johnny Hart’s attention. For the last 44 years, this renowned cartoonist has drawn the daily comic strips, B.C. and Wizard of Id. Syndicated in over 1200 newspapers nationwide, many people get a boost for their day from Hart’s humorous look at life.

Several weeks earlier, a real estate agent called Hart. “I’m not interested,” he told the agent. “We’re remodeling our home and love it.”

“It’s a sizable estate of 150 acres and includes a 30 acre lake,” the agent said.
“A lake stocked with fish?” Hart asked. “I should probably see this place.”

Hart and his wife, Bobby, liked this heavily wooded property in upper state New York. They moved to the property several weeks later and were now trying to get the television to work. The reception was terrible.

Each day when Hart works at his drawing table, he likes to have something else going on such as jazz music or television. Hart’s carpenter from Endicott, New York encouraged Hart to purchase a satellite dish. The installation process for the satellite hook up wasn’t a simple connection from the house to the dish.

Johnny wanted TVs in different places of his home and several places of his studio. His 5,400 square-foot studio was located across an inlet from the lake. In order to properly set up the satellite dish, the installation meant digging underground laying wires and testing the connections.

“Every time I walked into the room, these men had Kenneth Copeland, D. James Kennedy and other Christian preachers on the television,” Hart recalls this incident from 1987. As children, Johnny and Bobby had attended church. Then when he married Bobby, he says, “I knocked church out of her.”

“Is this all we’re gonna get?” Hart grumbled as they set up the satellite connection. When the men offered to change it, Hart permitted them to continue. Before too long, Hart began sneaking into empty rooms and watching sermons. If his wife walked through the room, Johnny changed the channel.

One Sunday morning, Hart asked his wife, “Do you want to go to church?”

“Church? Not really,” Bobby responded firmly. Hart accepted the decision and quietly prayed for his wife. Another Sunday, Bobby came bounding into the room and asked Johnny, “Do you want to go to church?” Johnny quickly agreed and they attended the nearest church in Nineveh, New York. This small town has a grocery, a post office and the Nineveh Presbyterian Church.

For the last several years, Johnny teaches the young adult Sunday School class that he calls “the spill over class.” Hart explained about these junior and senior high school teens, “They’re the kids too old to care about Sunday school anymore. I teach things from the Bible which fascinate them and me.”

When it comes to cartooning, Hart is a master at his craft. His fellow cartoonists have often recognized him as the best in the field with awards like Best Humor Strip in America, six times (The National Cartoonist Society) or Best Cartoonist of the Year (France’s highest cartooning award). While 98 per cent of the response from readers to his cartoons are positive, sometimes Johnny strikes a blow for Christianity through his humor and stirs some controversy.

“No one had any problem when I was drawing Santa and Easter bunnies,” Hart said, “but their attitudes changed when I began giving a Christian message.” For Good Friday several years ago, Hart simply drew four black panels, which went from gray to pitch black. Underneath the final panel were the words, “Good Friday.” On the pages of the comics, Hart uses almost any occasion for his characters to reflect the Good News about Jesus Christ. Particularly on the holidays such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter or even Halloween (for an anti-Halloween cartoon) Johnny slips some Biblical truth to his readers.

The newspapers receive his cartoons several weeks before they are printed. Because of the liberal viewpoints in the newsroom, Hart says that these newspapers reserve the right to “edit” his materials. “Edit” is their code word for omitting the B.C. comics with a spiritual message. Often, Hart doesn’t discover about these “edits” until his readers write or call and tell him.

One of the worst culprits is the Los Angeles Times. Several years ago a Christian ministry stirred readers to complain about the issue of Hart’s B.C. cartoons around Easter. In cynical fashion, the L.A. Times moved the cartoons from their usual spot to the religion page. According to Hart, they ran the comic strips for Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter on the same day–and in “postage stamp size.”

Before drawing his Christmas comic, Johnny will often re-read the Christmas story from the Bible for inspiration. Recently for Christmas, Johnny had his cave girl looking at a cross-shaped Christmas star, positioned over a skull-like mountain (Golgatha), saying, “Wow look at that star!” A little further to the right, a snake, lurking behind an apple tree (readers see the Garden of Eden) says, “It’s show time.”

Whether it’s the Christmas season or any other day, Hart is constantly looking for creative ways and humorous ways to challenge his readers with truth from the Bible. Keep an eye out for the subtle or sometimes not-so-subtle message from this master cartoonist. He shows his readers that Jesus is the Reason for the Season.

Countdown Timer Resource

March 20, 2007

What does it take for you to focus on your writing and move ahead with a book proposal or a query letter or a magazine article or a book project? The answer will be different for each of us.

People are constantly amazed that I’ve written the volume of material over the years–especially when you consider my first book was released in 1992. My response is that writing a book is just like eating an elephant. You do it one bite at a time. You write one page at a time.

Yesterday a friend wrote and asked if I’d like to clone myself. My instant reaction was “of course, then I would accomplish even more things.” With a bit more reflection, I’m not really interested in cloning myself—even if it were possible. Instead, I’d like to increase the amount of things that get done through greater effective work habits. Believe me over the years, I’ve heard almost all of the excuses that people give for not getting it done–kids at home, traveling too much, ADHD, poor equipment, no writing space or something else. Also I know accomplished writers who have overcome each of these challenges and continue to publish valuable prose.

I continue to apply lessons from the recent Mega Book Marketing University in Los Angeles. As I drive around in my car, I’m listening to some of the material from this conference. I’m also returning to my large notebook from the session and recalling ideas from the various speakers. Alex Mandossian gave some terrific tools in one of the final sessions of the conference. I’m going to pass along one of them in this entry about the Writing Life in hopes it will help you as well.

The resource is a free countdown timer. Set it to whatever amount of time works for you. Alex suggested 45 minutes since almost anyone (even someone who is ADHD) should be able to concentrate on a single task for this amount of time. Make a plan and stick with it. You will be surprised at what can be accomplished.