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Right Writing News, May 19, 2005, Issue #018
May 19, 2005
Welcome to the eighteenth issue. It highlights a best-selling author's writing life, numerous writing articles and some new links to check. This publication appears monthly. If you are reading this issue forwarded from someone, be sure and use the link below to get your own free subscription.
If you like what you see here, please forward this copy and use this link to subscribe.
Table of Contents1) Monster Releases--Frank Peretti
By W. Terry Whalin
2) Are You Writing Your Book Backwards?
By W. Terry Whalin
3) Getting Published 101
By Robin Lee Hatcher
4) Questions & Answers With Cathy Wald
The Resilient Writer
5) Writing Novels:
Where Did You Get That Idea?
By Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D.
6) Bottom Line: Make the Most of Your Time
By Kelly James-Enger
7) Rules Beginners Should Never Break
By Laura Backes
8) Ten Things to Do If Your Book's Not Getting Media Attention
By Lissa Warren
9)Find Your True Voice – Write it, Draw it, and Live It!
An interview with Andrew Stanton
By Ted Baehr, Ph.D.
10) Find A Literary Agent or Self-Publish
By Fern Reiss
11) New Links to Check
Monster Releases--Frank Peretti
By W. Terry WhalinSeveral weeks ago, I wrote a new interview about Frank Peretti near the time of the release of his novel, Monster. Instead of the normal profile here for Right Writing News, I'm encouraging you to read this new information about Frank Peretti. You'll learn a great deal about his writing life in this article
Are You Writing Your Book Backwards?
By W. Terry WhalinAlmost everyone knows someone who is writing a book. According to a 2003 survey from the Jenkins Group, Inc. a Michigan publishing services firm, 81 percent of Americans feel they should write a book.
"Of course, most people will never get around to committing their thoughts to paper--let alone get them published--but it's astonishing how many people feel they have a story to tell," said Jenkins Group Chairman and CEO Jerrold Jenkins. He estimates that six million Americans have actually written a manuscript--just over 2% of the population.
For about 20 years, I've been involved in publishing as an author and an editor. This past weekend, I was visiting with a neighbor about my writing and he instantly said, "Oh, my brother and sister-in-law are writing a book about grass-roots political action." Asking a few other questions, I learned this couple was following an extremely common path for book manuscripts. They had started typing a manuscript from a blank computer screen and were "writing" their book without any understanding of publishing or where their book would eventually appear in print.
Some publishing experts have estimated millions of manuscripts and proposals are glutted into the publishing system around the world. As an acquisitions editor, I've seen the solicited and unsolicited manuscripts which pour into my own office. In some ways it's amusing what people believe can be published. One recent author used a different color of paper for each section of the submission--just in case I missed the clear headings on the manuscript. Another editor in my office received a one-of-a-kind piece of artwork that the author believed could be turned into a children's book (at incredible expense).
According to R.R. Bowker, the leading provider of bibliographic information in North America, the numbers are not slowing down. For 2002, U.S. Book Production topped 150,000. Will these new books find their place in the market through sales or simply stand on the bookstore shelves, be returned, then fall out of print?
For lack of understanding of the publishing business, I believe many people are writing their book backwards. Instead of producing a stack of paper called a "manuscript," particularly in the area of nonfiction, they need to be writing a book proposal.
Because of my role in acquisitions, I understand a book proposal contains necessary elements which will never appear in a book manuscript. As an editor who wants to champion books which are right for my publishing house, I want to receive book proposals that contain every one of the necessary elements to succeed. Book publishing is a consensus-building process and there are a number of people inside the publishing house who have to be convinced of a proposal and its merit--before a book is contracted and added to the publishing schedule.
To help people avoid writing books backwards, I've written a new book with my perspective as an acquisitions editor for writers called, Book Proposals That Sell, 21 Secrets to Speed Your Success. Jeanette Thomason, Acquisitions Editor at Revell Books says about this new title, "With practical know-how and tons of proven tips, this book is like that wise friend who's been in the business, knows what works and why. Step-by-step, Terry Whalin guides and inspires both beginners and even experienced writers to doing better, successful, meaningful work."
You can get the book directly from me (and autographed if you want) at: http://www.bookproposals.ws. Also the book can be purchased online at Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble.com or Books-A-Million.com or Christianbooks.com. Even if you don't purchase, use these links to check out reviews of the book and see what people are saying about it.
Without knowledge, would-be authors are doomed to continue writing their books backwards. I hope these authors learn how to write an excellent book proposal and give me the tool to champion their project and issue a book contract for a bestseller.
W. Terry Whalin understands both sides of the editorial desk--as an editor and a writer. He worked as a magazine editor for Decision and In Other Words. His magazine articles have appeared in more than 50 publications including Writer's Digest and Christianity Today. Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books and his latest is Running On Ice (New Hope Publishers). His new book for writers is called Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Write Now Publications). Find out more at: www.bookproposals.ws See more about his writing at www.right-writing.com/whalin.html. He is the Fiction Acquisitions Editor for Howard Publishing. Terry and his wife, Christine, live in Scottsdale, Arizona.
© 2005 W. Terry Whalin
Getting Published 101
By Robin Lee HatcherPerseverance has much more to do with getting published than talent does, so that's where I always begin. As with anything of value, getting published takes sacrifice and commitment. Are you willing to give years without seeing any visible results? Sometimes (many times) that's what it takes. I have two friends who both wrote 10 novels over about 10 years before they made their first sales. Would you continue to write even if you never get published?
For Christians, of course, there's the faith element about their writing. Are you seeking God's face? Did He call you to write? Are you willing to follow Him no matter what, even if the road He takes you on diverges from the one you want to be on or takes longer than you planned?
