Tag Archives: writing groups

Writers Conference “Dos and Don’ts”

From an editor's perspective, writers conferences can be a mixed bag. For those of you planning to attend one in the near future, or wondering whether you should, let me offer some dos and don'ts that apply to any writer's conference you might attend as an aspiring author…

Do know your genre. Everything may be expanding into new genres and sub-genres, but there will always be a line of books that precede yours in content and style, both informing it and categorizing it for a quick comparison. You may not like that others have written books like yours, but the fact is, it's your duty to know them and how you're improving the mold. Categories help us know what we're getting, even as barriers are breaking down between CBA (Christian Book Association) and ABA (American Book Association). Some people may not like categories, but they help readers. Some people may not like books that push the boundaries, but they're a sign of health and vigor.

Do get a publishing professional to sit on a panel and use you as an example of a fresh, and engaging voice. It was at the Northwest Christian Writers Renewal conference (in 2008 or 9?) that I was introduced to Ann Voskamp. She asked me to help her edit, and went on to publish an amazing book called One Thousand Gifts. Her distinctive, individual voice is what makes that book work, a voice she developed for years of writing and blogging and seeking out gifts for which she was thankful. So many things go into making a book a best seller, but her experience in writing and reading developed her voice and that was absolutely a factor in getting her published, not to mention talked about. Don’t be conniving and crafty, but do be a crafter of unmistakably unique work.

Don’t simply go to the conference to be fed. I hear this often: “The singer / food / accommodations / teaching is so wonderful!” Well yes, but these are compliments for the organizers, and they need to hear them. When you’re with a pro, don’t gush. They're not interested in your experience of the trappings. Would you be here if it was the worst, backwoods conference on the planet, just to deliver my the book that’s going to make me fall out of my chair? (more on this in a bit) Which leads me to,

Don’t be a sycophant. If you don’t have the definition memorized, please go do so now.

Don’t miss the point. IN 2005, on a panel at ACFW, I recommended The Time Traveler's Wife as the best book I’d read that year. In a rare moment of foresight, I included a warning that it might be offensive to some, but for months after that, I still heard about grumbling: “I can’t believe a Christian editor would recommend that book.” Dear ones, you have a responsibility to know what’s being written and read currently. Professional editors, agents and writers are readers. If you aren’t, that’s a serious handicap. Yes, do skip the sex/language/violence, but don’t misunderstand: you need to find out why an editor is recommending a book. Understand what that author did and that’s your ticket into his stable.

Do pay attention. Much of the benefit, if not all, of a writers conference is what you learn while there. Authors' and editors' names, literary terms, methods of writing, clarifying, editing, working, thinking, appealing to the muse. Don't waste your time worrying about your pitch, selling your idea, trying to force your way up from the place you need to be to learn. It's not about getting published. It's about being in a place where you are being courted because you've acquired so much knowledge, and your book begs to be published. While many bad books do get published, publishing the good ones is inevitable. 

Don’t listen to amateurs. There is more slippery sludge thrown around by well-meaning Christian newbies than any of us can shake our fingers at. The blogging world has made this bad advice proliferate, and there’s far too much posturing and speculating that goes on in absence of good data and some honest humility. Pride and ego can get the best of anyone—so be smart and listen to those who know.

Don’t tell me your entire story. Just stick to the P’s: Pitch, Package, Platform. PITCH: Give me the essence in as few words as possible. (caveat: “Aliens meets Blue Like Jazz” is not helpful. “Philip K. Dick meets Don Miller” is better, but explain that genre with a more specific comparison like, “Dean Koontz meets Graham Greene.” (I've actually heard this one. And that gave me a great picture.) PACKAGE: Tell me about series potential, what else you've written, what your "brand" is, any foreword or endorsements you’ve got, good-sized* publicity and promo opportunities, which leads right into PLATFORM: How big and how wide is your network? Are you bringing any guaranteed pre-sales through your blog, business, website, contacts in ministry, media, or miscellany (schools, churches, professional organizations, etc.) *total network of 1000 or more is fairly baseline for mid-size Christian publishers. That won't get you in the door a big of NY publishers.

