Archive for the ‘writer’ Category

Value For Failure

May 3, 2007

Ever wonder what in the world you are supposed to be learning from this situation? It happens to me on a regular basis. I’ve been trying to add to these entries on The Writing Life but other events have crowded into my schedule. I’ve been on the road again and on a slammed schedule which hasn’t allowed any time for blogging. I continue to learn valuable lessons and insight through different experiences. It’s what I’ve tried to capture in many of these entries. I’m off on another trip today (the second one this week) but it’s a special one–our 12th anniversary. While I am not real crazy about Las Vegas, it’s where we’re headed later today. It’s the last year for Celine Dion and her show, A New Day. It should be fun and a quick trip–over today and back tomorrow. It’s a glimpse into my life but I hope it helps you understand why I haven’t been as consistent with my entries here.

One of the publications which I enjoy reading is Fast Company. This month includes a fascinating article called, “Failure Doesn’t Suck” about Sir James Dyson. I recommend the entire article but make sure you read this opening, “Today, Dyson makes the best-selling vacuum cleaner by revenue in the United States and is one of the richest blokes in Britain. But it took him 15 years and nearly his entire savings to develop his bagless, transparent creation. His latest innovation, a hand dryer that uses neither heat nor evaporation, took only three years, but Dyson says his grinding, error-filled approach hasn’t changed.

You once described the inventor’s life as “one of failure.” How so?

I made 5,127 prototypes of my vacuum before I got it right. There were 5,126 failures. But I learned from each one. That’s how I came up with a solution. So I don’t mind failure. I’ve always thought that schoolchildren should be marked by the number of failures they’ve had. The child who tries strange things and experiences lots of failures to get there is probably more creative.”

What an example of persistence! I’ve met many writers who have sent out their manuscript once or twice and been rejected, then they quit. They stick it back in their desk drawer and figure no one wanted to publish their work. In some cases, the proposal or manuscript wasn’t good and should have been rejected. The rejection isn’t always for that reason. There are many reasons for rejection and some of them are tied to the author’s work and some of them have nothing to do with the author. As I’ve written many times, it’s a matter of getting to the right publisher at the right time with the right manuscript. It’s like every detail has to line up right for it to happen and many authors are not willing to fail or persist to find that perfect spot. Are you learning from your failure and growing from them? I hope today each of us can follow the example of Sir James Dyson.

Truth Telling at Conferences

April 7, 2007

Over the years, I’ve attended many conferences. Each conference has a different personal value in my life and distinction. I’ve learned to value the little conversations at these conferences and the short bursts of information–either that I am giving to others or they are giving to me. I learn a great deal from the exchanges.

Some elements of a conference are recorded such as most of the workshops. At Mount Hermon, I gave two workshops. Originally I was scheduled for one then at the last minute several members of the faculty couldn’t come so I substituted for one of them and taught an additional hour. For my additional hour, I taught Straight Talk From The Editor (or Agent), 18 Keys To A Rejection-Proof Submission. If it sounds familiar to you, much of the content is from my Amazon Short with the same title. I updated many of the examples in it and told some different stories yet the overall outline was the same. I brought some examples of submissions from my “strange but true” file which I keep just for these occasions (naturally not including the name of the writer or any way to identify this person). I had a packed room full of listeners and I thought it was well-received.

While the conference recorded the sessions, the audio people at this conference don’t duplicate the talks on the spot and sell them to the participants. Instead, they take orders and mail the product later. I brought my Edirol R-9 digital recorder to the conference and recorded my own sessions. Admittedly it looked a bit strange to have two microphones yet it allowed me to record my own session. Before the end of the day, I had transferred the recorded file to my laptop. Why take that step? Because the Amazon Short contract is an exclusive arrangement for the first six months. I will cross the threshold of this date soon and be positioned to launch another product from my recorded session. It’s a much more proactive step than I’ve taken in the past. Normally I pick up the recording, throw it into a drawer and do nothing with it. I’m learning to use these resources in other formats.

Back to my theme of conversations and truth telling. I asked one popular acquisitions editor at the conference from a large publisher about his work. He told me, “I love to acquire books but it takes such a high threshold to acquire a book. I can rarely find anything here.” I followed up asking what sort of threshold he was talking about. In all honesty, he said, “I need a guaranteed sale of at least 60,000 books through the trade channel (bookstores and chain stores).” Yeah, that’s a pretty high threshold and it would be rare for someone at the writer’s conference to have that sort of idea. Not impossible but rare.

During another conversation, a seasoned author explained her frustration with one of her writing projects. From her experience she knew the book would meet a need, yet she also knew it would be a difficult sell to the traditional publishers. With this author, I encouraged her to try and different course of action. Can she and her co-author tap the Internet market and create a buzz with an Ebook that may or may not become a traditional book product? She felt encouraged about the possibilities and to try it after our conversation.

Several times writers approached me with devotional book projects where they had poured their heart and soul into the proposal and the writing. The writing was built on the anvil of difficult personal experiences. From my view, I told them that it would be challenging to place such a project with a traditional publisher. Why? Because it’s rare for a publisher to take this type of book as a single book product. Instead the publishers are turning more to book packagers for these efforts. I encouraged them to look into approaching the packagers or working with the packagers and their idea. These authors were published in magazines but not books. Their book idea had merit but not in the way they were expecting. I hope they will learn from my hard-earned experience in this area. Yet I know each individual has to decide what they will do with the information and how they will apply it to their writing life.

With the millions of ideas and manuscripts in circulation, there are no easy answers for any of us. The key is to keep working on the storytelling and searching for the right place at the right time.

Relationship Building Is Important

March 14, 2007

Writing is one of those skills exercised in isolation. You curl up with your keyboard and crank some words on the page. You pour your stories and your characters or your research and experiences. It’s important to work hard at the craft of writing.

In addition to the writing, it is important to build new relationships and readers. It’s a question authors continue to ask about blogging. It’s time consuming and is it worth the time or not. I’ve decided it is worth it for me because of the relationship building part of it. In the March 5th issue of Publishers Weekly they tackle this question in the area of children’s books. Sue Corbett writes in part of this article, “Okay, so blogging is not exactly how all writers like to spend their time. But the big question, of course, is, do blogs sell books? On that, everyone agrees that the answer is yes, though no one can point to any numbers, at least not yet. “Saleswise, I’m not necessarily expecting to see a post-for-post, purchase-for-purchase correlation,” said Julie Strauss-Gabel, who edits Green at Dutton. “Blogging is a long-term endeavor, one that builds and sustains a loyal fan base over a career.”

Cabot says that after she started blogging, visits to her Web site soared. [Sarah] Dessen used her blog to count down the days to her pub date for Just Listen, and readers stormed bookstores looking for their copy. “I had a lot of girls go to stores on the first day and when the book wasn’t on display, they had someone go into the back and made them open a box,” she recalled. “I really liked hearing that.””

I’m certain this discussion will continue for the days ahead. As for me and my house, I’m going to continue with these entries about the Writing Life.

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.