I have often seen quoted a line that goes something like: "God wouldn't have given you the talent if He didn't want you to use it" or "God wouldn't have given you the desire to write if He didn't want you to be published." I don't agree. If you study your Bible, it's clear that God often uses people where we are the weakest and need to rely on Him the most (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). As for the desire to write, Psalm 37:4 says, "Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart." (NASB) This verse is often misinterpreted as, when you delight in the Lord, you'll get what you want. But the true meaning is, when you delight in the Lord and love Him above everything else, He will change the things you want into the things He wants.
Remember, there's a danger in wanting to be published so much that you make it an idol. Want Jesus more, and then be amazed by the blessings. Follow what He has called you to do, and you won't go wrong. If He has called you to write, then write. Pursue excellence with everything you have; don't give God second best. Write for Him and not for an editor or a critique group or even with the goal of getting published. Write to please the Lord. It's so easy to pursue success. I know. I did it. I compromised, and the regret is always with me.
What publisher do you start with? You must know your market. What sort of books do you most like to read? What published books are most like the one you're writing? See who that publisher is and start there. Go to your Christian bookstore and see who all the publishers are. Get a copy of The Writers Market and The Christian Writers Market Guide. Study your RWR (the magazine of Romance Writers of America) Market Updates.
On-line lists are excellent sources to know what's happening in the markets and who wants what. Visit the publishers' web sites frequently. Go to conferences where editors will be attending. The best source is the horse's mouth. If you can talk one-on-one with an editor, that is definitely a step up. The Romance Writers of America conference is definitely a great one, but I may be prejudiced. It is certainly the best if you are interested in Steeple Hill because so many of the Harlequin/Silhouette editors attend. American Christian Fiction Writers puts on a great conference in September. Other great Christian writers conferences include but are not limited to: Mount Hermon, Sandy Cove, Glorietta. Invest in your writing by attending one of these conferences, particularly if your main goal is to publish with a CBA publisher.
"Do I need an agent?" This is the great, forever-asked question, I think. The answer is, it depends. It's often harder to get an agent than to get a publisher. And getting the wrong agent can be worse for you than no agent. I firmly believe that you should start marketing to publishers yourself and be looking for an agent at the same time. But don't sign with the first agent who says he likes your stuff. Take your time. Meet agents in person. Talk to him several times on the phone. Ask for client references, then call the authors and ask serious questions: How long does it take for the agent to return phone calls? How long to release checks? Does she read everything before it goes to the editor? Is she hands on (like a first reader) or is her primary role negotiating contracts? What do you like most about him? What do you like least about him?
You also must know what you want from an agent. You discover this again by getting with other authors and finding out what they want from their agents. I have friends who need/want their agents to be their first editor. I don't want that. I want a champion and someone who will help me plan my career steps.
A good agent will know who is looking for what. She will have a solid relationship with certain publishers and will often be able to get your manuscript before the right person at the right time. A bad agent will submit anywhere to anybody or let your manuscript linger on her desk for a year. (I have heard horror stories that could turn your hair white.)
I negotiated contracts for my first seven books myself. Then I hired my first agent, which only lasted for one contract. I have been with my current (second) agent for over 15 years and it's been a very positive relationship.
Contests? I'm not sure a contest can take you anywhere, not even RWA's prestigious Golden Heart for unpublished manuscripts, but it can give you an edge. It can get you read when otherwise your manuscript might linger in a slush pile or not be seen by the senior editor with buying power. My advice is to enter only those contests where the final round and/or the winner is read by an editor. Contests wins on your resume may look nice, but editors don't give them a lot of weight, although the Golden Heart definitely has some clout. But being read by an editor in the contest itself just might get you a contract.
Is the market tougher than ever? No, I don't think so. I've been in this business for 23 years. It's always been tough. There are growth spurts in certain markets/genres, ebbs and flows. Not all that long ago historicals were king and a writer couldn't give away a single title contemporary. But historicals have been hurting for a several years and the romantic comedy, chick lit, and the suspense novels are ruling the shelves. I've seen this cycle several times in the past two decades.
One statistic has remained fairly steady in my 21+ years as a member of RWA: About 1% of RWA's membership make first sales each year. That was true when RWA had only 2000 members and it's held true as the organization grew to over 8000 members. That matches the statistic that says over 100,000 novels are written every year and less than 1% get published. (This is every type of novel, not just romance.)
Now, I'm going to return to the very first question of, How did I personally get published? This is the quickie answer: I wrote my first novel in 1981. I sent queries and partials to 21 publishers. All rejected it without reading more than those three chapters, except for two who requested to see it. The first publisher to read the manuscript bought it. I signed the contract and the publisher went bankrupt two or three months later, before I ever saw a penny. I kept writing on the sequel, and in 1983, I sold both books. They were published in 1984. In addition to the 19 rejections received on that first book, I've been rejected by agents after I was multi-published and by other publishers when I was seeking to sell elsewhere. I've had proposals rejected many times. So every time a rejection comes my way, I nurse my wounded ego for 24 hours, then I get back to work.
And that's my advice on Getting Published 101.
Robin Lee Hatcher discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. However, she's certain there are better plots and fewer calories in her books than in puffed rice and hamburgers. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction (Whispers from Yesterday) , the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance (Patterns of Love and The Shepherd's Voice), and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award, Robin is the author of over 45 novels, including Catching Katie (Tyndale), named one of the Best Books of 2004 by the Library Journal. Some of Robin's most recent titles include Beyond the Shadows and The Victory Club. You can learn more at Robin's website: www.robinleehatcher.com or her blog: robinlee.typepad.com.
© 2005 Robin Lee Hatcher. Used with Permission.
Questions & Answers With Cathy Wald
Author of The Resilient Writer:
Tales of Rejection & Triumph from 23 Top AuthorsAs a self-proclaimed 'rejexpert,' Cathy Wald my have been just the right rejected writer to pen The Resilient Writer: Tales of Rejection and Triumph from 23 Top Authors (Persea Books, April 2005). The book's in-depth interviews show that even the most successful of authors has to struggle with obstacles and frustrations. Here's a brief interview with Cathy who can be reached at www.rejectioncollection.com.
