Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thanksgiving thoughts

This is the time for stopping to give thanks. It's easy to get caught up in food, family, friends and football and not take the time to thank the One who makes it all possible. I have so much to be thankful for and I'm sure I don't take time to stop and offer those thanks as often as I should.
Here's hoping you and yours have a wonderful Thanksgiving and that you do take the time to count your blessings and to realize how lucky we are and how much we have to be grateful for.

During the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays (when we have even more to be grateful for) things quieten down in publishing. Not that editors aren't at work, but all of the various family scheduling makes committee meetings necessary to move on projects all but impossible. Add in to that the fact that our current depressed economy is putting a lot of things on the back burner and we can just expect book projects to be slow now.
That means we can relax and enjoy the season . . .

. . . and give thanks.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No correlation between work and success

Oh, sure, if we’re digging postholes the more time we spend sweating over the holes, the more we are going to get done. But much of the time it just doesn’t seem to work like that.

This past week I cleared out my inbox, got fresh submissions out on most of my clients, worked down my stack of incoming submissions significantly, got requested changes made to my current work-for-hire manuscript, trimmed a number of items off my honey-do list and a number of other things. And I didn’t seem to work at it too hard. I was just productive.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a concentrated week trying to do the same thing and really worked my tail off but seemed to get a pitifully small amount accomplished for my effort. This happens a lot. There is not always a direct correlation between work expended and success achieved.

What’s the deal? If I really understood could I have increased success all the time?

Maybe I’m trying to do things myself instead of turning everything over to the Lord. Is anything in my life too small to ask for his help? Sometimes I hate to ask His help with the postholes. Ask the Lord of the universe to help me scratch out a hole in the ground? Something not right about that. But is that faulty thinking on my part?

Then there’s the ‘man’ thing. Guys are taught from birth to take responsibility for their life and the lives of loved ones. Take charge, be someone who can be counted on. It’s hard for a guy to know when and how to turn it over to the Lord. The gentle sex is more sensitive and I believe can accomplish this more readily.

If it is something we need God’s help on we have to do it in His time, which often is not the time frame we have in mind. It amazes me how often I seek His help and the answer is immediate, maybe not exactly the answer I was looking for, but clearly the right one. But sometimes the answer is “not yet,” or maybe even “not what I want you to do.”

And I think a lot of time it is just us. We know we have to be working so we’re sitting at the desk staring at the computer, or we’re trying to dig down that honey-do list, or something else but our heart just isn’t in it. There is something else crowding our mind. Maybe we aren’t even consciously aware of it, but it’s there in our subconscious gumming up the works. Could even be that it isn’t as important as the task we are trying to do but it’s there. Too many things on our mind instead of focusing on the task at hand.

Maybe we are trying to use that creative right brain to write but that logical left brain editor has a task that we’ve assigned and is trying to push its way to the front. Maybe it has bills to be paid, a couple of lists to be made so we don’t forget some ideas that have occurred to us as we did something else. Perhaps we can’t do the creative task with success until we take a little time to satisfy our left brain friend and get him off our back.

The word maybe shows up a lot in the above paragraphs. Like I say, if I really understood maybe I could be more productive all the time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

What are people thinking when they submit proposals?

I’m back home after 2 great but tiring conferences. I’m buckling down trying to dig out of the stack. Our agency is very upfront about what we want to see in a proposal. Tamela and I say right on the submission guidelines that we don’t want hard copy submissions, but people still send them. The guidelines say specifically what should be in the proposals, but it’s amazing how seldom we get it.

A proposal is a single document. When people bring one to show you at a conference they do that, so why do they send it in an email and it is a dozen different files? Nobody wants to have to dig through files trying to find what they want to know, plus if I wanted to represent it I’d have to take all those files and try to make one nice looking document out of them. Why? Because a proposal is a single document and an editor would laugh me out of the business if I sent it to him in a dozen different files.

I also say I don’t want an unsolicited manuscript. That means unless I’ve read a query or proposal and invited it to be sent I don’t want it. But people send them. I go back and say I won’t look at it without looking at a proposal and inviting it and they argue with me about why I should just go ahead and read the manuscript. Do they think that’s going to endear me to them?

I just got one that was so generic it might as well have said dear occupant. Agents know people are submitting to more than one, we expect it. But one that is clearly mass-mailing without a doubt says people are not even making a pretense of looking at individual submission guidelines.

I tell somebody in very nice terms that something just doesn’t work for me. They write back and state their case again, sometimes several times. Like on the 4th email I’m going to say “What am I thinking, of course I need to represent this?” Actually I have a little code I put on my log sheet if they send me another one to give them a very curt no as they would definitely be a difficult client if I took one, and they will keep taking up my time if I’m too nice.

