Sunday, December 10, 2017

Insights about Writers from the Movies

Unless you study my tweets on a regular basis, you probably don't know that I love going to movies. In fact, if I'm in town, we often go almost every week to some film. If the movie is worth it, after I get home, I will often send a tweet about the movie and a rating. Just like every book, not every movie is worth telling you about so if it is a dud then I say nothing about it.

Last weekend, we saw The Man Who Invented Christmas which is currently in the theaters. If you haven't caught this film, I recommend you get there. Why? Because this film captures something unusual about the life of a writer and the writing process. The movie is set in 19th  century England and tells the story behind the writing of the Charles Dickens' classic novel, A Christmas Carol. While over 50 movies have been made from the novel, this film captures something different. It is focused on the behind-the-scenes elements of how Dickens wrote the book. Yet like any good piece of fiction, the film still takes creative license with the historical facts.

The acting from Dan Stevens as Charles Dickens and Christopher Plummer as Scrooge is well-done and the story is a fun film. My reason for telling you about this movie is how it portrays the writing process and the pain that a writer must go through to create his work. The interaction with family members and how Dickens had to face personal nightmares from his own past to complete the work on deadline mirrors things that I've experienced in my own writing life.

The epilogue of the movie said A Christmas Carol was released in bookstores on December 19, 1843. Every copy of the book was sold by Christmas Eve on December 24th. Also charitable giving throughout London dramatically increased that Christmas season. Dickens wrote this book in a short amount of time but it has become a Christmas classic about our need to be generous and celebrate life.

This movie is one for the entire family yet it shows something important about the writing process.

Tell me if you go to movies and how this experience feeds into your writing. Tell me in the comments below. 


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Sunday, December 03, 2017

Five Ways to Organize Your Writing

Over my writing life, I've written in many cluttered and noisy places—but it is not my preference or where I do my best creative work. For example, with my journalism training, I have written in busy noise editorial offices where everyone is pounding on their own keyboard right next to each other. The distractions are incredible in these situations. Some of my friends haul their laptop to a coffee shop and write.

I've discovered I do some of my best creative work when my environment is organized. Yes some writers use organization as a method of procrastination. They sharpen their pencils and other such tasks to put off getting their hands on the keyboard and writing words. If I take time to get organized, I've discovered my writing is more focused and less distracted and I become more productive.

1. Clarify your current goals. What are you attempting to write and how are you moving forward to accomplishing those goals? If you aim at nothing, you will be certain to hit it. Take a few minutes to write down and clarify what you are trying to accomplish then plan the steps to get that done. Maybe you need to set a specific amount of words you are going to write every day on a project so it gets moving ahead. Or maybe you need to create a little chart of your word count game plan then cross it off with each accomplishment. Organizing your goals and plans then moving ahead is a key part of the process. Use this link to get a more detailed handout from a workshop I teach. 

2. Reduce clutter in your office. Over the years, I've written more than 800 reviews on Amazon. This link is my public Amazon profile. Several times a day, I will receive emails from people who want me to read their book and write a review. Also in the mail, I get Advanced Reader Copies and review copies of books that authors and publishers want me to read and write reviews. In the last few months, the books have poured into my office and are currently overflowing my bookshelves and becoming clutter and somewhat chaos. I sort through the books and get my reading plans organized.

3. Expand your network and opportunities. Do you have unanswered email? Or phone calls that you have not returned? Instead of seeing it as a burden, you can view these emails and phone calls as an expansion of your network and new opportunities. It is often through the follow-up and follow-through that things will happen for you. I encourage you to continue meeting new people and expanding your writing network.
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4. Carry out what you've promised. One of the keys in the writing life is to complete what you've promised to complete. I have incomplete manuscripts and proposals and projects which have not been finished. An old proverb says, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The good news is you can pick up projects which you didn't finish, make a new effort and get them done.

5. Look at new directions for your writing. Every writer needs to continually work at diversifying your income. Whatever is working now for you, may not be working in six months or a year. I've learned the hard way to create different income streams. Then when one slows or stops, you are not in a panic but able to quickly transition to something else. 

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Several years ago, I interviewed Robert W. Bly (Bob Bly) who has created an active online information business.  I encourage you to listen to this free interview (follow the link or click the image) and download the free Ebook, then take action to read and begin to create your own products. Or maybe your writing is headed in a different direction. Create and execute your game plan for this direction.

OK, there you have my five ways to organize your writing. Let me know in the comments, the action steps you are taking for your writing life. Maybe you have other ideas for us. I look forward to seeing them.