Q: Tell me about your background.
A: As a professional writer for more than 20 years, I've had my share of rejections, but I've also written for a wide array of corporate clients as well as publications such as Reader's Digest, Writer's Digest, Woman's Day, The New York Times, Poets & Writers and Opera News. My work has been anthologized in The Practical Writer (Penguin Books, 2004) and The Essay Writer at Work (Heinemann, 1998), and I've also won an award or two.
Q: What made you decide to write a book about rejection?
A: It all began when my first novel was turned down by every major publisher in the civilized Western world. My then-agent was highly regarded, and everyone had told me that it's harder to get an agent than it is to get a publisher – so I really had my hopes up. Anyway, the rejection process took two and a half long years. When the last rejection letter came in, I ran out of creative steam. Not only was I confused, but I was paralyzed by all the frustration and despair that had been building up inside me.
The only way I could think of to deal with these feelings was to write about them. As a result, I ended up with a web site (www.rejectioncollection.com) and a book parody proposal, "The Reject's Way" a cynical anti-self-help book for rejected writers that was never published. I then went through several rounds of rejections for several book proposals. After two years of 'nos,' this book became The Resilient Writer.
Q: How did it feel to get rejection letters for a book about rejection?
A: A bit surreal. The killer was that a lot of the rejections were really complimentary. There were also the wise guys: "While I recognize the great irony in this situation, I'm afraid I'm going to have to turn this proposal down."
Q: What have you learned about rejection by researching and writing The Resilient Writer?
A: I learned that no one has it easy. Writing is hard work, whether or not you're rich, famous, adored or recognized. I also learned that successful authors encounter all the same problems the rest of us do – they just refuse to let them stand in their way. Here are three other tidbits I gleaned:
Rejection Never Ends: Even well-published authors are not immune. Rejection is part of the writer's life, so we may as well start collecting those slips as soon as possible!
Failure can be energizing. It can galvanize you to improve your writing, venture into new territory, reach out more directly to your audience or seek support from the writing community.
Persistence really can pay off. Two of the famous authors I interviewed were once rejected by every MFA program in the country. Another wrote three novels before his fourth was finally published.
Q: What are some of your favorite stories from the book?
A: Well, Arthur Golden turned an emphatically rejected draft into the universally acclaimed Memoirs of A Geisha by rewriting literally hundreds of pages. Kathryn Harrison turned scathing, vicious attacks on her memoir, The Kiss, into a newfound artistic freedom and confidence.
Chris Bohjalian opened 250 rejection letters before he sold his first short story. He also survived a withering put-down by a visiting professor in college. And E. Lynn Harris published and hawked his own first novel; now each of his books is a huge best seller.
Q: What do you hope other writers will get from The Resilient Writer?
A: I hope they'll get what I did: inspiration, guidance, comfort and the feeling that they aren't alone in their struggles.
Writing the book helped me realize that I'm the only one who can decide whether I'm a writer or not. The world may or may not choose to recognize my efforts, but that doesn't have to change my dreams or my work.
Q: Which writers appear in your book?
A: The 23 writers in my book include bestselling novelists, journalists, memoir writers and poets. They are: Elizabeth Benedict, Mary Kay Blakely, Chris Bohjalian, Wesley Brown, Frederick Busch, David Ebershoff, Bret Easton Ellis, Janet Fitch, Arthur Golden, Joy Harjo, E. Lynn Harris, Kathryn Harrison, Bill Henderson, Wally Lamb, Betsy Lerner, Elinor Lipman, Bret Lott, M.J. Rose, Esmeralda Santiago, Bob Shacochis, Amy Tan, Edmund White and William Zinsser.
Q: Have you developed any special techniques for coping with rejection?
A: Yes. I created a process called SORRY! -- for Sob, Obsess, Rant, Renew and Yearn. In other words, vent your feelings (in a safe, private setting where no one will get hurt) and then get back to what impelled you to write in the first place.
Q: What is the purpose of your website, www.rejectioncollection.com?
A: It falls under the Sob, Obsess and Rant pieces of the SORRY! healing process. The site allows writers to share rejection stories and frustrations, and to get all that out of their systems so they can get back to work.
Q: Any last words of advice for struggling writers?
A: Never give up! Remember, writing is something you can just as easily use to add joy to your life as you can to make yourself miserable. Throw yourself into your work and market it with all the resources at your disposal. Then let the chips fall where they may – and move on to your next project.
Writing Novels: Where Did You Get That Idea?
By Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D.One of my novels is about a Mennonite family trying to stave off the foreclosure of its farm during a drought that hit Indiana in 1954. While appearing on a TV talk show, an interviewer asked me if I was a Mennonite, if I'd grown up on a farm, and if I'd ever lived through a drought. I answered no, no and no.
He looked puzzled and asked, "Then where'd you get the idea for this novel?"
"From other aspects of my life," I responded.
That talk show host made the same false assumption that many beginning writers make. He assumed that a writer could only record events in a novel if they had really happened in the author's life. If this were true, the finished product would be an autobiography, not a novel.
True, in the initial stages of planning a novel several episodes may be based on events from the author's life. But from then on the embellishments make the book a story of its own. In my case, I did not grow up on a farm, but my father did and I heard farm stories all my life. Similarly, I am not a Mennonite, but I worked four years at a Brethren and Mennonite College and I learned all about their beliefs and customs.
When I teach fiction I tell my students to look at their lives as data banks of plot ideas. All lives contain human dramas. Some dramatic moments are good, such as being announced the class valedictorian; others are bad, like being fired from your job. The novelist's challenge is to raise routine human dramas to levels of entertainment by increasing their dramatic tension, by retelling them with humor, or by having them teach some sort of lesson. Novels show life in an abridged format: the emphasis is on the emotional rather than the factual aspects of events.
To help stimulate your memory in your search for plot ideas found within your personal life, pull out family albums and look at the way you've celebrated birthdays and holidays. Look at family home movies or videos; talk to your older relatives about their lives; read your grade school diaries and journals; go up in the attic and search through the treasury of lost toys, school yearbooks and outdated clothes.
