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Sunday, January 22–Panel Members:

  • Phil Sexton–Moderator of Panel; Publisher, Writer’s Digest
  • Karen Cooper–Publisher, Adams Media
  • Michelle Howry–Senior Editor, Touchstone (an impring of Simon & Schuster)
  • Donya Dickerson–Senior Editor, McGraw Hill

A. What is the most common mistake writers make in nonfiction proposals?

  • Too much emphasis on the manuscript.
  • Not enough evidence of need. Why does this book need to be in the marketplace?
  • Not enough emphasis on the author platform.
  • Not enough competitive analysis. Need to do research: a) Where will this book go on the shelf in Barnes & Noble? b) How does this book contrast with competitive titles? c) What does this book provide that no other book does? Check publicity volume of competition and occupied shelf space in bookstores. Also check Book of the Month Club offerings and other visible signs of a book’s sales/popularity.
  • Writer is not realistic about competition for books by a “new author.” In proposal/query, presents him/herself as “the next ___________ (fill in the blank with a famous author’s name).” This approach brands the writer as inexperienced and unrealistic. Instead, the writer should answer: a) Here’s how my book fits into the market, and b) Here’s how my book differs …”

The approximate length of a nonfiction book proposal should be thirty pages, not including any sample chapters.

Include suggestions about where book could be sold outside of the trade (ex., Walmart, Costco …) Research should include publishers and where they sell.

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B. How important is the author’s writing in nonfiction?

  • Depends on the imprint, the book idea, and how hungry the editor is for an acquisition.
  • Authors should not have someone else write the proposal. Both the manuscript and the proposal need to have the same style. Editors can tell if they’ve been written by different people.
  • Editors/publishers vary regarding how important the writing is. If the concept is great, the quality of writing is not as important. Writing can always be beefed up through input from agents, editorial staff, or even ghost writers contracted through publishers.
  • The author’s platform plays a role in how important the writing is. The more the author already has in place to help sell the book, the less important the actual writing becomes.
  • Editors differ with respect to the weight applied to a) good writing, b) promotion, and c) platform.

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C. How has the view of self-publishing changed?

  • All three editors said they would enthusiastically look at proposals that included self-published books.
  • Writers should keep in mind that, if an author is doing well with self-published book saes, then there is a strong case to be made for not going with a traditional publisher.
  • However, publishers can offer access to additional distribution channels, unique book promotions, etc.

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D. What is the most compelling proposal you ever received, and why?

  • Wreck This Journal. Original proposal was a mock-up that was intended to be torn apart (as is the final product). Sometimes editors have to do a hard-sell job with odd ideas like this one, when channels like Barnes & Noble and Amazon have decided to passed on a project.
  • The Starbuck’s Experience. Author had gained full access to Starbuck’s operations. (The publisher was instrumental in changing the title from the original.)
  • The Unofficial Harry Potter Cookbook. Author had secured permission from J.K. Rowling to use the Harry Potter name.
  • Retail Hell. The proposal came in as a self-help book. The publisher reworked it into a memoir.

Editors and publishers want authors who are cooperative and willing to listen, who respond positively to input, and who want to work in a partnership to produce the best quality book possible.

–Cheri’s Note: I’m now studying up on how to write a nonfiction book proposal. I will keep you posted on what I’m learning and how the process unfolds once I actually begin writing the document.–

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(Cheri’s Note: Not only is Barry Eisler a successful author  of an impressive stream of thrillers (traditionally published), but he also made publishing history in Maarch 2011 by turning down a $500,000 two-book deal with St.Martin’s Press in order, instead, to published his next novel electronically. That next novel, Detachment, was released in the fall of 2011, and you can read all about the story at:  http://www.npr.org/2011/10/07/141116856/barry-eislers-detachment-from-legacy-publishing. Hearing him speak at the conference was a huge treat!)

