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Right Writing News, January 26, 2007, Issue #24
January 26, 2007
Welcome to the 24th issue to subscribers of Right Writing News. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
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Table of Contents1) The Literary Agent's Role
By W. Terry Whalin
2) Write Less & Earn More With Spin-Offs
By Karen O'Connor
3) How to Gain A Hearing
By W. Terry Whalin
4) Becoming the Total Package
By Jenna Glatzer
5) Have a Positive Influence
By Deborah Raney
6) Kickstart Your Career With a Magazine Credit!
By Laura Backes
The Literary Agent's Role
By W. Terry Whalin
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.
Write Less & Earn More With Spin-Offs
By Karen O'ConnorI remember the day I completed my book on horse careers. I was free at last. I decided to take a week off, sleep late, read a novel, have lunch with a friend, prune my roses, and clean out the office clutter.
As I reached that last item on my list, however, I took another look. I had a file drawer full of research from my previous non-fiction books and magazine articles. I suddenly saw the 'gold' in them thar pages! There was enough material to keep me writing articles for children and adults for months. I had actually shoved aside potential income without realizing it.
I decided on the spot to devote a few hours each week to creating something new out of the gold I had discovered. I remember the excitement I felt when I pulled out a copy of the first article I sold, "A Trail of Tips For First-Time Campers." Next, I ran into the notes I had taken while writing a book on women in literature. And there was a file filled with ideas that had overflowed from articles I had written on parenting for Marriage and Family Living.
Soon I created a habit that I still indulge--making money from spin-offs. If you've allowed your published articles to collect mildew instead of money, then read on, and I'll show you how to write less and earn more.
• Set a goal to create one or more spin-offs per month.
Original article: "How to Hook Your Kids On Books"
Potential spin-offs: "Raise A Reader"
"Books You and Your Kids Will Love"
"Build a Home Library"
• Create a calendar file (in a notebook or on the computer) . Use it to keep track of the titles of spin-offs you write each week or month.
Spin-offs for January 2004:
1-7 Loving Over the Long Haul: Secrets of Successful Marriages
1-8 Developing a Heart of Gratitude—Regardless of the Circumstances
• List the juvenile and adult publications you wish to write for in a log (notebook or computer file). Include publication name, age group, type of article wanted, word count and payment.
Cricket ages 9-14 travel/adventure/biography 200-1500 $.25/word
• Plan your spin-offs. Use down-time to think of ways to use the same material in fresh ways.
While toddlers nap, while waiting in orthodontist’s office, in the evenings, on weekends.
• Write and track them in your log.
Original article: "Earn Your Summer Fun"
Completed spin-offs for January 2004:
1-7 "Put Extra Cash In Your Pocket This Summer"
8-15 "Six Summer Jobs YOU Can Do"
So much for the record-keeping details. Now for the fun--coming up with spin-offs. Start by looking through your previously published articles or books. Sit back and play with the ideas. Look at your notes. Make a list of catchy titles. Approach a new audience with the same information. Here are some examples from my SOLD file.
Original Article: "Innovative Grandparenting"
Spin-offs: "Welcome To the Grandparents' Club"
"When Parenting and Grandparenting Styles Collide"
"Grandparenting Across the Miles"
Focus on a single point, stick to the magazine's required word count. Include a slide or photo to boost the chance of a sale.
If a submission is rejected, simply send it to the next similar magazine on your list. (For example, Clubhouse and Crusader are both religious magazines for kids 8-12). Most children’s magazine editors do not require a query letter, but if they do, be sure to send one before submitting the finished piece.
With the original material on hand, you may be able to complete a spin-off in a few hours or less. Payment ranges from $20 to $200 (sometimes more, depending on the magazine), so you can see the potential for extra income if you write in volume. Editors are always in the market for sharp, informative pieces for young people and adults on a wide variety of subjects.
Below are some samples of spin-offs I wrote for the juvenile market based on two of my books, Entertaining and How to Make Money published by Franklin Watts.