As episodes from your earlier years become vivid again, make notes on a pad. Try to figure out ways to enhance the real stories in order to make them fascinating enough for fiction. For example, remind yourself of the fear you felt bringing home that fifth grade report card with the two D's on it. Now, ask yourself how that scene could be made even more intense if you wrote it as a work of fiction. Maybe the two D's would keep the main character off the basketball team or the cheerleading squad; or perhaps the D's would mean no TV, VCR or DVD use for six weeks and no allowance as punishment. What else could those bad grades do to ruin a fifth grader's life?
After you have spent a couple of hours jotting down memories and plot enhancement ideas, sit down and organize your material. Put each episode or scene in its proper chronological position amidst all your other scenes. Go back and amplify each episode by adding more notes about what led up to the event, what motivated you to do what you did, how you felt about the circumstances, and what the long-range ramifications were of the actions you took.
Next, judge your material. If any particular episode doesn't seem real, determine how you can write it in such a way as to give it credibility. Come up with ways in which an event of the past can still be relevant to today's readers. Eliminate any sappy or overly-melodramatic anecdotes. Create some elements of suspense that will make the reader want to continue turning pages.
Always keep in mind that no writer creates out of a void. All writers must draw ideas from what they have read or heard or experienced first hand. What makes this limitless in its range of creativity, however, is that all three methods may be blended. You can take an event from your own life, modify it by adding characters you have read about and then conclude it with an anecdote someone else told you last week.
When you get finished, the completed novel may seem to have no direct relationship to your personal life at all; but, in a very real sense, it does indeed. However, only you as the novelist will know just how much. And that's what remains a mystery to talk show hosts.
Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is the author of 44 books and more than 3,000 feature articles. He is a recipient of the Indiana University "Award for Teaching Excellence" and the "Dorothy Hamilton Memorial Writing Award." He has been a writer in residence or guest professor at more than 60 colleges and universities. He is a professor of English at Taylor University Fort Wayne, where he serves as director of the professional writing major and also the author of such writing books as How to Write What You Love and Make a Living at It (Random House) and Alpha Teach Yourself Grammar and Style in 24 Hours (Macmillan).
Bottom Line: Make the Most of your Time
By Kelly James-EngerAs writers, we're all given the same 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. How you spend that time, however, will determine how productive you are--and how much income you can generate. Learn to maximize the way you spend your time, and you'll see a difference in both the amount of work you produce and what you collect from it.
Know Your Limits
First, determine how much time you have available for writing. If you're freelancing fulltime, that may mean 40 hours a week or more. If you're juggling another job, parenting responsibilities, or have other responsibilities, however, your writing time may be limited to an hour or two a day, or less. If that's the case, simply plan to make the most of it. (By the way, before you say you have "no time" to write, take a closer look at your schedule. Do you watch TV? Then you have time to write.)
OK, I know you creative right-brain types are chafing at this request. But writing down what you need to do will make you more efficient. After you've got your list, prioritize your top three tasks for the day (or week, if appropriate.) I usually do this in the morning, when I'm drinking Diet Mountain Dew at my desk and clearing the mental cobwebs from my head. I figure out what the three biggest priorities for the day are, write them on my calendar and number them, in order.
In addition to this "must-do" list, maintain a record of your ongoing projects. Some of these may not have firm deadlines, but you don't want to forget about them because you're distracted by what must be done today.
Eliminate the Ugliest
Most days, I've got at least one thing I don't want to do. (Some bad days, many things I don't want to do!) Maybe it's revising an article, or transcribing notes from interviews, or making some cold calls to potential new clients. I've learned that if I don't do these tasks first thing, I'll fret about them all day until I can finish them and cross them off the list. Now I do my "ugliest" job first to give me the satisfaction of having finished it--and spare myself the mental anguish of worrying about it all day.
Use Every Minute
Some fortunate writers have huge uninterrupted chunks of time to write. That's a rarity for me. Between the phone, email, the doorbell, and my dog, I'm constantly distracted. (Stay-at-home parents have an even tougher job of it.) I make the most of even brief periods of time, however. If I only have five minutes between interviews, for example, I can review my accounts receivable in five minutes, send a few emails to follow up on outstanding queries, or jot down some story ideas I want to research.
Invest your Time
Some chores take time now but will pay off in the long run--like inputting data into a contact database. Freelancer Julie Hood, author of the e-book The Organized Writer, calls this "investing your time." "If I'm going to spend 20 minutes today and it's going to save me an hour later, then I need to spend that 20 minutes," says Hood. "Doing things like setting up your filing system--how boring is that? But if you set it up properly, it will save you so much more time in the long run."
Are you a morning person or a night owl? I've found that I write more quickly in the morning--in fact, the first few hours in the day are my most productive. By early afternoon, though, it's harder for me to focus and concentrate. I try to devote my morning hours for hard-core writing and save phone interviews, transcribing notes, researching and other tasks for after lunch. If you know you write better at night, on the other hand, plan your most demanding writing jobs then.
Let me just say…no one needs to check their email every five minutes. But hey, lots of times I do it anyway. If I'm really jamming, though, I close my email program and open it at the end of the morning and mid-afternoon--otherwise, I waste time going through emails, replying to them, and wasting time on the net. This is easier said than done, I realize. Sometimes I pack up my laptop and simply work at the library or Starbucks--away from my office, I have no distractions and am forced to write.
Research shows that the average person can only listen for forty-five to fifty minutes before his attention begins to flag. Take frequent breaks throughout your work day, and you'll get more done. Even five or ten minutes away from the computer will help refresh you--I take "puppy play breaks" every day, which makes both me and my dog happy.