Day #2, Keynote Address: The New World of Publishing, and What It Means for You–Barry Eisler (www.barryeisler.com— Eisler directed us to his Web site’s section “For Writers” and then to a sub-section “Resources for Indie Writers.” I checked this out, and the information is both useful, easy to reference, and comprehensive. Anyone considering launching out in the DIY direction would benefit greatly by visiting this site. Thanks, Barry!)

Despite all of the changes taking place daily in the publishing industry, one thing has not changed. Readers still love to read and are willing to spend some amount of money to get their hands on good books.

Writers are their own CEOs. And being your own boss carries with it the responsibility of writing the best book possible (and the best edited).

Even when they’ve written the best book possible, writers need to understand the realities of the publishing world in 2012.

  • Even with a great book, making any measurable amount of money with the endeavor is not a good bet.
  • 93% of all published books (and this includes cookbooks, self-help, history, politics–everything) sell less than 1000 copies over the life of the book!
  • The average book only sells 83 copies over the life of the book.

The most important thing to Eisler is getting his books into the hands of readers as expeditiously as possible. (Traditional publishing can add years to this process, especially if the writer is new/unknown.) So, what has changed in the publishing world due to the onset (or onslaught) of digital publishing?

  • Paper books require a distribution partner, and that role has traditionally been filled by traditional publishers, which is one reason why publishers’ contracts with authors typically specify an 85% take of the book sales for the publisher.
  • Digital books, however, do not require a distribution partner. Consequently, Indie writers are now on a level plaing field with huge publishers.
  • Amazon was the first company to offer authors a direct-to-consumer marketing plan.
  • Writers now have choices regarding how they get their work into the hands of readers.
  • This, according to Eisler, makes authors the number one players in the new world of publishing.

(Eisler’s remarks were relatively brief. You can find a ton of extremely useful information “For Writers” on his Web site: www.barryeisler.com. )

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Day #2, Session 3: Seven Secrets of Successful Self-Published Authors–Keith Ogorek, Sr. VP of Global Marketing with Author Solutions. (Full disclosure: Author Solutions is the parent company of iUniverse, Inc., which has been my publishing choice for both of my novels. They helped me create beautiful products, by the way–and my second novel, Separation of Faith, is winning accolades for both the editorial quality and the production quality/cover design. Although I had a lot of input on the book’s appearance both inside and out, the iUniverse staff deserves most of the credit for those elements. And I learned a huge amount from them during the process, which will be of enormous help if I move forward with my own e-book.)