Do know something about what publishing houses publish. Know the catalog and general sales figures (CBA top 50 titles, at least), especially for books like your own. You can find info on sales figures by asking questions: an author/agent/editor or clerk at a larger bookstore.

Do get in a crit group with real writers. When you say you’re in a crit group with a promising author or authors I recognize, it’s a big indication you’ll be an author I want to take more seriously. This is an alternative to getting a respected agent’s highest regard, though having both would probably make me fall out of my chair.

Do make me fall out of my chair. I really am a nice guy. But I have to be efficient as an acquisitions editor making pitches against the competition of other editors and publishers. A vast majority of the pitches I hear at conferences are not good. Learn what you're doing. Read this blog, have a professional help you, and if you’re pitching know the person, their house, and publishing guidelines. Even better, know their publishing goals. Follow what they've published and read their blog! The professional in the chair across from you is looking to see that you get it, you understand the situation, and you’re well-prepared. Do that, and you won’t have to quiver and freak out. Learn the criteria of a good proposal. Read the publishing trades (mainly PW & GalleyCat for ABA, CBA Marketplace and Christian Retailing for CBA market) and relevant editorial (Christian Communicator, Books and Culture) so you know what’s happening in the business you’re hoping to join. And remember, it's a business.

So go to writers conferences and soak up the knowledge and the community of like-minded individuals, and help someone grow! When you do that, you win. You get noticed. You get inspired. And those around you will remember or realize for the first time how great it is to be in a place like this, doing work they love, with people who are making a difference.

I mean, that's what I hope for…

 

A repost from the archives as I head out to the OCCWF conference this weekend. Maybe I'll see you there!

Progressive Publishing Program, Part 1: Finish Your Book (for Free) with a Writing Coach

Some offers are just hard to believe, aren't they? 

The day I came up with the idea for a "progressive publishing program," I didn't believe it either.   Images-3

But here's a confession: I’ve always been something of a skeptic. As a small(er) babbler, I remember seeing the commercial for the Tootsie Roll pop and I determined to prove them wrong. I stuck with that thing until I licked the stick clean. I probably have some undiagnosed OCD, and coupled with a near-religious devotion to Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers during my newly-verbal years, my ability to persevere through difficult tasks that I enjoyed was virtually assured.

Of course, my mom would tell you, I was one headstrong little snot. I stomped my defiant foot into the deep shag carpet more than once. And as corporal punishment was something of a Christian duty in the 70s, I learned to withstand much pain. 

At school, I followed my own beat stubbornly, even learning to use my spankings to make my punishers cry. But something stuck. I learned self-discipline. And today I use it every day, to edit, write, and not coincidentally, to help authors edit and write.

Research shows that for those who want to write a book, finishing is the #1 barrier. Estimates put it that over 80% of American adults want to write a book, but it turns out life can get in the way. And I could use competition, the TV-addicted childhood, California slacker thing, or my Gen X label as excuses.

Or I could write myself a different story. Images-1

There are plenty of stories for all of us to choose from. But eventually we all need to recognize it's our choice to chose the one most worth fighting for.

Commitment isn’t all we need. But it's like, 9/10s. It may be true that obsessing gets you nothing but ulcers, but devotion is the main defense against the enemy of all great books, this enticing fruit of distraction. Greedy salesmen and barking self-publishers purport to want to help you, but do they care how good your book is? What's in it for them to help you not just publish, but sell well? The vision you initially had for your book when you imagined it finished, is that what you have? Or are you in danger of straying from your path? Opportunists have sprouted up everywhere, even in Christian corners, to prey on your flagging devotion. And they're very convincing.

"Congratulations! You finished writing! Now it's time to publish! Trust us, we're professionals."