Harness Technology (or Not)
Some people swear by their Palm Pilots, or use an electronic calendar like Outlook. Personally, I prefer a paper calendar, but the key is to select what works for you. "I'm big on using the right tools," says Hood. "But I don't believe there's the right tool that will work for everyone." Hood's website, www.organizedwriter.com, includes a free planning calendar and weekly newsletter, Writer Reminders, filled with ways to juggle your writing career and your life.
This is my biggest battle--I'm easily distracted. But if you get sidetracked easily, you'll eat up time without producing any work. Say you're researching a story, using google.com to hunt for sources. You look up and you've lost 45 minutes. "Writers can just get lost in it [research]," says Hood. "You need to pay attention…especially if you get on the Internet, you can get in the middle of something and keep going and going. Periodically stop and ask, ‘is this the best thing for me to be doing right now?'"
While there are loads of tools out there to help you manage your time, the most important aspect is your mindset. You have to make it your goal to be more focused and accomplish more during your writing time. Once you do so, you'll become aware of your biggest time traps--and happily, discover that many of them are easily overcome with some practice.
Freelance journalist Kelly James-Enger is the author of Six-Figure Freelancing (Random House Reference, 2005) and Ready, Aim, Specialize! Create Your Own Writing Specialty and Make More Money (The Writer Books, 2003.) She can be reached through her website at: www.becomebodywise.com.
Rules Beginners Should Never Break
By Laura Backes, Children's Book InsiderI often talk about the "rules" of writing for kids, citing proper page lengths and story types for different age groups. A better term would probably be "guidelines"; these rules exist only to tell you what, in general, editors like to see in the manuscripts sent to them. And, of course, for every rule there are numerous exceptions. But while we'd all like to think our book is strong enough to override the guidelines, this is usually not the case. Here are some rules that shouldn't be broken until you really know what you're doing:
Don't Write Picture Books in Rhyme
Yes, you've seen them in the stores and kids like them. But children also like picture books that aren't written in rhyme. It takes a great deal of skill and hard work to craft an original story, complete with unique characters, in about 1000 words. It takes another skill entirely to tell that story in rhyme. If you've got it, great. But don't assume that because your story is aimed at young children it has to rhyme. Always try to write it in prose first. Once you've got the story on paper, decide if the rhyming format will add to the text. If the answer is yes, make sure it's strong rhyme: it has a consistent meter, uses no clichés or extra words, and has a rhythm that is easy to read aloud.
Don't Disregard Designated Word Lengths
No editor is going to turn down a terrific book just because the text length falls outside the average guidelines. If your young adult novel is complete in 100 pages, there's no sense padding the manuscript simply because most YAs are longer. But length guidelines are there for a reason- -publishers have determined about how much text kids of different ages can read, and so it behooves you to try to stay as close to those guidelines as possible. And if you've ever tried to get a group of 4-year-olds to sit still for a 2000-word picture book, you'll understand why editors are leaning toward shorter texts in the youngest age brackets. When submitting to magazines, it's absolutely essential that you stick to the requested word limits because articles must fit within a finite amount of space on the page. Too long, or too short, can mean instant rejection.
Don't Provide Testimonials in Queries
It's nice to have lots of neighborhood kids read your manuscript and give you positive feedback, but your potential editor doesn't need to hear about it. Frankly, editors don't give much credence to testimonials from readers who may be family or friends of the author. Also, don't clutter up the query letter with ideas for why children need your book or what they'll learn from it. This is up to the editor to decide. (One exception: You've written a nonfiction book and can show that there aren't any other books in print that cover the same subject). Keep your query letter tight, brief, and to the point. Provide an intriguing plot synopsis or nonfiction outline, relevant information about yourself, and enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope. Sell your book, not your reasons for writing it.
Don't Write a Series Before Selling the First Book
I've critiqued many manuscripts from authors who say, "I've got six more books written with these characters. Should I mention that to the editor when I submit my manuscript?" My answer is always no. Unless an editor is specifically looking for new series proposals, and the books were written from the start to form a series, this is a bad idea. Realize that series are created as a group of books that are bound together by some sort of hook; in fiction, it might be a club the main characters form, a neighborhood they all live in, or a cause they champion. In nonfiction, it's a topic (natural sciences, biographies) and an age group. Rarely do you see picture book fiction series. What does happen is a character may become very popular with readers and the author is asked to write another book featuring the same cast. These fiction "series" actually grow slowly one book at a time.
So, unless you've conceived your books as a traditional series and are able to send a thought-out series proposal to the editor, stick to selling one book. When an editor sees you have numerous manuscripts featuring the same characters and similar plots, she may feel that you've spent too much writing new material and not enough time revising what you've already got. And remember, each book--series or not--must stand on its own. It needs a strong beginning, well-developed middle, and satisfying end. No fair leaving the ending unfinished with the intention of continuing the story in the next book.
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 http://write4kids.com
Reprinted with permission.
Ten Things to Do If Your Book's
Not Getting Media Attention
By Lissa WarrenWhen I'm working on a book and it just isn't getting coverage, there are certain steps I take, and certain steps I ask my authors to take. Here are ten of them.
1. Honestly assess your book's media potential. Has it been done before? Is there lots of competition? While you're at it, assess your own media potential. Are you regarded as an expert in your field? If yours is a science book, are you a scientist? If yours is a book about medicine, are you a doctor? If yours is a business book, are you a CEO at a big corporation? If not, you're likely to find it hard to get interviews. A writer does not an expert make--unless, of course, it's a book about writing. Could you be overexposed? Could your topic be over exposed? If you've written a book about dotcoms or Enron, or a book about boys or mean girls, you're bound to find it a bit of a tough go. But remember, media isn't the only way to make people notice your book.
2. Write an op-ed tied to your book. When it runs, send it out to all of the broadcast media you've been targeting.
3. Try to get interviewed for something other than your book. Not having any luck getting the media to talk with you about your title? See if you can interest them in speaking with you about another topic. For example, if your book focuses on how to lose weight, see if you can get your local paper to do a piece about your award winning sugar-cookies. Tell them about the irony so that they give a nod to your book. Or if your book is about your memories of high school football but it's baseball season, try to get a sports radio station to have you on to talk about the joys of high school athletics in general. They'll probably still mention the book in your intro.