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Sunday, November 26, 2017

Keep Going With Your Writing

From my years in publishing, I've learned there are many different routes to success. As a writer, my task is to keep going and continue pursuing my dreams. Your persistence and continued effort will pay off. It's a message that I've given in my workshops—but one I've been hearing from others as well.

The road to success is littered with people who do not persist. These writers try a few things, get rejected then put their writing away and figure it no one wanted it. In contrast, the writers who get published continue to look for the right place for their material to be published. They are persistent. 

One of the best stories about persistence is Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen when they were trying to get the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book published. Their book idea was rejected over 140 times. Now that is a lot of rejection and persistence! In the process of their search for a publisher, they lost their literary agent and even considered self-publishing until a little publisher in Florida offered to publish the first of numerous books. Many writers would have given up on their book but Canfield and Hansen persisted. Today Chicken Soup for the Soul is one of the best-selling series of books but it certainly didn't begin that way.

If you are struggling to get published with one idea or manuscript, I encourage you to write a second book proposal or manuscript and try that one. Maybe the second one will be where you will find success. I've known many novelists who never published their first novel—and their manuscript remains in their desk drawer. Instead they needed to persist and write and market several novels before they found their writing voice and path to publication.

Or maybe you need to try a different type of writing such as publishing in print magazines. It is necessary to experiment in many different directions to find your path to publication. For the last year, each month, I've been writing an article about different aspects of magazine publication. Check this link and you will see that I've written many different articles about this key writing skill. From my experience there are many different writing possibilities.  I have a wide-ranging list of some of these possibilities in the free sample chapter of my Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams (just follow this link to download it).

Several months ago, I told about listening to a story in Lauren Graham's memoir, Talking As Fast As I Can. She was at a cast dinner and seated next to mega-bestselling author James Patterson. She asked him, “How do you do it?” He responded, “Keep going, keep going, keep going.”

Numerous obstacles will come into your life and prevent your writing. Persistence and continuing to write despite the barriers will be one of the keys to your success. As writers, we need to continually be reading and open to new ideas and trying new options. Last week, Smashwords Founder Mark Coker had an article in the current Publishers Weekly: Ten Tips for Autopilot E-book Marketing. Whether you have E-books or not, I encourage you to look at these ten ideas. These are perennial ideas that you can use with your books.

One of the hardest things to discover is something which is not there. This principle applies to proofreading, writing, marketing and many other aspects of publishing. When I read Coker's article, I began to think about #2 Add a Discussion Guide. Years ago when I was an acquisitions editor at David C. Cook, we decided to add a discussion guide into every new book—nonfiction or fiction. Why?

Because it was a simple addition which added value to every book. There are thousands of book clubs selecting books to read and discuss every month. If your book includes a study guide, then you have opened this possibility for your book. If your book is already in print, then you can write the study guide then give it away on your website as an added value for your readers. You can use the study guide as a list builder and have people give you an email and first name to get the free download—or you can simply give it away.

It is key to explore new ideas and to take action. 

What new ideas are you exploring and trying for your writing—so that you keep going? Tell us in the comments below. 


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Sunday, November 19, 2017

Beyond Thanksgiving: Writers Need Gratitude

About this time of year we find many articles about thankfulness and gratitude. Yet I contend writers need gratitude or thankfulness throughout the year and not just around Thanksgiving.

The world of writing is full of challenges. You craft a query letter or book proposal and fire it off to a editor who has asked for it—and then you hear nothing. You wonder if they got it or if they hated it or what happened? Then you get a letter from a reader complaining about the typos in your most recent book. Or your phone seems to be acting strange.

Let’s face it: every writer faces problems and things that they try which don't work—for many different reasons. In the midst of these situations there is one constant that the writer can control: your attitude. Do you lean into the challenges and work on something different. Or do you face the day with gratitude and thankfulness.

I’ve not always been a proponent of gratitude and looking at the glass as half full instead of half empty. As I have been in publishing many years, I’ve been working on my attitude and trying to center on gratitude every day.

A couple of months ago, Darren Hardy challenged listeners to his Darren Daily program that there were only 90 days until Thanksgiving. He suggested we keep a Thankful Journal about a friend or spouse. He asked us to write in that journal every day until Thanksgiving and then give it to the person on the holiday.

I’m not much of a journal keeper. I know many writers who journal but I've never developed this habit. At the encouragement of Darren Hardy, I tried this Thanks Journal and have been faithfully writing in it every day. The results have been fascinating to me. Every day I’ve focused on gratitude and something I appreciate then wrote into this journal. If nothing else, it has spun my thoughts and attitude in the direction of gratitude. In a few days, I’m going to this journal to the person. I plan to continue this pattern with a gratitude journal because I’ve found this process has been a significant help to my gratitude attitude.

