Thursday, December 31, 2009

A strategy for the New Year

For many writers the goal for the New Year is to get published. Any worthwhile goal should have a viable strategy to get there. What might such a strategy look like? The first and most important thing is to effectively target who we want to approach.

Just going down the Writer’s Digest and picking names to submit to is a recipe for failure. The odds of such a cold-call submission succeeding is very slim, but what do we have to lose, right? Actually what we have to lose is burning bridges that with the right approach might be a successful contact. But once we have managed to successfully secure a rejection, that avenue is gone.

No, successful contacts are not made with publishing houses, but rather with editors, and ideally with editors or agents that we have managed to establish some sort of contact with. This is the difficult part of making submissions, finding the right people and knowing WHY they are the right person to submit to. The best way is by identifying what projects they have been involved in that makes us believe they are right for our project. Not just the house, but the right editor.

Ninety per cent of making a successful submission is targeting the right person to send it to. The majority of such submissions aren’t successful and the reason on a high number of them is they simply are not sent to the right person or to a specific person at all. “To Whom it May Concern” submissions are quite likely to draw a “To Whom it May Concern” response which is not likely to be favorable.

If we have effectively targeted the right place to go, then the next step is a great query letter and proposal. These are the sales documents for our books. Occasionally I have someone say “I don’t want to put a proposal together, that’s what I want an agent for.” I wish them luck. I can only take a few of the many submissions that are made to me and they are going to be people who have given me a terrific proposal that shows me how strong a sales pitch can be made on the project. I’ll never know a project as good as the author, so the starting point for me has to be a good proposal.

So the strategy is good targeting, a very professional pitch and proposal, (I have an ebook at my website on ‘Pitch and Promote like a Pro’ at if you need help ) and finally we need patience. At any given time, even with good research and targeting, our project may only fit at a single place in the industry. Within a short period of time it may only fit at ANOTHER specific place. That means making a good connection will by definition entail a lot of misses and near misses. Too many people don’t understand and get discouraged when it is simply the process of finding the right match. Those who publish have the patience to see it through, learn the editing that is required, and get the training they need to grow in their craft.

So what is your goal for 2010? And have you formulated a strategy to give you the best shot at achieving it?

Monday, December 28, 2009

Is there such a thing as an over-believer?

This question was asked on one of the writing groups. My answer is NO! I believe in Jesus and the good news of the gospel with every fiber of my being. Is there such a thing as an over-communicator? Well . . . yes.

I have a young relative that was a brand new preacher. He was on fire with an unmatched evangelistic zeal. When he was speaking to potential converts you could see their eyes glaze over as he exceeded their capacity to receive information. I told him we need to learn to gauge the amount of information our intended audience is prepared to receive. He learned to read people better, to not try to get the job done in one burst of information, and be patient to match the message with the receiver.

This is particularly true when bringing a message of faith to a non-believer. What happens when that occurs? The Holy Spirit brings them under conviction. Being under conviction is difficult enough for Christians who understand what it is and often need a dose of it, but it is never a comfortable thing. Being a non-believer and coming under conviction is that much more uncomfortable when they don’t understand what is going on but do not like it. The result is usually to tune out or even to resist. Not what we are after.

It’s the same in writing, in our daily communications, sermons, any type of communication activity. We have to try to match the message with the receiver. I had a speech professor once that said we all possess a box of index cards. On those cards are written all of our life experiences, our education, our upbringing, the mistakes we have made, all the facets of our life. We formulate a communication by going through that box and putting the message together by using that box.

The problem is the message will be received by a person with another box that has a completely different set of cards, and they will use their cards, not ours, to decode the message. To the extent that we can find common ground, that is the extent that we will effectively communicate. A good communicator can match the message to the receiver, can keep from giving them more information than they are prepared to receive in one sitting.

Is there such a thing as an over-believer? No, I don’t believe it possible to love the Lord TOO much. Is there such a thing as an over-communicator? Actually that seems to happen a lot, particularly with those who are on fire for the Lord, but there is something we can do about it. And we can become more effective communicators for God.