4. Go read the newspaper or listen to NPR. Try to find current events to which you can gear your pitch. If your book is about job interview techniques and the latest unemployment figures just came out (and have risen), you've got a new hook. If your book is a guide to Atlanta and it's about to be named a top-ten city, call up USA Today's “Destinations & Diversions” section and ask whether they want to interview you for a sidebar to run alongside the rankings.
5. Look for other new books on the same topic as yours. Two books equal a trend, and reporters love to do trend pieces. For example, in the Spring of 2002, we published a book called Linked: The New Science of Networks. Around the same time, Norton published another book about networks, Nexus. By calling this to the attention of science reporters, we were able to get more coverage than we could have gotten with our book alone. Another example: in June of 2002, the New York Times ran a big piece about perimenopause that included a bunch of books on the subject along with info on various estrogen supplements.
6. Take a long, hard look at your press material. Is it too hypey? Does it seem outdated in the light of current events? If it's skewed heavily to one section of your book, could you re-do it to skew to another section in which the media might take more interest? It's also important to get someone else's take on your press material. While it's true that no one knows your book--or you--the way you do, it's important to get feedback that provides outside perspective.
7. Assess whether you're targeting the right kind of media. Are you going for media that's too high-brow (or low-brow) for your book? Are you wasting time trying to get reviews in major market papers (if your book is self-help, health, parenting, new-age, or very technical, the answer is probably “yes”; but don't lose heart--those kind of books are great for off-the-book-page coverage)? Are you focusing on long-lead-time magazines after your book is already out (if so, it's probably too late for them; go for the weekly mags instead)? Be honest with yourself: Do you have the right “sound” for radio? The right “look” for TV?
8. Look for new media outlets to approach, especially in your city (for instance, have you exhausted the following local affiliates: NPR, CBS, ABC, NBC, PBS, Fox?). Have you tried the alumni magazine for your college and your grad school? Have you tried your hometown paper for a “local boy makes good” article? Have you tried all the magazines to which you subscribe? To get more ideas, have you gone to a newsstand? Have you approached the websites you surf on a regular basis? What about the drive-time shows on your local FM (and AM) stations (to find them, just go to Google.com and type in the name of your city with the word “radio” next to it)?
9. Evaluate the way you're approaching the media. Are your emails not getting answered? Try phoning the media instead. Are your phone messages being ignored? Try emailing or faxing.
10. Determine whether you're using all your ammo. Are you including quotes from your reviews and copies of other coverage? Are they presented in an impressive way (in a folder or in color)? Does your bio list the shows you've done and the groups for which you've spoken? If you're touring, does it clearly state the venues where you're speaking so that each city's media knows there's a local hook?
Lissa Warren is the author of The Savvy Author's Guide to Book Publicity (Carroll and Graf, 2004) from which this material was reprinted, and is Senior Director of Publicity at Da Capo Press-a member of the Perseus Books Group. She teaches a graduate course in book publicity at Boston's Emerson College.
Find Your True Voice –
Write it, Draw it, and Live It!
An interview with Andrew Stanton
By Dr. Ted BaehrOne of the most memorable characters from FINDING NEMO was the turtle dad named Crush, with his hilarious "surfer-dude" accent. Little do some audiences know, however, that the man who voiced Crush was also Andrew Stanton who wrote and directed FINDING NEMO.
Educate Yourself with the Best
Andrew Stanton went to school in Los Angeles at the California Institute for the Arts, or "Cal Arts," as they say. "It was kind of a Fame school, where you could take dance, film, theatre, and all the arts. I attended the Character Animation Department branch of the film school, founded by Walt Disney himself. Here, I learned to draw Mickey like everyone else with simple pencil drawings. I stayed very focused and lucked out to get some good employment after graduation."
Prior to his work with Pixar, Andrew did several years of bopping around to various agencies, employers, and free-lance projects, learning the business in many varied hands-on forums. "I had made some short student films that did well in local festivals. As a matter of fact, in one of the festivals, John Lassiter was showing his TIN TOY short. I got to know him and soon ended up working for him at Pixar."
Find a Fabulous Company
When asked about his company, Andrew Stanton says it's truly hard not to love Pixar. "This company is so unique. People don't believe me. It's like film school with all the teachers gone. We have the run of the place! It feels like you're still in film school making things you'd like to do for your own pleasure, or your own family." Andrew also appreciates the fact that Pixar is located outside of San Francisco, far removed from the rat race of Hollywood. "When we go home, there's no one we socialize with in the movie business. It keeps us grounded, and it keeps our creativity fresh. When we go back to work on Monday, it still feels like a privilege to make a movie. Nobody here is jaded."
Find a Creative, Cohesive Team
Most of the employees at Pixar attended the same school, Cal Arts, and most find that working at Pixar is very much like going to art school. "It's a wild and expressive atmosphere, and we work as hard as we play. We know our people put in a lot of hours and that these guys don't need pushing to give 200%. Everyone's basically an artsy Type A personality – creative and driven." Andrew believes that on every project, it's all about the team.
Make Them All Your Favorites!
Andrew and his associates at Pixar do seem to give 200% on every project, and every movie has the look and feel of detailed professionalism. For that reason, it was tough for Andrew to decide which movie was his favorite.
"Oh, don't ask me that!" he moaned. "It's like picking your favorite child. My favorite movie is all five of the Pixar movies I've worked on." (Thanks, Andrew… that narrows it right down.) Andrew started out in animation and worked into the story sector. He was the screenwriter on TOY STORY I & II, A BUG'S LIFE, MONSTERS, INC. and FINDING NEMO, the co- director of A BUG'S LIFE, and the director of FINDING NEMO, all of which bear his distinct mark in the areas of animation, humor, and style.