Article Title Publication
"How to Throw a Great Winter Party" Reflection
"Share Yourself and Earn Money Too" Discovery
"Gifts you Can Make Without Help" Kindergartener
"How to Be a Guest at Your Own Party" Young Miss (now YM)
"Neighborhood Nature Walks" The Vine
"Happiness is Having a Hobby" Rainbow
"Earn Your Summer Fun" Crusader
There's no end to it. So what are we waiting for? Lunch with a friend? Pruning our roses? Reading that long-awaited novel? Not now. We’re too busy--writing less and earning more--from spin-offs.
Here's seven steps to successful spin-offs:
1. Think BIG. Open your eyes to the possibilities. Fashion many articles from one idea.
2. Take a risk. Write for an audience or a magazine new to you, or focus on an age group you haven't considered before.
3. Find a new slant. From an article on finding a hobby to one on making money from a hobby.
4. Ask for help. If you need new or additional information, consult someone with experience.
5. Attract readers. Star with a snappy title, add a side-bar, provide real-life examples, include quotations.
6. Start a column. Write spin-offs on a favorite topic and become a regular contributor.
7. Spin, spin again. Create new articles from existing spin-offs. Then spin off those.
Karen O'Connor is a sought-after speaker and award-winning author of more than 45 books for adults and children, including the best-selling Help, Lord! I'm Having a Senior Moment (Regal Books), Getting Old Ain't For Wimps, (Harvest House) and In Step With Your Step-children (Beacon Hill). She is a wife, mother, grandmother and writing mentor for the Long Ridge Writers Group (www.longridgewritersgroup.com) and for the Christian Writers Guild (www.christianwritersguild.com). Karen is known for her wit and wisdom on the platform and in print. Visit Karen on her web site for more information: www.karenoconnor.com.
© 2007 Karen O'Connor. All Rights Reserved. Used with Permission.
How to Gain A Hearing
By W. Terry Whalin
A writer wrote me this week saying, "The quest for a reputable agent who is passionate about my work, is far more challenging than writing the manuscript. When you're an unknown commodity, doors don't open that easily."
With thousands of manuscripts in circulation with agents and publishers, it's a challenge for anyone to gain a fair hearing--much less to locate the editor or agent who will champion your cause and get your book manuscript published. What steps can a writer take to find this hearing?
One of the absolute best things you can do for yourself in the meantime is built a body of work--not unpublished but published--through smaller magazine articles (short stories if you only want to write fiction). In particular, I recommend writers look at the Sunday School take home markets. If you don't know about this market, then you need to get a copy of Sally Stuart's Christian Writer's Market Guide and look in the section marked "Take Home Papers." You will not make a lot of money with these markets, but you will be able to find a more open market to get published. These editors need quality submissions and they publish every single week of the year or four times more often than the monthly magazine editors.
Many people are focused on the long, full-length manuscripts. They miss building a reputation in the magazine market. And what's the advantage of being published in magazines? When you are published in these markets, the editor or the agent will know you understand more about publishing than the other unpublished manuscripts on their desk. In magazine writing, you learn to write tight to a specific word length. You learn about the editing process and what editors do and don't do to your words when you submit them. Plus there is simply the discipline which is built into a writer's life from the regular experience of writing for magazines.
If you have no idea where to begin, then explore the articles on my magazine tab at Right-Writing.com because it has a wealth of information.
Becoming the Total Package
By Jenna GlatzerBeing a great writer is no longer enough if you plan to score a big publishing deal, especially as a nonfiction author.
Particularly if your book idea falls into the "how-to" or "self-help" categories, you not only have to sell your terrific writing, but you also have to sell yourself as the book's conduit to the world.
Publishers want to minimize their risks, so they don't haphazardly award big book contracts to unknown writers--unless, that is, the writer is the total package. What constitutes this "package?"
Increasingly, publishers look for authors who have "platforms." A platform is your megaphone to shout your book's message to a mass audience. Famous people have automatic platforms; if Julia Roberts were to decide to write a book tomorrow, you can bet that she'll have publishers clamoring. Why? Because they know that the media will go wild to tell the public about it, and she'll have the ability to get as much air time as she wants all over TV and print.