Within the publishing world, there is much outside of the writer’s control. The one area you can control is your attitude. If you are grateful and thankful, that attitude will shine through to others. You will become someone who is attractive to others rather than someone always grumbling about this or that.

From my years in publishing, I’ve seen how the grumbler and complainers are perceived. The editors and agents may smile, treat you kindly and answer your complaints, but behind the scenes they are talking with their colleagues about how these complaints simply spread the poison to others. When these writers do not get encouraged to do another book, they wonder why. I would contend it comes down to attitude. Is your attitude attractive to others or repelling? If you are grumbling and repelling, then I encourage you to turn to gratitude and thankfulness and let it carry you all year long—not just on one day called Thanksgiving.

Let me know the steps you are taking in the comments below.


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Sunday, November 12, 2017

Why You Should NOT Be Making Publishing Assumptions

We live in a hurry up world with limited time and resources. Are you making publishing assumptions which are limiting your publishing options? Admittedly there are many different ways to get published and thousands of new books released into the market every day.

For over five years, I've been an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. As an acquisitions editor, I work with authors and literary agents to find the right books for us to publish. From my 25+ years in publishing and working with many types of publishers and authors, I know firsthand our model at Morgan James is different. In many ways, it is author-driven yet it has the team and consensus-building elements that comprise what makes traditional publishing work.

I've had the negative experiences in publishing. For example, a book proposal that I wrote received a six-figure advance. My co-author nor I saw the book cover or title before the book was published. In fact, there was a different title in the publisher's catalog than the printed book. The cover had a photo of my co-author that he didn't like. He didn't get behind the book in promotion and talking about the book—which every book needs if it is going to succeed. With the poor sales, the publisher took our book out of print in about six months. The stock was destroyed and I have some of the few remaining copies of this book.

While you may think this story is unique, I've often hear such experiences from others who have followed the traditional path. In this path, the publisher is in charge of the title, cover, interior, etc. They may show the author the information but at the end of the day, they feel like they have more publishing experience than the author so they make the decisions. The lack of author involvement from my experience leads to less author promotion and less sales. Some of these actions explain why 90% of nonfiction books never earn back their advance (a little talked about fact in the publishing community).

Recently a literary agent (that I had not worked with before) submitted a novel to Morgan James. As a professional courtesy when receiving an offer, he reached out to me to see if we were interested in the book. With my recent travel to conferences, I had not spoken with this agent—the next step in the process of getting a Morgan James book contract. I tried to set up a phone meeting with the agent that day—and we arranged a time. At first, he downplayed the need for us to take the time to talk because he heard the model was a hybrid. Even the term “hybrid” means many different things in publishing. I was grateful this agent took the time to hear the details about Morgan James. Whether the agent does a deal with us or not, at least I got the chance to talk about the unique aspects. He did not discount the opportunity and assume he understood it.

At an event, I met an author who gave me her partial manuscript. I reached out to her to get the electronic version. She responded that she was chatting with her agent and had produced a couple of books with Tate Publishing and if Morgan James was like them, she wasn't interested. I told her that the leaders of Tate are in jail and Morgan James wasn't like them at all. I encouraged her to explore the possibilities instead of instantly discounting them.

Until an author submits their material and goes through the process, I don't know if they will receive a publishing offer from Morgan James. We receive over 5,000 submissions and only publish about 150 books a year—and of those books only about 25 to 30 are Christian books. We publish about 25 to 30 novels a year and about 25 to 30 children's books. The system is strong but not right for every author—and that is why there is a process.

The basic principle: don't make assumptions. Instead take the time to listen and read and explore. You may be surprised with the opportunities.  Behind the scenes, I've seen great integrity and transparency with Morgan James Publishing. If I can help you, don't hesitate to reach out to me. My email and work contact information is on the bottom of the second page of this information sheet.

Are you publishing assumptions as you look at options? Tell me in the comments below.


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Sunday, November 05, 2017

A New Format for My Billy Graham book

From my years in publishing, I understand that readers consume books in different ways. Some people prefer to read a print book. Others have gone electronic and read on their iPad or Kindle or Nook or another electronic type of device. Other readers find reading hard and prefer audiobooks. I encourage you to create your books in all of the different formats so any of these readers can access your book.

I’ve been eager to get my biography of Billy Graham into audiobook format. At first I was going to read it myself but in March I decided that I didn’t have the time or the skill to produce my own book. Morgan James put the book out for audition and normally they get about half a dozen responses. We had 28 people try out for my Graham book. I listened to all these auditions and selected an experienced audiobook person Andrew L. Barnes.

How could I make my audiobook different? For example, Billy Crystal started his audiobook in front of a live audience and other audiobooks included some music between the chapters.