Maybe you've noticed the decline in book quality. Or typos. Or simply what Stephen King calls "fast-food books" that bypass anything nourishing and go straight to the bowels. I think they're going straight to authors' heads, making their brains fat and slow, convincing them they can publish bestsellers as quickly and easily as, well, passing some fast food.

My theory, and it's just a theory, is that the major problem is undisciplined authors. They may not tell the lies, but they give them power by believing them. And they sell out their vision before a better book is given a chance to be born. Either too distracted, untrained, or afriad of never reaching the shelves, the majority miss their chance of connecting and selling well.

A glut of entitled sell-outs is dragging down the art and literature of publishing.

And why? Because they believe the hype. A brainless machine can publish your book. The real value is in the wisdom to know what's required to publish a best-seller. Are best-selling books always great books? No. And no one can predict success. But there are common characteristics in the authors who write well and sell well. The easiest way to make money in publishing is in selling false hope. And it costs far less to give people what they want than to commit to high quality work (what they really want, trust me).

If you've got a different kind of story, maybe it needs to be published as a great book. Maybe you are one who should choose a better way.

ImagesYou can do that and make a stand. But you'll also need others around you who believe in that goal really, really stubbornly.

Look at how best-selling authors do it. My newsflash for you after having worked with many successful authors over the past decade is that the good ones committed to the idea that valuable work costs much. They sacrificed for it. They sought out professionals to ensure the highest quality and before they published, they decided they really, really wanted to learn to write and edit well. They learned to tell a story. Armed with this, they managed to wait, to learn to edit, to research the market and others' books, and put themselves through the paces to pull together a refined vision, instead of selling it for scrap.

Choosing a different story than the self-publishers' hype is a new first step to becoming a great author. And only those with the determination to finish well will ever sell a great book.

Stay tuned…part 2 tomorrow.

(Oh, and in case you're wondering how many licks it really takes, I'll tell you over in the forum at the new site…)

How Authors Get Everything They Really Want: The Death of Traditional Publishing “Success”

What is “success” as an author?

This question has more answers than Carter has pills. (My grandpa liked to say this, which always made me feel badly for whoever Carter was. Who is Carter and why does he have so many pills?)

Ah, this is great. I'm munching some popcorn Charlotte, my 5 year old, just brought me from her mid-morning snack. She’s home today for teacher’s conferences, and this is way more information than you need, but I want to set this up first, to say how glorious it is working from home, and appreciate that beauty with me, but second, how instructive it is to have a kid around who comes downstairs with her big bowl and quietly sets it near you, careful not to interrupt the typing, and say, “You can have some of my snack, if you want.”

I mean, this isn’t the way I imagined it. I had no idea. But I take a handful and she smiles and tells me to get lots of work done and leaves.

And I will. With this popcorn, I will work like a factory-assembly-line maniac. Like Carter without his pills.

Now I don’t work for her affection. She gives it to me freely. I don’t do a thing. I could even deny my affection, work so I never see her and miss out completely on a relationship with her and she’d still bring me her own food to share.

Because this is how it is with love.

And this question of how we define success has so many different answers because so many people don't feel loved. Underneath what we say we believe, "success" always has to do with whatever we're seeking most. These are words I've treasured: When you first seek to give yourself to God's way, his higher purpose, you'll be given everything you desire.

I used to think this was a cheap trick because when you do this, your desires "magically" change—and how easy is it to give me what I want when he just changes what that is first? Come on! But there's a deeper principle at work that says when you seek the higher purpose beyond yourself, you get what you really wanted all along.

It’s not different from your original desires, it's just deeper, more real. And hense, more lasting when it's fulfilled. It's always better to give than receive. It’s always better to do for another what you’d want done for you.

And I believe it. But do I? Would I act differently if I really believed? Do I give my popcorn, or do I eat it myself? What’s success: having the biggest handful or giving the most away?