  1. Know the Target Audience. Picture the target audience–gender, age, interests, and where they go for information.
  2. Believe in Your Work. The main goal of publishing a book is to impact people in some manner through your writing. Know your strengths, and promote them.
  3. Set Deadlines for Yourself. Deadlines are important from the time the first inspiration for your book arrives in your head. One of the most important is the date you want to hold the first copy of your book in your hands. Then work backwards to set interim deadlines, coordinating with your publisher (traditional or promoted self-publishing) or with any organization helping you to make sure you understand all of the steps involved with the publishing process. Then set promotional deadlines after the book is released, marketing wherever possible at birthday or holiday parties, speaking engagements, etc. (For both of my novels, I set up a table any place I could get permission–restaurants, libraries, local fairs/festivals. You won’t believe how easy it is to find people willing to give you a little space to sell your work. But you have to be “out there” asking for the permission!)
  4. Create Timelines to Meet Your Deadline(s). Work with someone who’s familiar with the publishing process as you establish milestones. Understand all of the steps involved. Completing the manuscript is first and foremost, if you’re writing a novel. Lots of new writers tend to forget that the book should be finished before you begin any of the next steps. (Nonfiction can vary with respect to whether or not the manuscript needs to be finished first. Some agents/editors focus on the writing while others focus on the book idea and proposal. Obviously, if you’re going the DIY route, the manuscript needs to be finished before you start worrying about anything else.) Once the book is finished, then proceed with editiing, submission (whether you’re pursuing a traditional path or one of self-publishing), design (interior and front/back cover), revisions, printing. Understand the list of tasks within each of these steps and make sure every task is plotted on your timeline.
  5. Understand Your Goals & Options. There are basically three options for getting your work into print: a) traditional publishing, b) DIY self-publishing, and c) supported self-publishing. (iUniverse, Inc. is an example of a supported self-publishing organization.) Key differences: a) who own the content, b) investment of time & money, and c) speed to market. (Traditional publishing can take as long as three or more years to get your book into the hands of readers–and that’s after you’ve secured an agent! Once the agent finds an interested editor who then successfully sells your book up the food chain in his/her publishing house, time to market can still be as much as two or more years.) Which option is for you? That depends on your talents, level of commitment, and patience. Also, keep in mind that self-publishing a book to get started and begin putting your work in readers’ hands does not eliminate the traditional publishing option down the road, especially if you’re able to demonstrate success with your marketing. More and more agents are looking at self-published books to validate an author’s work. Social media helps develop a following/establish your position as an expert. Understanding your target audience is key. A blog should be your social media centerpiece. To enhance your blog, interview other bloggers for posts, or bring others into your blog as guest bloggers. Facebook and Twitter are critical as well. Use all social media to provide real-time updates on events and news related to you and your book(s). Use tags effectively.
  6. Put together a Marketing Plan before Publication. Include a video about the book. (Video book trailers have become common and important. YouTube has plenty of examples with a simple “video book trailer” serach. Another interesting idea (especially if you’re doing any form of self-publishing that affords you control over the book’s cover) is to use your blog/Web site to sponsor a contest where your followers vote on book cover ideas. Offer three options. Otherwise, your marketing plan should begin promoting your book before you actually have a book to sell. If possible, give readers the opportunity to pre-order. Once the book is released, schedule yourself into every venue that will give you time and space. Send press releases to all local media. Remember that readers will not buy your book if they don’t know the book is there. (Cheri’s Note: Here are a couple of links that might be useful. Free & Low Cost Book Marketing Links: http://www.thewriterssite.com/direct_pages/marketing.html.  Book Marketing with Free Giveaways: http://www.bookbuzzr.com/blog/book-marketing/how-to-market-your-book-with-free-giveaways/. BookDaily free promotion: http://www.bookdaily.com/lndpg/lndpgv1. Even if you’ve already been promoting a book for awhile, these links might give you a fresh shot of inspiration [if you haven’t found them yourself].)
  7. Plan a Book Launch Event to Celebrate the Publication. This can be a great motivational occasion (something I can attest to, from my own experience). To save money, combine your book launch party with things like family reunions, speaking engagements, church events, etc. (Cheri’s Note: Whether you hold the party at a reunion or as a separate occasion in a hotel meeting room, just have a book launch party somewhere! I’ve known self-published writers who opted not to have any sort of launch event, and most of them struggled to get the book off the ground. You need to build a “buzz” about your book, and nothing does that better than your being there in person with a crowd of folks to celebrate the launch of the work you’ve labored for years to create!)
  8. Before Deciding on a Self-Published Option, Ask Yourself These Questions: 1) Is there a book out there just like mine? 2) Is there an audience for a book like mine? 3) Can I sell this book on my own? 4) How will I garner publicity for my book? 5) Can I create professional packaging on my own? 6) What good does it do to die with a manuscript in my drawer? 7) How many people would you say you have to impact with yor writing before you would say that publishing was worth the effort?

For more information on this subject and presentation, and on the presenter’s input from the conference, go to: www.indiebookwriters.com.

