Archive for June, 2009

How NOT to Approach Editors

Although this blog’s focus is book publishing, today’s post can be applied to magazine publishing as well.

Keep this list handy to remind you how NOT to approach editors.

  1. Don’t tell the editor how much everyone loves your writing. Editors know “everyone” means family and friends–the people who love you. These are the people who want to encourage you, but they aren’t the best judges of your work.
  2. Don’t call the editor by his/her first name when you write your query letter. You don’t know the editor well enough yet to be on a first name basis. Remember your professionalism because publishing is business.
  3. Don’t use clever openings in your correspondence. For example, “Dear Decision-maker, make your best decision today and read my submission,” won’t help you as much as get you a groan and maybe a toss into the circular file.
  4. Don’t tackle more than one issue per correspondence. You risk something getting overlooked if you do. And if you’re corresponding via email, be sure you update the subject line rather than just hit “RE:” all the time.
  5. Don’t provide the editor a list of places you’ve already submitted (and been rejected). It’s just not cool to show an editor your failures.
  6. Don’t close with a cute ending such as “Anxiously yours.” Stay professional with “Sincerely” or something similar.
  7. Don’t call the editor to follow up unless the editor has told you it’s okay to call. Editors are overworked and interruptions often frustrate them–the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to interest them in your work. Send an email or letter instead. If you send a letter, enclose a postcard addressed to you that the editor can check off “Still considering,” “Not Interested,” “Interested and will get back to you.”
  8. Don’t use ink-jet printers in your printed correspondence. Use laser printers to eliminate smears.

There you have it. Now that you know how NOT to approach editors, what’s stopping you from submitting your query letters?

Happy writing!

Get Endorsements for Your Book

At Expert Publishing, we often get asked about who authors should approach to endorse their books.

First, it’s important the author think about the purpose of endorsements. The purpose is to encourage a prospective reader to purchase your book and read it.

We’ve had some authors who filled the first pages of their book with endorsements, and we’ve had others who hand selected the endorsements and placed them on the back cover. Either option is fine. What’s important is you get the endorsements.

Endorsements should be about the book, not the author or the author’s work (many of our authors are professionals like attorneys, doctors, consultants, speakers, trainers, etc.).

Some authors like to go for a big name endorsements (our books have had endorsements from heavy hitters like Brian Tracy, Joe Girard, Deepak Chopra, and  Ken Blanchard). However, not everyone can get a big name endorsement, so what should you do? Look for job titles related to your book’s subject that readers will recognize (CEO, Founder, Author, Chair, President, Owner, Professor of Management, etc.).

How do you approach these people? Send them a copy of your manuscript and ask them for an endorsement for your book.  You might want to include a deadline, but be aware they are busy people and if you set the deadline too short, they may just say no because they can’t meet it.

If you get a negative answer (for example, Zig Ziglar said he doesn’t endorse books), don’t despair. You’ve probably sent out a dozen requests and one or two negatives should be expected. On the other hand, if you were conservative in sending out requests, you may want to revisit your list of desired endorsements, add some more names, and send out those manuscripts.

The bottom line is you need to make it easy for people to do whatever it is you want them to do for you. If you want them to provide an endorsement for your book, tell them you’re looking for a one-sentence endorsement for the back cover and include your email address or a self-addressed stamped envelope so they don’t have to figure out how to respond to you.

Don’t be shy. Your book is important and your readers await your good information. Get those endorsements!

Happy writing!

Literary Agent, Anyone?

I’ve spent some time on this blog talking about book publishers and what to look for, so today it’s time to talk about literary agents.

For those old school thinkers who think royalty publishing is the only way to go, you’ll need to find a literary agent before you find a New York publisher. Why? The big publishers use literary agents as their manuscript screeners.

You see, literary agents get paid a percentage of your earnings. They won’t represent an author unless they think the author is good enough to sell (and earn their commission from).

Well, at least commissions used to be the way literary agents got paid. With the big publishers less inclined to give an unknown author a chance these days, literary agents have had to find new ways to create income without having to earn it by selling your intellectual property.

One of the most common ways literary agents fill their bank accounts is by charging reading fees. You send in your manuscript. The agent offers to evaluate your work by reading it for a fee. RUN as fast as you can from reading fees. You have no guarantee the agent is even looking at your manuscript–the chances are better a college intern or some other assistant is doing that work. You’ll also want to watch for photocopying costs because that’s another way agents get money without selling anything.