Affirmation and validation are big traps for authors. Most realize it’s a fool’s errand, but the exploiters still sell it: “Are you desperate to feel appreciated and worthy? Sign with PAI-YUP Publishing today!” So many authors say they know where ultimate love is, but they don’t seem convinced. If they felt it, they’d know, and they’d figure out it’s probably dumb to try and squeeze love out of a book contract. But they don’t want to look deeper.

That’s not me. I mean, I know you can’t derive your value from a car or a job or even others’ opinions.

But we all still do it. And we close our eyes, rationalize it and make it “all right.”

Why do so many books get printed? Why do so many people work so hard when the only pay off is more attention and more work? Ask anyone “important”: more importance = more problems.

I know what I want to say with my work, and it is a way to give back, but I think I need to look harder at how what I’m writing is directly pouring into who is receiving it. This is a critical step in the process for anyone looking to share a book of true lasting value. I need to spend some more time picturing those outstretched bowls and me pouring from mine that’s been so generously filled…

So what's "success" to you, that is, what do you think is most important? Are you writing to “give back” or is it more about what you want to say?

Becoming an Introvert-Extrovert Author, Part II

Thanks for coming back. Last time I left off asking if we should be better introvert-extrovert authors, balanced between the extremes.

I thought some more over the weekend about classic books that survive as good reads. I still think most seem to be by introverted authors. Have times changed? I think so. There are probably some exceptional extroverted "classic authors," but maybe they're rare simply because just like today, extroverts by nature would rather be out having fun than sit in the house alone reading and writing books. I don’t doubt this could offend someone, but with the possible exception of Ernest Hemmingway (who arguably was a pretty well balanced introvert-extrovert), I can’t think of any who fit the classic extrovert author category.

Is this a new thought? I don't know, but it was for me recently. And how with all the books in that classic cannon, are some of them not by extroverts? Please share some if you have any.

But my bigger point is, today more than ever we need well-balanced introvert-extrovert authors, those rare people who can be 50/50. And I’m trying not to be stereotypical or protect my identity as an introvert (thanks Jon Acuff). Secure introvert-extroverts who can compete as wordsmiths and promoters are pretty rare, but they are the truly successful authors these days. There is a time for listening and a time for speaking. And no matter how good I am at one side of the game, I still have to join the other game, at some point. Even with books, loud still wins over quiet, hard over soft, big personality over reserved. Some people are born this way, others need to learn to appreciate the other side.

Not surprisingly, well-known, successful authors are able to be more extroverted, and whether that translates into being more dominant in the public sphere is a matter of perspective. What’s attractive in an author isn’t necessarily the same as what’s attractive in other famous folks. But media and publishing, tends to favor the extroverts, which feels so unfair to introverts who see this side of the business as invasive. It’s easy to begin feeling packaged, processed and reduced by marketing and the sales necessities that require evangelizing about books as competitive products.

There’s food for thought on how writers might be better developed today by Bill James at Slate. “I believe that there is a Shakespeare in Topeka today, that there is a Ben Jonson, that there is a Marlowe and a Bacon, most likely, but that we are unlikely ever to know who these people are because our society does not encourage excellence in lit­erature.”

Couple that with Ray Bradbury’s thoughts on his deeper motivation for writing: Looking over his life, he said his most important decision came when he was 9. “I was collecting Buck Rogers comic strips, 1929, when my 5th grade classmates made fun of me. I tore up the strips. A week later, broke into tears. Why was I crying? I wondered. Who died? Me, was the answer. I have torn up the future. What to do about it? Start collecting Buck Rogers again. Fall in love with the future! I did just that. And after that never listened to one damn fool idiot classmate who doubted me! What did I learn? To be myself and never let others, prejudiced, interfere with my life. Kids, do the same. Be your own self. Love what YOU love.”