In the area of personal faith, Andrew has his own distinct style as well. "My personal view is that if you go into things on a pulpit or with an agenda in the creative world, it can easily get in the way of your creativity and quality. I'm more from the school of ‘practice what you preach,' rather than ‘preach what you practice." Be Christ-like in everything you do, not worrying about whether you're furthering the cause. I just have a lot of faith that this happens to be my spiritual gift: family entertainment. I put a lot of trust in what my heart is telling me to do, and I go with my instincts – not second-guessing what the industry or my audience wants or doesn't want."
One of Andrew's top values is that the artist finds his true voice and doesn't pander to the pressures of the industry. "If you're out to people-please, to satisfy some imaginary public, its not your true voice, and people will sense that. Audiences want something of truth and value, something honest and personal, with a clear voice. It's easy to fall into a trap if you come out here with a spiritual agenda. Just give it up to God and say, ‘OK, I'm going to go with something I'd like to see on the screen,' and it'll work." Clearly, real live audiences can attest to the fact that it's worked for Andrew and his team.
Let it Flow From Within
Many movie clubs throughout the nation have analyzed Pixar's films, and some have pointed out that they use spiritual, allegorical truths and portrayals, such as the father in FINDING NEMO, who seems to represent the pursing heart of God for his lost children, and the little forgetful fish, Dory, who seems to represent a guiding angel. When asked about how intentional these portrayals were, Andrew thinks for a moment. "In FINDING NEMO I was being as honest as I could be, and I just wrote. Some of the truths in the movie were intentional, and some were not. Definitely the protagonist's battle was to overcome fear by discovering faith, and certainly Dory represented the angel, or the helper who showed him how to let go and not be consumed by his worries. If you're truthful (and entertaining) with these elements, then they capture the audience. People can see their own personality quirks through an animated creature, and that makes a movie so universally relatable."
Throughout his experience in the industry, Andrew has found that honesty is the best policy, a character trait that's hard to attain to in filmmaking, it seems. "Many things are not constructed around real honesty in this industry, but you have to risk your job and your seemingly existing friendships to say what needs to be said sometimes. It's an art to know when to speak and when not to. I've never ever been in a situation at Pixar where I couldn't say what needs to be said…. After a while, people trust that you're always giving them the real answer."
Andrew also values the ability to stand alone, when necessary. "Most of this industry is run like a monarchy. There's a studio head, a boss, or a director with a big mandate. Someone's king, and everyone else is running around doing whatever it takes to make the king happy. Well, it's not about the king; it's about making the best movie possible. That should be the basis of all decisions, not politics. People should ask, ‘Is this best for the movie?' not ‘Is this best for me and my agenda?'"
Andrew is convinced that if people are always making decisions based on what's best for the movie, it will be hard to go wrong. "I'm fortunate to be surrounded by a ton of people who think like that. Nobody's going to get mad at you if you've made the movie better, no matter what you've done."
Keep the Bar High
The people at Pixar work hard to keep their movies fun and entertaining – and question the use of offensive material. They even performed an experiment with FINDING NEMO – which was trying to write a movie without a villain. "It's hard to come up with a villain that's not cliché or melodramatic. I'm much more fascinated with real conflicts, and I try to see if I can make an analogy in the fantasy world…. There are very few "intentional villains" in life – maybe Hitler and Saddam, but most bad guys think they're truly doing something good. It can be complex. In FINDING NEMO, even the most feared thing in the ocean – the sharks – weren't truly villains. They were just being themselves and trying to better themselves."
Be Realistic in Determining Talent
Talent is not fair, believes Andrew. "Everyone seems to understand this in sports," he says. "Just because you really, really want to play baseball, you don't get to go play for the Yankees. Some, with lots of dedication and time can overcome their amateur status and get into something professional, but that's a very small gene pool. Even if you do make it, someone will always do it better. You've gotta make peace with that fact before you get into the movie business. Talent is not fair."
Andrew does add that there's something that everybody is insanely good at; they just have to search it out. And, he believes that others will spot true talent; one just has to find trusted people who will be honest with them, perhaps a family member.
"I'm a learn-aholic," Andrew confesses. "And, I got it from my dad. My father used to even correct the questions on my homework. I'm always listening, reading, getting advice, and learning – even when I think I've mastered it. Since I've been here, John Lasseter's been a real influence. He makes everyone feel they are an essential element to the success of the film. He finds the unique thumbprint of each artist and capitalizes on that, bringing it to the forefront on every project."
Don't Shrink Back in Fear
Despite its challenges, and despite the fact that one must have recognized talent to make it, Andrew is clear that Hollywood is not the den of iniquity some people think it is. "You're going into the lion's den whenever you walk out of the house – no matter what the industry. Jesus spent much of his time with murderers, tax collectors, and even a prostitute. Living your life as a good example of integrity and compassion amongst people of other faiths and beliefs is a better service than shunning them or their ideas from a lofty moral platform. Remember that it's not a bad thing that you're around questionable people and weird situations…. It'll keep you sharp. And actually, there's a lot more people of faith than you think in Hollywood."
And, how wonderful it was to interview such a man of faith, so skilled in the movie industry and so influential in the American family! We can't wait for the next Pixar movie!
Dr. Ted Baehr, an award-winning producer, writer, and director, is chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, a division of Good News Communications, Inc., and serves as the publisher of MOVIEGUIDE®: A Family Guide to Movies and Entertainment. He writes a nationally syndicated column and is the author of numerous books, including The Media-Wise Family and So You Want To Be In Pictures?. Dr. Baehr graduated summa cum laude in Comparative Literature from Dartmouth College, attended Cambridge University, the University of Bordeaux & Toulouse, and the University of Munich, graduated with a Juris Doctor from NYU School of Law, and finished his theological studies at the Institute of Theology. Dr. Baehr's work has been featured in such publications as USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. He has been a featured guest on such shows as Oprah, CNN and Entertainment Tonight.