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Cheri’s Note: The next session summarized below seemed important to attend, even though I’ve been going the self-published route for some time now. But I wanted to hear what was new and what has changed since I listened to a group of agents at last year’s conference. A year ago, I mentioned in a blog post that I was surprised to discover that some of the agents were allowing self-published books to be pitched during the Pitch Slam. This year I was sort of blown away to discover that there’s been yet another tectonic shift, leading to a huge percentage of the conference sessions and panels not only addressing but embracing the self-publishing aspects of the industry and how to navigate through the morass.

And there didn’t seem to be any agents or editors in attendance this year who were openly expressing concerns about talking to/hearing from self-published authors. Part of that shift appears to be coming from a huge improvement in the quality of self-published books, in addition to the somewhat embryonic but impressive movement of established traditional authors into self-publishing, especially through e-books. So, for those writers out there who’ve grown weary of querying, the stigma of going the self-published route for at least your first book no longer exists. In fact, agents and editors seems to admire authors who’ve taken charge of the situation, in order to get their work into the hands of readers. No one knows better than the agents and editors how difficult traditional publishing is these days for unknown writers. Traditional publishing houses continue to slash the number of titles they publish each year, and debut authors are getting fewer and fewer of those slots. But self-published authors, who’ve written a quality book that’s been meticulously edited and who’ve had any reasonable success marketing their book(s), now have a better chance of getting noticed, in many cases. So, keep the faith out there–and continue plowing ahead!

Saturday, January 21–Ask the Agents Panel, Moderator: Chuck Sambuchino (Author, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents)

Agents on Panel:

  • Mary Kole, specializing in YA (Young Adult) at the Andrea Brown Literary Agency
  • April Eberhart, adult commercial and literary fiction at the April Eberhart Literary Agency (openly looks for self-published books “done well”)
  • Diana Fox, adult fiction at the “boutique” Fox Literary Agency
  • John Willig, prescriptive and narrative nonfiction at Literary Service, Inc.

Sambuchino: What are an agent’s primary duties?

  • Communicate with authors
  • Read manuscripts
  • Represent authors
  • Edit manuscripts
  • Sell books to publishers
  • Guide authors through the publishing process
  • “Trusted Advisor”
  • Receive 15% of eventual book sales

Sambuchino: What are the most common reasons for rejections?

  • Writing is not good in the query letter. (Yikes!) And/or the writing in the first five pages is not good.
  • If a submission gets beyond the query letter: a) The story doesn’t get off to a fast start in the first paragraph! b) Writing is not good, leaving the suspicion that one person wrote the query letter, and another person wrote the manuscript. Agents can tell the difference in style and structure. c) Authors are not responsive to agent communications. (I just can’t understand what such writers must be thinking.) d) Authors are uncooperative/unresponsive with respect to suggested edits. (I did see a change in the attendees this year, in that a lot more of them have reached the understanding that they’re not going to get anywhere if they don’t secure quality editing. And that requires an openness to suggestions as well as letting go of the “this is my work” attitude. There were still a lot of young “newbies” at the conference who were hearing all of this stuff for the first time. But, in general, the group (I think there were about 800 of us there) was realistic about what they would have to go through with respect to someone else editing their work.)
  • There is not a strong storyline.
  • There is not the desired level of quality writing plus exciting plotting.
  • The author is not a team player.
  • The author’s “voice” is not coming through. There is an absence of authenticity.
  • There is too much “telling” instead of “showing.
  • The story lacks structure.
  • An exceptional level of creativity is not apparent from line 1.

Sambuchino: Nonfiction is gaining attention. What are you looking for from the authors?

  • One agent said that sample chapters were more important than the proposal. But others preferred focus on the proposal because a finished book means that necessary editing and restructuring becomes more difficult, if not impossible.
  • Authors need to “drill down” to a niche target audience. Books too generally targeted will not be successful.

Sambuchino: Explain the value of “the platform.”

  • It signifies a built-in audience for the book.
  • The world has changed with respect to how readers get their information. Authors have to compete through their platforms by answering, a) How is my book a better for what I’m writing about than other sources? (For example, better than sources like WebMD for a medical book) and b) What is unique about my book that doesn’t exist in any other book or information source? c) Why am I qualified to write this book?