One of my editing clients paid a well-known Los Angeles agent to read his manuscript. He paid her a lot of money for her insights and feedback on how to improve his book. We made the changes she suggested and resubmitted his manuscript for her representation. She called him and said that not only wasn’t she interested in representing him, she thought the changes were terrible and made the manuscript worse! Of course, she had long cashed his check for reading fees.

Another way agents make money off hopeful authors is to suggest hiring a book doctor to work on the manuscript. And, as luck would have it, the agents always seem to have book doctors available to help out.

I’m not saying book doctors can’t help you. I AM saying find your own if you decide you need to work with one. Ask around. Get recommendations. Don’t work with the one the literary agent sets you up with if you can help it.

Some say it’s harder to get an agent than a publisher. If that’s so, it follows you should be as wary of literary agents who advertise in writing publications as you are of publishers who do the same. In both cases, it’s pretty certain they’re interested in your dollars, not in your writing.

The best thing to do when looking for a literary agent is get an introduction from an author already working with the agent.

If that’s not possible, you can find an agent yourself, but do your homework. Get a list of clients the agent works with and call those people. I have one friend who had an agent “market” her book for two years, then tell her the book wouldn’t sell. Really? When the author asked for a list of places the agent approached, the agent couldn’t give her one.

You’ll also want to get a list of books the agent has sold to publishers. There’s no reason to tie your work up with an agent who can’t sell manuscripts!

Beware agent scams and schemes as much as you beware publishing scams and schemes. Publishing is business and you should only do business with those who are ethical and professional.

Happy writing!

Know Your Reader

One of the biggest challenges authors who are also public speakers face is realizing they are one-on-one with the audience in writing and not one-on-many with the audience the way they are  in speaking.

I often see things like, “Some of you don’t relate to …” or “For those of you who…” That works when you’re verbalizing in front of a group. It’s not so effective when you’re alone with your reader.

Remember, two people are involved in the writing/reading process–one writes the words and the other reads them. Assuming you’re the writer, who’s the reader?

Most writers were readers first. That is, they learned to read and fell in love with the experience of words that took them places or created dreams or challenged them in some way. Once they saw the power of the written word, they began to write too.

Eventually, something odd happens, though. They get writers block (writers fear) because they’ve lost track of their reader. They don’t see their reader any longer, don’t know who the reader is, and fear of the unknown creeps in.

Well, you say, I don’t have that problem. I hope everyone reads my stuff.

Then tells me  you probably lack focus, for there’s nothing written that everyone wants to read. The Bible has more copies in print than any book that comes to mind, yet everyone doesn’t read or even want to read the Bible.

Stop thinking your writing is for everyone and get clear about who your writing is meant to reach–who your reader is.  One tip I offer my students and our authors alike is they should get a visualization of their reader and prop it up next to their monitor (most write on their computers these days).

Imagine who the reader is, then cut a photo out of a magazine and paste it up where you can see it constantly while writing. It will help keep you focused on who you’re writing for.

If you have a different audience for every piece you write, that’s okay. Just get the right picture out so you can look at it while writing.

Know your reader and your writing will get more focused and will connect with your reader better.

Happy writing!

Memoir Writing: Everyday Drama

After James Frey‘s memoir, A Million Little Pieces, received some negative PR on Oprah and other places, memoirs fell from favor.

Guess what? Memoir writing is becoming popular again. In fact, one of our local colleges asked me to teach a class on it this fall because they’ve had so much interest in the topic.

While we all have stories to tell, what makes anyone think his or her life is so exciting people will want to read about it?

Perhaps it’s how everyday drama gets played out in our lives and in our observations.  Some of us see the incidents that comprise life as just moments. Others see those incidents as more and are able to create interesting stories based on life’s incidents.

When writing memoir, you need to see yourself as the protagonist rather than in a supporting role. After all, it’s your life and you should be the star.

Too often we’re reluctant to write about life from our perspective in case a loved one wouldn’t approve. For example, my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 42. My father was 15 years older (57 at the time) than her and never expected to lose his young wife (they were married 22 years).

He couldn’t abide being alone, so at age 58, he began courting younger women and even got into a Harley Davidson motorcycle club to enhance his image with women in their thirties and early forties.

He saw that life as his new normal and no one in the family said anything to him about his new lifestyle. When he passed at age 91, the stories started coming out about him and his women and his visits to his relatives over the years.