But let's assume you're not quite so famous. That's okay. You can build a platform in a number of ways--a good start is by writing articles for newspapers and magazines. Work toward becoming a columnist (even at a freebie community paper), then work on syndicating your column.
Although some writers will thumb their noses at this suggestion, if your main objective is platform-building, I advise that you get your column "out there" to as many publications as will have it, whether they pay well or not at all. You may also choose to put your free articles on websites such as www.articlecity.com and www.ideamarketers.com.
Other ways to build platforms:
-Host a radio show
-Get a program on public access TV
-Become a regular guest on a radio/TV show
-Become a public speaker
-Have your own e-zine (must be popular to count!)
-Moderate a popular forum or e-mail list on your book's topic
-Become involved with well-known charities, nonprofit organizations, or professional organizations, preferably as an officer or spokesperson
-Teach teleclasses or webinars
-Write a free e-book
It's not unusual for publishers to ask for proof of your media capabilities before buying your book. One publisher asked me for a 5-minute videotape that showed clips from my appearances on Lifetime TV and news programs. I also included a copy of a radio show where I'd recently been a guest, and a headshot--publishers don't need beauty (unless you're writing a beauty book!), but they do like to see that your appearance won't make people scream with abject horror if you do public talks.
To become more media-savvy, you can practice your speaking skills at a local Toastmasters club (www.toastmasters.org), an international association meant to help people overcome public speaking fears and speak more effectively.
You can also practice by having a friend ask you questions on cassette or videotape, then paying attention to any bad habits you have ("y'know," "umm," fiddling with your hands, running your hands through your hair, babbling). Work on your sizzling sound byte (the few sentences you want to get across to entice someone to hear more--or, if that's all the time you'll have, to entice them to run out and get your book to read more!).
The keys to being a great interviewee? Be passionate. Be enthusiastic. Speak clearly and in short sentences. Let your body language and/or voice reflect a well-collected, happy, engaging attitude. Don't refer people to your book or website every three seconds--be there to genuinely teach the audience something, and know that if you enthrall them, you won't have to do a hard-sell to get them to follow you. Dress well for TV interviews (avoid white and beige if you have a light complexion; head for blues, purples, and pink; avoid flashy prints; avoid jangly, reflective jewelry and other distracting clothing and accessories--you want the attention on your words, not your wardrobe). Know how to lead an interviewer to ask the right questions if he or she goes off topic, and to turn negatives into positives.
If you're interested in media training resources or coaching, try these:
How will the editor know that you will turn in your work on time, that you will not be a huge pain in the rear to deal with, and that your work will be clean, on target, and on word count? If you have no other book credits to your name, you'll need other credentials that show you know how to be a professional.
Credentials that prove you're an expert are one thing-- having a special degree, professional association membership, or teaching expertise can help establish that you know your subject matter, but you still need to prove that you know how to handle the writing and publishing process.
Articles in impressive publications certainly help. A regular column helps even more, because it shows an editor that you were able to meet deadlines week after week or month after month and that another editor liked you enough to want to work with you regularly. A "contributing editor" spot on a magazine's masthead works in your favor, as does any prior experience on staff in the publishing world.
Although rarely requested, nobody's ever hurt by a letter of recommendation-- er, testimonial-- from a past editor or boss in a publishing field. I've been known to throw in a few sentences from my editors that comment on how easy I am to work with, or how reliable I am, or how their audience always loves my work.
EAGERNESS TO HELP
Even if your platform leaves something to be desired, you can make up for it with a solid publicity plan and an eagerness to take an active role in publicity and marketing. Give concrete plans for who will interview you, review your book, or otherwise give you a spotlight... and why. Telling your publisher that you're sure this book is perfect for Oprah or that it'll be right up the New York Times' alley is useless unless you have a reason for them to believe you--such as a contact at these places.