I’m told I give some of the nicest responses in the business, maybe that’s the problem. Even if I can’t handle someone I still want to be an encourager. I suppose today I’m just getting a lot of frustrating ones. It isn’t hard. Take the time to check the guidelines and follow them. The pros do that whether it is an author submitting to an agent or an agent submitting to an editor.

The final blow was the one that just said, “I read your submission guidelines, but . . . “

It doesn’t matter what goes behind that ‘but’ I’m sure to not like it, and I didn’t. It’s one thing to disregard guidelines but quite another to blatantly tell someone you have no intention of doing them. I fear my response was not one of my trademark encouraging ones.

Thanks for letting me rant.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

One Holy Night

I have the pleasure today of blogging about one of my favorite authors, and one of my favorite people, and Joan writes under the name of J. M. Hochstetler. This book released from Sheaf House back in April, but the Christian Fiction Blog Alliance is featuring it in their blog tour now, and what a perfect time of year to do so. If you're looking for a Christmas Present, look no further:
In 1967 the military build-up in Viet Nam is undergoing a dramatic surge. The resulting explosion of anti-war sentiment tears the country apart, slicing through generations and shattering families. In the quiet bedroom community of Shepherdsville, Minnesota, the war comes home to Frank and Maggie McRae, whose only son, Mike, is serving as a grunt in Viet Nam.
Frank despises all Asians because of what he witnessed as a young soldier fighting the Japanese in the south Pacific during WWII. The news that his son has fallen in love with and married Thi Nhuong, a young Vietnamese woman, shocks him. To Frank all Asians are enemies of his country, his family, and himself. A Buddhist, Thi Nhuong represents everything he despises. So he cuts Mike out of his life despite the pleas of his wife, Maggie; daughter, Julie; and Julie s husband, Dan, the pastor of a growing congregation.
Maggie is fighting her own battle--against cancer. Convinced that God is going to heal her, Frank plays the part of a model Christian. Her death on Thanksgiving Day devastates him. Worse, as they arrive home from the gravesite, the family receives news of Mike s death in battle.
Embittered, Frank stops attending church and cuts off family and friends. By the time a very pregnant Thi Nhuong arrives on his doorstep on a stormy Christmas Eve, Frank is so filled with hate that he slams the door in her face, shutting her out in the bitter cold. Finally, overcome by guilt, he tries to go after her, but driving wind and snow force him back inside.
With the storm rising to blizzard strength, he confronts the wrenching truth that what hate has driven him to do is as evil as what the Japanese did all those years earlier, and that he needs forgiveness as desperately as they did ...
Frank doesn't know that what God has in mind this night is a miracle. As on that holy night so many years ago, a baby will be born and laid in a manger--a baby who will bring forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing to a family that has suffered heart-wrenching loss.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Guest blogger - client Max Elliott Anderson

Did you know that by the age of 13, children have already made most of life’s important decisions? This is especially true when it comes to their moral and spiritual choices.

After this age, the percentages become even more dramatic. Young people from 14 through 18 have only a 4% likelihood of making positive spiritual decisions and adults have a 6% chance that they will ever make these choices. So it is clear that some of the most critical patterns for a lifetime are decided during the tween years. This is that awkward time between still trying to be a “little kid” and being all grown up.

As a child, I grew up as a reluctant reader. In a family of seven children, I wasn’t especially pushed to read, so I never formed good reading habits. This was ironic because my father has published over 70 books. A number of these were children’s books.

A few years ago I decided to look into some of the reasons for my lack of interest in reading. My findings lead me to begin writing Christian chapter adventure and mystery books, for readers 8 - 13, that I would have liked as a child. My books are highly visual, with lots of humor, dialog, and plenty of heart-pounding action. Early responses from children indicate that I’m right on target. Reluctant and avid readers now devour each new title as it is released. Parents are also vocal in their appreciation for books that are reaching their children.

Marketing executives will tell you to find a need and fill it. But this isn’t exactly the way I got started. Quite clearly I felt God’s direction to begin writing. How that came about is a story in itself. After much resistance, I began. My purpose was to craft books that would excite the interest of reluctant readers.

After a detailed study into why I didn’t like to read, and looking at books that were written for children, I set out to write the kind of stories I would have read when I was a child. My research also took place at the height of the Harry Potter phenomenon. It bothered me to see young children so caught up in something that celebrated the dark side. I chose to write primarily for boys 8 – 13. This was because most of the books I found were written for girls, and a majority of the authors were women. Many of the books for boys also tended to glorify the dark side.