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Politically Correct Christmas Greeting

Actually, if that is what you are looking for you have come to the wrong place. Everyone in our family is a Bible-believing, born again Christian and above all else we believe that Christmas is a day set aside for recognizing the birth of our Lord.

Sure I know it may or may not be the exact day He was born, it’s silly to get into that argument. What is important is there is a day set aside to honor Him. It doesn’t matter if a lot of stores try to circumvent that by using “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or if the government seems bent on getting any vestige of religion out of our country because they can’t do it. The real church of Jesus isn’t a building or a place that the government can get at, but it is in our hearts and there it is secure and above their petty efforts.

Of course I want to do everything I can to reverse these trends, but I also want them to know that their efforts are futile. Christmas is about the birth of Jesus, period, exclamation mark. Not that we don’t enjoy all of the ‘trimmings’ of the season, we do. The lights, the decorations, the brightly lit tree, and presents, did I mention presents? And how about the look on the faces of the children in anticipation of seeing what is in those brightly wrapped packages? Priceless.

Is there a big meal involved? There usually is for us, our family thinks eating and celebrating are two ways of saying the same thing. No, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the holiday as long as we first remember the real reason.

We were watching a Christmas program and on it they asked if people could name the best and the worst Christmas. Someone said, “who could possibly do that?” I said I could. My worst Christmas was the year my brother died right at Christmas. No contest.

My best? Sitting in a candle-lit evening service on Christmas Eve and watching my kids get baptized together. Also absolutely no contest. What present did I get that year? Who knows? But I’ll never forget the sights reflected in that flickering candlelight or the smell of the pine boughs being warmed by candles in the windows or the sound of the Christmas choir all leading up to the actual baptism. No amount of ‘political correctness’ can take that away from me.

Our family wishes you and yours a wonderful celebration of the birth of our Savior and we hope for you it is more than just a time to exchange gifts but a time to build precious memories that can last the year through . . . and some can last a lifetime.

Merry Christmas,

Terry, Saundra and Ruth

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Guest Blogger - Joyce Hart, owner and principal agent Hartline Literary

Some tips on getting your book proposal read.

1. One of my stock answers is: “This isn’t a good fit for our agency.” Have you researched our web site? Did you read what we’re looking for? I get several queries and/or proposals a day for Young Adult and children’s novels. We don’t do either of those categories. Under “guidelines” we list what we are looking for and the categories that we are not interested in seeing.

2. Do you know how to prepare a proposal? Again, we have proposal guidelines on our web site. We tell you exactly how we want to see a proposal. We can bend a little, but basically our guidelines reflect what editors are asking from us. When we don’t send them this way we get comments like this, “Joyce, this is not your usual style.” Then they ask us to do them over. Authors tell me that preparing the proposal is harder than writing the book and I know this is true. However, please know that it is a necessary step in getting your book published.

3. Your bio is important. Every day I get queries with only a summary of the book. I can’t make a decision without your bio and your publishing history. It’s all part of the drill.

4. The marketing comparison – we get a lot of “groaning” about this one. However, again it is essential. One editor recently asked us, “Does this author know where this book fits on the bookshelf?” In other words do you know who your audience? Very important in presenting your book to the agent and to the editor.

5. Don’t give us too much information. We need all the elements of the proposal, but we don’t need pages and pages. About the summary: for fiction, I personally prefer one to two pages. Some agents want more. For non-fiction, we need a small summary of each chapter.

6. Are you willing to complete the book? Terry recently did a survey of 175 editors and his conclusion is that the majority of editors want the book finished. We will accept a partial on non-fiction and also from published authors of fiction. However, for new authors, we need the whole book. And the editor might want the whole book finished even if you are a published author. Your agent will work with you on this.

7. Did you remember to put your contact information on the cover page, and yes, a cover page is necessary. Also, don’t forget to put a header on each page, using the “insert” button and please, number the pages. Amazing how many proposals we get without contact information and without the pages numbered. Even if we love the manuscript, we can’t contact the author because we don’t know who to contact. The e-mail or the envelope has gotten separated from the proposal, more than likely.