Why didn’t these stories come out when he was still with us so he could share his side of them and make them even more interesting? Everyone had thought the family wouldn’t approve so no one said anything.

In fact, just the opposite happened. Over the past five years we’ve had several family gatherings and enjoyed talking about Dad and his women and how he never found anyone like Mom, but that didn’t stop him from looking.

He was a common man living a common life, yet his everyday drama made  for good storytelling.

How about you? What incidents create your life? Is it time you captured them by writing your memoir instead of fearing someone in the family won’t approve? It could be.

Happy writing!

Coming to Terms with Book Publishers

If there’s one thing the book publishing industry can’t agree on it’s definition of types of publishers, with one exception.

Everyone tends to agree the publishers who purchase the rights to your intellectual property that you slaved over for months, if not years, are called royalty publishers.

But after that, the definitions get murky.

The most negative term applied to any publisher is vanity publisher. In the old days, if you paid to be published, you were considered vain, and thus vanity published.

But in current days, with technology making publishing virtually available to everyone, and royalty publishers making it clear they’re not interested in working with hardly anyone, there’s been some major changes in book publishing options.

Vanity publishers today take your manuscript and put it into book form without improving it (thus the term deserves the negative reputation).

Self-publishing means the author starts a publishing company and publishes his/her own work. Of course, the author/self-publisher purchases the ISBNs (International Standard Book Numbers) and hires experts such as editors, proofreaders, designers to create a good product, but the key to the definition is self-publishing–the publisher publishes self.

So many of the Internet puppy mill presses use the term self-publishing, but the term doesn’t work because the authors don’t own the ISBN, so the authors aren’t the publishers. Thus the book is NOT self-published.

Subsidy publishers is a term that works better because the authors pay for everything (subsidize) involved in the publishing of their books. Most subsidy publishers offer tiers of service. The more you pay, the more services you get. And seldom, if ever, is anyone turned down by a subsidy publisher. You got money, you’ll get published–just pick your package.

And to make things appear sweeter, these publishers often thrown out the term royalty as if to make you think getting a percentage  back, called a royalty,  from books you paid to publish, then sold will make you feel better. (You already paid for the books, so shouldn’t they be yours?)

Equity publishers are rare. Yes, the author pays to be published, but equity publishers believe the books belong to the author once the author pays for the project. Thus, equity publishers don’t play the royalty game. All profits from the sale of the books go to the author.

Equity publishers also invest in the book’s success by paying for and NOT charging authors for listing the books on the publisher’s website (with a link to the author’s website so  people can buy books there), by paying for and NOT charging authors for space when the publisher is in trade shows, etc.

Equity publishers don’t publish everything submitted to them either. At Expert Publishing, we publish business, self-help, and inspirational books. Our imprint, et al. Publishing, publishes other worth work.

Many people don’t want to understand today’s terms–they’re back in the old days when you were royalty published, vanity published, or self-published. We’re way beyond those limitations and it’s time to catch up with the times.

Now that you’ve come to terms with book publishers, I hope you find the publisher best for your book.

Happy writing!

Position Yourself As An Expert

At Expert Publishing, we work with people who want to position themselves as experts and create additional income.

How does one achieve expert status?

First, you must be ubitquitous (if your dictionary isn’t handy, it means being everywhere, widespread).

I wrote a monthly magazine column for a couple of years and a weekly newspaper column (published in three newspapers) for fourteen years. Add the national magazines I wrote articles for (Woman’s World Weekly, Victoria, etc.), and I was building quite a clip file.

Soon I was asked to speak at writers conferences, offer writing workshops, and teach classes on the business of writing at two of our local Twin Cities’ colleges.

I’ve been quoted in articles and been interviewed on both radio and television.

Corporations have hired me to come in and do workshops.

I’ve traveled to other states to teach people how to write business documents people will actually read.

Eventually, people hired me to edit their manuscripts. Some hired me to consult with them in developing their book ideas.

What’s your expertise? Write about it in your blog, on your website. Write articles for the Internet or for the print media. Get quoted so people see your name associated with your expertise. Join groups and get involved so people recognize you.

When people start contacting you to contribute quotes to their articles, to speak at their events, or to work with them on projects, you know you’ve done a good job positioning yourself as an expert.

One of the very best ways to let people know about your expertise is to get your book published. I know professional speakers who didn’t get the job because they didn’t have a book. The person doing the hiring decided it was better to hire the person who wrote the book on the subject than one who just talks about it.

Happy writing!