Bradbury who wrote Farenheit 451 and sold over 100 million copies of his books, and said every writer has to write 1 million crappy words before he’s any good, said that the most important decision of his life was to reject what some extrovert said to him. How do I know it was an extrovert? I don’t. But because introverts don’t often assert dominance, it seems likely. I’m afraid far too many extroverts can’t understand this real social difficulty, and introverts can relate all too well. The good news is, even our deepest wounds can be gifts and we can use them to craft great work.

And if we can accept these disparate pieces of ourselves, and the different people in our lives, maybe we can become better balanced as authors of substance and successful.

I’ll talk more about the assumptions in being “successful” authors in a future post…

Why We Need Introvert and Extrovert Authors

You probably saw the headline and thought I was talking about two different types of authors, right? Ah, but this is an entirely new and different kind of post. This is how to draw on your hidden abilities as an extrovert and an introvert. 

Obviously, it's becoming ever more important for a good writer to use both. Story is king and only becoming more so as advertising and big media lose its dominance. We want writers who get themselves, who know how to tap into their heart message and share it with deep meaning (introverts). But in this new maket of noise and confusion, we also need authors who are dynamic and demand our eyeballs and can speak with authority, wit, and passion (extroverts). 

And this deep writer and engaging author need to live in the same person. 

I have to admit I'm biased. Prejudiced. Like most people, I tend toward one type over the other. Two guesses which it is.

It isn't my fault extroverts aren't as intelligent as introverts. It's why everyone wants to say they're an introvert but be an extrovert. If a respected news outlet reported that extroverts score an average of 10-20 points lower on IQ tests that introverts, who among us wouldn't believe it?

The extroverts. That's right.

I'm only teasing extroverts because they're tougher than the sensitive introverts. Never tease an introvert. Believe me, they carry that stuff around for life (Actually extroverts do too, so you see? There's more similarity than you think).

Now before I get into any more trouble, let me point out that God would not have made the majority of the world extroverts and then go on to make an entire species of animal–dogs–in their image if extroverts didn't make the world go around. Some of my best friends and favorite family members are extroverts, but if you're a dog-lover and a noise-maker who ramps up at parties and sometimes steps on people's toes in conversation, and just can't contain all that bubbly personality sometimes…if you're a bit wild and often messy and don't really get those quiet people and why they can't just lighten up and enjoy themselves…you have the making of a great celebrity author.

But God made cats too (and I know some of you extroverts are cat haters and you know what I'm talking about) and it's thanks to introverts that we even understand personality types to begin with. Jung (introvert) pointed out that introversion and extroversion actually come from differences in the brain and that typically, everyone has some of each in them (this explains why introverts with 1% extroversion need Paxil and extroverts with 1% introversion are commonly illiterate and lack abstract thought capabilities. I'm kidding, again.) 

Honestly, as a dominant introvert, I have many deficiencies if I want to be an author someday. So I'm encouraged because while I need my "introvert" part to produce a deep and meaningful subject and to craft it meticulously, I can draw on my passionate "extrovert" part for that great writing to connect (in quotes b/c it's generalizing). I've never heard this mentioned at a writers conference before, but I think this bears some deeper investigation. If the goal of life is finding greater balance between parts, this seems a good opportunity to blend our dreams for celebrated authorhood and the disparate parts of our personalities into a satisfying whole. 

I do wish history was more of a guide here. Most classic books and even those from several years ago could come from introvert writers and they did just fine. Today, headliner extroverts hire introverts and give them a "with" byline. Though obscure extroverts are probably in the same boat (it's rumored they exist), authors have to tap into both parts of themselves to get a publisher.

I'm just coming to this as another thing to consider in pursuing this writing/publishing business. I'll think on it some more and share my thoughts when I'm back on Monday.

Postscript: I recognize the peril of intentionally generalizing about the actual characteristics of extroverts and introverts. So don't take my word for it, Reading Rainbow-ers! Read for yourself: Please Understand Me

To be continued…