They are more impressed with solid plans, such as the fact that you've already spoken with local librarians who want you to come speak, the YMCA has asked you to come teach a seminar once your book comes out, two local colleges have courses in your subject matter and have agreed to check out your book for possible classroom use, a business organization is interested in buying copies in bulk, and you're happy to do a book tour of the southwest on your own dime (or will split expenses with the publisher).
If you plan to hire a publicist, that's usually a plus (rarely, the publisher would rather not have an "outsider" interfere with their publicity department's efforts). If you're going for media coaching, willing to attend book fairs, happy to do signings and readings, planning to buy many copies of your own book to sell during your seminars or workshops, etc.-- all of these are positives in a publisher's eye.
Remember that you will wear many hats as a successful writer. To make it big, recognize that you are also a businessperson, a salesperson, and a public relations expert on your own subject matter. Work on becoming the total package, and you'll cast your book proposal in a much more attractive light.
Jenna Glatzer is the editor-in-chief of www.absolutewrite.com, where writers can get a free list of more than 180 agents who are open to new writers! She is also the author of Outwitting Writer's Block and Other Problems of the Pen and other books for writers. Read about Jenna here if you want to make her day.
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Have a Positive Influence
By Deborah RaneyJust before a new book is ready to hit the bookstores, most publishers send out what they call "influencers copies"--hot-off-the-press books intended to start a buzz among readers all over the country. What fun it is to send one hundred reading friends a free copy of my new novel! But often the question that follows the thank-you is, "What am I required to do as an influencer?"
Well, technically, nothing. There is no obligation whatsoever in being an influencer. If a particular book isn't your cup of tea, please pass it along to someone you think might enjoy it. But if you do like the book, there are numerous ways to help spread the word.
Not everyone will feel comfortable or have the means to drop leaflets while parachuting from an airplane, but on the list below, you'll find at least one thing that will be a perfect fit with the ways God has gifted you. And I guarantee your efforts, large or small, will bless the author.
•Write a review for the book on online bookstores such as:
•Write a review at one of the many online book review sites, including:
•At www.christianbook.com you can recommend books via an e-mail link that will take your friends right to the page of the book you're promoting.
•Recommend the book as a featured title for an area book discussion group. This is especially appropriate if the book has discussion questions in the back.
•Start a discussion about the book on your blog or on e-mail loops you're a part of.
•If you have a website or write a newsletter, consider featuring novels you've read and enjoyed.
•Add the book to your list of favorites on myspace, facebook, or other online communities.
•After reading and reviewing the book, give it away as a prize in a drawing on your website or blog.
•If you have a unique perspective--for instance, personal experience with the book's topic, a man offering a male perspective for a women's fiction book, etc.--offer your insights in venues that might not ordinarily hear about the book.
•Donate your influencer copy to your public library or church library when you're finished reading it. Better yet, share your copy in other ways and buy a second copy for the library.
•Print out a review you've written, or other reviews of the book and give them to your public or church librarians for consideration.
•Offer to distribute bookmarks and/or postcards for the author or publisher. Public libraries, church libraries, bookstores and gift shops are usually happy to have giveaways on their counters.
•Ask your church if you could tuck postcards or bookmarks in the morning service bulletin some Sunday.
•Place bookmarks or postcards about the book at each place setting as favors for a luncheon or banquet.
•Hang out in your local bookstore and "hand sell" the book by talking it up to customers shopping in the fiction department.
•Talk to the clerks in any bookstores and libraries you visit and ask if they carry the book. If not give them a short book report and recommend they order a few copies.
•When visiting bookstores, do a little creative rearranging to turn the book face out on the shelves. Use good judgment and don't hide one book to promote another. Also keep in mind that in some stores front-table space is paid for by the publisher, so don't "steal."
•Offer to write a book review for your church newsletter, neighborhood newspaper or any other printed source that might reach readers.
•At your next women's retreat, volunteer to organize a book table, where you will feature the book.
•Offer to organize a blog tour for the author, setting up a week when numerous blogs will feature the book and interviews with the author.
•When you're finished with the book, tuck it into a gift basket for someone who is ill or in the hospital; or take it to your next dinner party as a hostess gift.
•Leave the book in a waiting room where someone with a few extra minutes might start reading it.