A further target audience I wanted to write for was boys who might be without a positive male role model in their lives. I felt that if I could tell a good story, the spiritual, moral, ethical, and responsibility elements could then be tucked away in their minds. Hopefully, at some time in the future, those concepts would be useful when these boys became men.

The biggest surprise, outside of the fact that reluctant reader boys love these books, is that avid boy readers, girls, and even adults do too. When I first began writing, I decided that if I could help one reluctant tween boy to become a reader, it would be worth it. From the emails and letters I have already received, that goal has been reached many times over.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

On the election

The election is over and we have named a new President by a clear margin.

I will readily admit I am one who thinks we have made a serious mistake.

However, my wife and I determined that we will pray for him and for our country and genuinely and sincerely hope that those in the majority have been right about their assessment. I turned on my computer this morning to find that Michael Hyatt, CEO of Thomas Nelson had done a fine job of capturing the necessary course of action to pursue in the days to come. I will not plagiarize him but encourage you to go read it for yourself at http://www.michaelhyatt.com/fromwhereisit/.

I am not ashamed of my support for McCain and Palin and was immensely proud at the way he gave his concession speech, putting aside obvious personal pain to immediately try and heal the breach, as always putting America first. In spite of all that has been said, McCain is a class act.

That having been said I will pray for the new administration, will try to give them the benefit of a doubt, and will curb my tongue as Hyatt has suggested. Good comments from a man whose blog often contains sound advice. I encourage you to go read the blog.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Guest Blogger - novelist Donn Taylor

I'm going to start sharing my blog space with some of my clients, and I'm starting with novelist Donn Taylor with an excellent offering on his publishing experience with self-publishing, small press, and national press. It gives him a terrific insight into the process.
First Publishing Experience: Self, Small Press, National Press

By Donn Taylor

I don't claim any expertise on this subject. My comments here reflect personal experience with three different kinds of book publishing and my evaluation of their advantages and disadvantages.

My first novel, The Lazarus File was published in 2002 by the now-defunct Panther Creek Press, a trade-paperback, royalty-paying, regional press. The lady who organized Panther Creek had heard me read two chapters to a critique group. When she formed the press, she contacted me about publishing it. The press used print-on-demand (POD) technology, but produced a specified number of books on each press run.

The advantages were obvious: I had a published novel, it had excellent reviews with no negative comments, and people who read it knew I could write significant fiction.

The disadvantages were also obvious: The small press had no publicity division, the book was not stocked in book stores, and selling fell 100% on the author. As a POD book, it was priced substantially higher than its competition. And some of the editors and agents I pitched other books to remained unconvinced that it wasn't self-published.

Self-publishing: Earlier this year I self-published a poetry book, Dust and Diamond: Poems of Earth and Beyond. For several years, I'd been teaching poetry writing at writers' conferences such as Glorieta and Blue Ridge. People who heard me reading poems there asked if I had published a book of poetry, so I knew there was at least a small audience for one. Further, I'd been advocating and writing a kind of poetry different from the kind now taught in the universities. In contrast to the grad school product, I advocate poetry that ordinary educated readers can read and understand. (This idea is explained in detail on my Web site, http://www.donntaylor.com/.) Following recommendations by two agents, I entered discussions with the Winepress Group and ended up contracting with it to publish the book.

When should one self-publish? Conventional advice holds: In fiction, never—because it suggests the book was not market-ready. In nonfiction: when you have a niche with ready-made reader interest and the capability to sell personally to that group. I published the poetry book because it is not the kind that university presses or subsidy groups would publish and because it furthers my crusade for revival of poetry for ordinary readers. I don't expect to make a profit on it, and I'll be lucky to break even after four or five years.

Advantages: I have a book that illustrates what I'm teaching about poetry, and the publisher's visual art section translated the book's basic concept into a beautiful cover illustration—something far beyond my capability. The publisher also has an active and effective publicity department.

Disadvantages: Editorial responsibility falls at least 90% on the author, as does approval of formatting and presentation. Publicity or no, most sales responsibility still falls on the author.

National press: My light-hearted mystery Rhapsody in Red was released by Moody Publishers in September 2008. I must credit my agent, Terry Burns, with both the initial contact and the sale. The difference in this experience and the other two is the extensive help provided by the publisher's people. Andy McGuire, the acquisitions editor, made suggestions that definitely improved the book, as did the copy editor. The publisher's people also came up with one of the most provocative covers I've ever seen—yes, it's on my Web site—and the publicity staff has been most active. Although the book has had excellent reviews, it's still too early to say what the final outcome will be. What I can say is that it's been a pleasure from the very start.
Publishing with a well-established, national, profit-making press is always preferable to the other two experiences—for a commercially viable product, of course. But small press and self-publishing have their places for niches and special purposes