Find a Literary Agent or Self Publish: How to Decide
by Fern Reiss, CEO, PublishingGame.comYou've decided to publish a book. You've done the hard part--you've finally got the manuscript written. Now all that's left is to publish it--and that's the easy part, right?
Welcome to today's new world of publishing, and the options that await you. In the old days (we're talking 15 years ago) there was really only one choice for writers who wanted to release their words to the world: You sent your manuscript to a publishing house, and then you prayed. (Sure, even then you knew you were supposed to find a literary agent first, but that seemed a harder quest even than nailing down a publisher.) Six, eight, twelve, sometimes 24 months later, you'd get that sinking feeling in your stomach when your familiar, brown-wrapped manuscript turned up again in your mailbox. Sometimes it would be accompanied by a scrawled, "Sorry, not for us," or a day-brightening, "Try us again!" More often it would come with a form letter, explaining politely that they get a lot of manuscripts and they publish few. After attempting in vain to remove the coffee stains from your once-virgin pages, you'd type the thing up afresh and start all over again.
Today's publishing world is radically different--and that's very exciting for us as authors.
First of all, there are many more outlets today to which to send your work. Twenty years ago, there were a handful of top-notch literary agents. Today, there are several hundred good literary agents across the country. (Partly this is because the large publishing houses have downsized and been gobbled up in recent years, and many of the former publishing house editors have now hung out shingles as literary agents.) Regardless, there are many more outlets for your work, and many more opportunities to capture a literary agent than ever before. (There are also more venues in which to meet a literary agent. With writing conferences popping up all over the country, you can pretty much pre-select your agent of choice and then track down the conference where you can most easily meet him!)
There's also the new viability of self-publishing today. Although there have always been self-published books (Ben Franklin and Mark Twain are among the literary forefathers who supposedly self-published) the technology has now become accessible and affordable for all. You can print a 250-paged paperback book in quantities of 1,000 for just $2 per copy today--making self-publishing a truly viable option for many. And there's the new buzz word in today's technology, print-on-demand, which promises to pave the bumps in the road even further for authors. Although I don't recommend print-on-demand publishing for most situations (see my article on POD) there are circumstances in which POD is an affordable, easy alternative for authors seeking to publish.
So given all the options, how do you decide? What are the tradeoffs? What are the caveats? I give all-day Publishing Game workshops on these topics, but here are just a few things to consider:
Cachet. Being able to refer to your literary agent and publisher is now, and probably always will be, more impressive than publishing yourself. When someone at a cocktail party asks what you do, if you can say, "I'm an author, Harper-Collins published my latest book," that's classy. When I say, "I'm Peanut Butter and Jelly Press," it's just cute. So it depends on your goals; if you're in it for the prestige, the traditional literary agent/big publisher route is probably best for you.
Control. If you want to control the details of your book--the editing, the cover design, even the content--you need to self-publish. Although the best publishers give you some input, you're never able to control all the details unless you're publishing yourself.
Profits. If you have a clear sense of who your audience is, and how you can reach them, you might be able to generate much more income from your book by doing it yourself. When you work with a large publisher, you make only 10% of list price (and the agent takes 15% of that.) So the book that sells for $10 retail is netting you--85 cents. As a self-publisher, you keep all those profits--so that same $10 book, once you've paid off the middlemen who sell to the bookstores and libraries, will generate at least $3 to $4.50, or even more for books sold back of the room at talks or directly over your website. You can be just 10% as successful as a large publisher--and make the same amount! (The downside is that you'll also incur all the financial risk. With a big publisher, you may not make money, but you won't lose it either.) Still, there are an estimated 50,000 small publishers in the US today, and we're generating over $14 billion annually in book sales. You can be one of us.
Speed. Mainstream publishing is painfully slow. Even after you find a literary agent and publisher, the time lag between their acceptance of your manuscript and the final publication of your book could easily be as long as two to three years. Be sure your topic won't wither in that period of time. (My book, Terrorism and Kids: Comforting Your Child came out one week after 9/11. All the big publisher books on 9/11 came out nine months later, way too late for the market--and most of those books ended up being remaindered.)
Shelf Life. With a big publisher, you have no control over the shelf life of your book. Most books today--even those which receive huge advances of money--have a bookstore shelf-life of only eight months. So if you want your book to be around for longer, you need to consider self-publishing. (I turned down a six-figure advance for my book, The Infertility Diet: Get Pregnant and Prevent Miscarriage, because I was concerned that it would be yanked from shelves prematurely. By self-publishing, I was able to ensure that it stayed in print--and on bookstore shelves--forever. That book has now been selling for six years--and it still sells like hotcakes.)
Business. If you like to write, but you have no interest in business, leave the publishing to someone else. Self-publishing is a business. To make money at it, you need to like those sorts of business things. (You may, on the other hand, find that you love those sorts of business things--I have!)
Publicity. Finally, no matter which way you ultimately decide to publish your book, remember that you--and you alone--are responsible for your book's publicity. No matter how much money the big publisher throws your way, it's unlikely that they'll be doing any publicity for your title. (In fact, several large publishing houses are now buying my small press book, The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days and giving it to their authors to encourage them to do some publicity on their own!) If you want your book to sell, and sell well, you'll need to learn how to do book promotion. Fortunately, it's a learnable skill, and with a little practice, you'll get good at it.
Finally, remember that publishing is a game. Whichever way you decide to publish, sit back, relax, and enjoy the experience!
Fern Reiss is the author of The Publishing Game: Bestseller in 30 Days (book marketing), The Publishing Game: Find an Agent in 30 Days (finding a literary agent), The Publishing Game: Publish a Book in 30 Days (self-publishing). For more information on Publishing Game books, workshops, and consulting, and on getting your book and business featured in the national media, sign up for the complimentary PublishingGame/Expertizing email newsletter at http://www.PublishingGame.com/signup.htm.
Copyright © 2005 Fern Reiss
New Links to Check
Wheels of Motion--Dialogue That Propels The Story Forward
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