•Prison ministries are always looking for wholesome books to distribute. Check out groups like Prison Book Project: www.nbbd.com/npr/PrisonBooks/index.html.
•Word-of-mouth is still probably the number one way books hit bestseller lists, so simply start conversations about the book. Tell your friends and family what you've been reading and why you enjoyed it so much.
Using any one (or more) of the ideas above, you can have a profound influence on the life of a book--and its author.
DEBORAH RANEY is at work on her fifteenth novel. Her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, the National Readers' Choice Award and the Silver Angel from Excellence in Media. Deborah's first novel, A VOW TO CHERISH, inspired the World Wide Pictures film of the same title. Deb also serves on the advisory board of American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband have four children and live in Kansas. Visit her website at: www.deborahraney.com/.
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Secrets of Thinking Like a Kid
By Laura BackesOne of the toughest tasks for writers is to get inside the brain of a child. Sure, we all have our own childhood memories, but those can be spotty at best. And even accurate recollections reflect a different time and a different mindset.
The standard advice is to observe and interact with children. Being around kids can give a window into the language and interpersonal dynamics of today's kids. But even this is far from foolproof. Youngsters are thoroughly aware of an adult's presence and may simply be trying hard to be on their best behavior. There is another way, however, that is remarkably efficient and is a surefire way to get an accurate picture of the likes, dislikes and passions of kids: read some magazines.
As the periodical market has become more niche-oriented, editors and publishers have become--by necessity--geniuses in understanding their slice of the audience. The people who put out Boys' Life, for example, spend a great deal of time and money working to master the mindset of the grade school boys in whose life Scouting and outdoor adventure play a vital part. Page after page of the magazine reflects this understanding. The vocabulary, pacing, subject matter, article length and design are all tailored specifically to suit this audience. If you hope to write for this niche, becoming familiar with Boy's Life is as valuable as attending a dozen Scout Pack meetings--and probably a lot more peaceful.
So here's the plan--for whatever age, gender or special interest group you hope to write for, find their magazines and read them, cover to cover. When you do, consider these points:
* Note how the magazines target a narrow age group and sometimes just one gender. Compare a magazine for early elementary readers to one for ages 9-12, and see how the tone, humor and attitude of the writing changes.
* Some magazines have an educational focus, and others are for entertainment. Notice how the educational publications still capture readers' interest by using jokes or making the topics relevant to kids' lives. On the other hand, the entertainment magazines also strive to profile people who are good role models, to showcase activities that are worthwhile, and to work within age-appropriate boundaries of good taste.
* Notice how the slant of magazines for girls is different from that for boys. Girls' publications often feature more fiction and poetry; boy's magazines might contain jokes or comic strips. As an exercise, read some "boy" magazines and "girl" magazines for the same age group, and pinpoint their differences. This will help you in creating boy and girl characters for your fiction.
* Peruse some of the actual articles in recent issues. Many magazines have excerpts on their web sites, so you can easily get a sense of what kids are reading (look in the magazine market section of Children's Writer's & Illustrator's Market published by Writer's Digest books for lists of magazines and their web sites), though there's no substitute for thumbing through a hard copy of each publication. This will help you understand not only what kids care about, but what they're learning at school. Educational magazines in particular want articles that can be applied to what children are reading in class. And if you're writing fiction that centers around a character's school experience, you want to get the teacher's lesson plans right.
As a fiction writer, reading children's magazines can help you zero in on what your characters care about, what's going on in their world, and even what they find funny. If you're writing nonfiction, magazines will show you the breadth of interests enjoyed by your target audience, and perhaps point you toward a niche you can fill. So visit your local newsstand and start your research. You may get some funny looks when you're reading Jack and Jill at Starbucks, but the publishing contracts will be worth it.
About the Author: Laura Backes is the publisher of Children's Book Insider, the Newsletter for Children's Writers. For more information about
writing children's books, including free articles, market tips, insider secrets and much more, visit Children's Book Insider's home on the web at www.write4kids.com
Reprinted with permission.
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