One of the most iconic songs related to Billy Graham is the hymn Just As I Am which is played at crusades when people are coming forward to accept Christ. Billy Graham’s autobiography is called Just As I Am. I searched online and found a version of the song from the Gaithers. I wanted to use a short clip of the instrumental and a short clip of the hymn. Then I had to get permission.

About eight years ago when I worked at Howard Publishing, I met Gloria Gaither and exchanged emails with her. I had not reached out to her in years. I wrote a short email reminding her of when we met and explaining about my audiobook of my Billy Graham project. I asked for permission and within 24 hours they granted it.

Each chapter in my audiobook begins with the chapter name then the music clip. The addition makes the audiobook different and special. Here's the retail sample.

I listened to my audiobook while carefully watching the words. I had to note each error and ended up with eight and a half pages. Andrew fixed the errors and sent another version. I listened again and found four and a half pages of errors. Finally I heard the book a third time and everything was perfect and fixed.

The audiobook version is now available. If you use audible, I encourage you to get copy. If you use Overdrive (like I do), I encourage you to reach out to your library and ask them to purchase and carry the book. After you hear the book, please write an honest review on Amazon and Goodreads. As I’ve written in the past, reviews are important for books.

The timing for the arrival of my audiobook is perfect. Mr. Graham turns 99 on November 7th. Happy Birthday, Billy Graham. Let’s celebrate another step in the process and the ministry of this new audiobook.

Tell me in the comments below if you listen to audiobooks and if you are actively working to get your books into the different methods that books are consumed.


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Sunday, October 29, 2017

Are You A Rule Breaker?

Some writers intentionally want to rebel and break the rules to produce something different which stands out in the market. I understand this feeling but to break the rules, you have to know and understand them in the first place.

From my many years in publishing, I've worked hard to continually grow and learn about the market—and give the reader (and the editor or agent), what they want. Every magazine and publishing company has expectations and a target market. For example, last night a publishing colleague introduced me to a published author who has written his first novel. I learned this novel is edited and completed yet I haven't seen it yet (but I did request that the author to send it to me). From the beginning I spotted something outside of the lines. The novel is 134,000 words—and our fiction guidelines say we have a 100,000 word limit. Until I see the novel and speak with the author, I have no idea if it will be a fit or not. 

Maybe our publishing team will love the concept and publish a little larger novel. Or possibly the author will know how he can cut it to the 100,000 limit. Anything and everything is possible in the publishing process but first things first, the author has to send me his material.

Last week another author sent me her nonfiction book manuscript. She told me the bulk of this book had been sitting on her computer for three years and she finally got it out to someone. I'm honored with these submissions and will be exploring if it is the right book for Morgan James to publish. So how do you learn the rules and where to send your material? In this article, I want to give you several methods of learning these rules.

First, get the guidelines for the magazine or the book publisher—and carefully study these instructions. if you follow these guidelines, you will gain a “reading” or “hearing” from the editor or literary agent. It increases the possibilities if you follow these rules.

A second way to learn the rules is through studying how-to-write books. For years I've read and studied a how-to-write book every month (often more than one per month). Last week I finished reading Write With Excellence 201, A lighthearted guide to the serious matter of writing well—for Christian authors, editors and students by Joyce K. Ellis. For many years I've known Joyce as a magazine editor. Originally we met through our involvement in the Evangelical Press Association. What I didn't know about Joyce is that she has written a column about grammar for years for The Christian Communicator magazine and she has a passion for excellent writing. Write With Excellence 201 is a detailed examination of grammar rules.

How do you write strong engaging sentences? Some of that comes from experience but also understanding the difference between active and passive tense. Write With Excellence is a clarion call for writers to learn the rules then use them to improve their writing. Ellis engages her readers with vivid examples and insights. The chapters are short and each ends with a quiz to help you absorb the details on adverbs or the use of hyphens or italics versus quotation marks. The book has three main sections: Grammar and Related Matters, Punctuation and Related Matters, and Style, Usage and Other Considerations.

As Ellis writes, “Writers have a responsibility to communicate clearly. And excellent Christian writers strive for clarity, especially in the spiritual realm. We enrich the reader's takeaway value—if we vigilantly guard against being jargonauts.” (Page 246–-the chapter cautioning about use of jargon). Write With Excellence 201 is realistic and doesn't pull punches: “Yes, all this is a lot of work. No one said it was easy (How many times have I written that in this book?) But if you take the time to “sweat” your titles and subheads, you'll show editors you're a professional, right from the start.” (Page 264)  I've given you a small sample of the wisdom packed into these pages. I highly recommend this book.

Are you learning the rules before you break them? Let me know in the comments below.


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