These are just a few tips, if you have questions please ask us. We are caring agents and it is not easy for us to reject your work. Sometimes, it’s simply not what we are looking for, other times we don’t know of anyone who is looking for your particular project. Let me point out that we get far more rejections than you do, because we have close to 200 clients. Some days we’ll get several rejections. I hate to tell an author their book is rejected. We hurt along with you. It’s one of my least favorite parts of my job.

Right now I’m looking for romance, romance, romance, either contemporary or historical. My personal favorite genre is romantic suspense and almost any kind of a mystery/suspense. However, this genre is a little hard to sell at this time. Amish is hot, whether contemporary or historical. Who knows how long this will last, it’s anybody’s guess. Thomas Nelson told me “we don’t want any dead bodies, we want lighter stories.” Mystery does not do well at Revell. Harvest House and WaterBrook are willing to look at mystery, but the book needs to be completed. Bethany’s specialty is romance, historical and contemporary. We are willing to look at women’s fiction. Bottom line is this, in spite of anything I’ve said we will always look at stellar writing in any category. Send us your very best work in a well done proposal.

I’m wishing you the best. Don’t get discouraged; remember selling anything takes persistence and consistence. If you are called to write, put your trust in God and keep writing.

One last word, publishing kind of dies this time of year. People are taking vacations, getting ready for Christmas. It will pick up in January 2010.



Sunday, December 13, 2009

Do Book Trailers Work?

Do these book trailers really do any good? There’s a big discussion going on over on one of these lists about this, on that recurs often from place to place. In the case that is being talked about the publisher wants trailers to go on a DVD the sales reps can use to go out and pitch books and in that case the answer is they will absolutely do some good. I have a friend that is in book acquisition for some bookstores and he tells me they simply do not have the time to read all the books they acquire so they depend on some trusted review sources, or sometimes the decision is made as simply as the cover and how they think it will display on the shelves and be picked up. They would look with great favor on such a DVD.

But how about your average reader? Are they swayed by trailers? Do they even see them? Who knows? Putting my writer hat on I try to build things in to various promotion sources when I can that will show me where success is coming from. After all, most of the time when we sell a book we don’t know what triggered that buying decision. Word of mouth is the most effective thing, I think most people agree on that, but how was that word of mouth promotion generated?

Does the trailer do that? Do blog tours do that? Promoting the book on various online groups, is that what makes it happen? Doing book-signings and programs and being a guest on radio or TV or getting interviewed somewhere, is that it? The answer is yes, all of the above and anything more that we can think of.

It’s great when we can decide something is definitely working so we can do more of it. It’s even good when we see something doesn’t work so we can not do it again. I did a contest with one of my books that drew no entries. That means I wasn’t out the prize for the contest as nobody won it, and just the existence and promotion of the contest may have triggered some sales, no way to tell. But on the surface the contest was a bust so I won’t do it again.

It’s called platform and while we seldom can tell what is really triggering purchases, the more of it we have the better. P T Barnum, the old circus promoter, said it. He said “I don’t care what you say about me as long as you spell my name right.” He meant all publicity is eventually good publicity. I’ve seen folks with very questionable activity in their past get elected to office. Voters didn’t remember WHY they recognized the name, they just knew it was familiar. I’d rather people be more discerning than that but it proves the point.

People buy books because they see a name they can identify with more than anything else. How did the name become familiar? It might have been that book trailer, the author may never know. Or it might have been any one of the other activities the author is doing to generate visibility. And you want to know the funny thing? The purchaser may not even know themselves why they are familiar with the name, they just are.

Like I say, the answer is “all of the above.”

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

I'm an independent

Yes, I’m an independent. It goes back to when my mother and father cancelled each others votes every time they cast them. Mother won, she outlived him, although at 95 she doesn’t feel like she can keep up with things well enough to cast an intelligent vote. I wish more felt like that and if they couldn’t vote intelligently just wouldn’t vote at all.

But I digress. To keep from taking sides as soon as I could vote I was an avowed independent, supporting the candidates rather than the party. Then I went into chamber of commerce work and since I had to work with both parties my independent status was useful showing I was unbiased. I even carried a voter registration card that proclaimed that status.

I’m an independent now more than ever. I’m unhappy with both parties and the unprecedented level of government expansion and spending. I would support a genuine third party if it didn’t mean penalizing one party over the other producing a result I would not like to see.

I am disgusted with the politicians going ahead and doing what they want to do ignoring the huge public outcry. The major portion of America do not want the huge spending, the major expansion of government, the incursion into our lives. They simply don’t seem to care and seem dead set on doing what they want to do regardless of what the people that sent them there want them to do.

They seem dead set on spending the money of our children and grandchildren. They make it clear that they do not think we are intelligent enough to know what is good for us so the government must control more and more until they control everything. I simply can’t understand why there is anyone in this country that isn’t insulted by that.

Yes, I’m an independent and for me party means nothing. The issues and even the character of those involved is everything for me. And quite frankly I sincerely hope that anyone voting for this monstrosity of a health care bill will be committing political suicide to do it. And I will do anything that I can do to see that happens. Along with encouraging others to be independent in their thoughts as well. Most of this stuff is pretty easy to see through of we take the party blinders off.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Interview with Client Bonnie Calhoun

Bonnie, the Madison PI series kicks off soon from Abingdon Press. I know you worked with Michelle Sutton on it, but Michelle is Tamela's client so I'll let her handle talking to her when she is ready. But you were the one that had the idea for this black and white sleuth team, weren't you? Tell me where the idea came from? And how it developed?

Yes this was my idea. I came up with this because, out of all of the Christian fiction I read I really haven't found a lot of diversity or multicultural interaction. The idea comes from my own real life. My extended family is a blending of multicultures, and my husband is white. We've been together for 28 years and between him and family interactions there is plenty of fonder to keep me writing novels until the Lord returns. This developed out of a real situation that happened long years ago in my family and with enough embellishment I have turned it into a full length novel.

The first book is called "Thicker than Sisters" - can you give us a little teaser about what to expect?

Precious Madison has a chip on her shoulder.

Olivia Baldwin is the epitome of that chip.

Bridging the crack will create a bond that can never be broken.

PI Precious Madison is tough, jaded, and judgmental, but are her street smarts enough to save sheltered heiress Olivia Baldwin from her naiveté of the real world.

A young man is murdered, and the two women are drawn into the mystery when they assume that the police write it off as a random crime. Unraveling the truth puts their lives at risk when they uncover a high-level crime organization, and another dead body that disappears before they can report it.

As the danger escalates, Precious and Olivia, learn to depend on each other for survival.

And There's a second book, "Thicker than Blood" contracted in the series and an option for more after that. What can we expect to see down the road?

In Thicker Than Sisters we see the coming of age of Precious' story and her coming to terms with her situation and her relationship with the Lord. In Thicker Than Blood we delve into the story of what has made Olivia the person that she is, and how she matures into the life-hand that has been dealt her.

Bonnie, you are the owner and publisher of the very successful Christian Fiction Online Magazine as well as for the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance, how do you find time to write? How do you think these roles impact your writing career?

LOL...I find time to run the organizations and also write because I've given up on sleep. It was overated anyhow...LOL. I also have a full time day job.
I am a clothing designer and seamstress and I own my own business. I prioritize my projects at any given moment of the day, and I've learned to stay organized and within my own system, no matter how muddled it becomes. I work infinitely well under pressure. Actually over my life time I have found that I tend to thrive under pressure, so that is a plus that adds to my writing career!

What are you working on in addition to this series?

I'm working on another multicultural suspense series.

What's the best piece of writing advice you ever got? The worst?

The best writing advice:
Read Brandilyn Collins to learn how to write suspense.

The worst advice:
Ignore that looney Snowflake Method by that crazy nuclear physicist.

Anything else you'd like to take this opportunity to say?

Be true to yourself, and if you have a dream of being something.... be the best you can be and the Lord with honor your diligence.

Thanks, Bonnie

Look forward to your books coming out