Note: The audience for this panel was packed, and the session could have gone on for hours. But we were limited to 45 minutes. In my conference survey, I suggested expanding the time a bit, especially since the conference organizers have expanded the Pitch Slam (which I’ll cover in more detail when I get to that point). 

More later …

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Priorities

All too often, with the legions of tasks and issues filling up the minutes of our lives every day, the truly important stuff can be momentarily overlooked or even forgotten altogether for embarrassingly extended periods of time. In the crush of 2011, I know this has been true for me. So, on this Thanksgiving–and not just yesterday on the actual holiday, but at frequent intervals throughout the entire four-day weekend–I’m making a point of reminding myself of how extraordinarily grateful I am for the following:

  • Despite a somewhat challenging list of health issues with some of us, key members of my beloved family are all still here.
  • And I am still here.
  • So are my cherished friends–some going back 20, 30, 40 years or more, and others who’ve come into my life in the last decade.
  • Memories of family members and friends who’ve gone ahead remain strong and empowering.
  • In these times of heavy financial stress, all of those I love have a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
  • So do I. And given the millions of people across our country who are missing one or more of those life essentials, I am unbelievably grateful but also feel the need to do something to help those who are suffering. Each of our communities offers a range of options for any of us looking for a way to “give back.” I’m grateful for those individuals who devote their own lives to keeping such options available.
  • Personal medical challenges are being met with the awesome skills of my physician team coupled with amazing advances in science. (And I pray that the time will come soon when every single person will have equal access to the same skills and advances. No one should suffer needlessly, die prematurely, or go broke because they get sick!)
  • My writing continues to unfold, and I still have great hope for happy surprises in 2012! To all writers out there: No one is going to live our dreams for us, so we can never stop or give up. Whatever we can see in our imaginations, we can make happen. But if we stop because we’re discouraged and/or tired of the drill, the dream stops too. So, the first thing we need to say to ourselves each day is, “Write today! Write something today!
  • There’s a little voice inside my head–which can be incredibly annoying–that is never silent and keeps saying, “Get up! Keep going!” And, in those moments when I feel like saying, “Why don’t you get up, if you think it’s so easy,” I somehow discover that my feet are on the floor and I’m moving forward. Such strength comes from a different source or place for each of us, depending upon our individual beliefs. Acknowledging that strength and power will not only keep us going as writers but as participants in life as well. I’m very grateful for that realization and immeasurably humbled as well!

Happy Thanksgiving once again to each of you and to those close to you as we now move officially into the holiday season!

NEWS FLASH! 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference Scheduled in New York City January 20-22!

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for awhile know that the first Writer’s Digest Conference held independently from Book Expo America took place in New York City in September 2009 and was the source of my original epiphany. The entire direction for publishing my second novel changed as a result of that conference, and this blog was launched on November 4, 2009 as a direct consequence of what I learned there.

If you’d like more detail on that epiphany, please check out the Blog Launch Posting at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/.

During last year’s conference (WD‘s second), I blogged while I was there. If you’re interested in my bird’s eye view and perspective, you can find those details beginning at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/writers-digest-conference-day-1/ and then in the eight consecutive posts thereafter.

Is your interest peaked? I honestly believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, conferences for all writers, but especially for writers in search of both the truth about the publishing business as well as guidance. Here are some links for you to explore about the highlights of the 2012 conference coming up this January:

Despite the fact that I will still have one chemo round left to go and might not be feeling at the top of my game, I wouldn’t miss this event! And I’m already registered! So, if you decide to attend, please let me know. I’d love to meet you while we’re there!

Progress on My Write-a-Thon to Complete My Next Book’s Draft in 26 Days

Well … I cannot tell a lie. (This is for my nonfiction project centering around my breast cancer.) I was supposed to begin the actual writing part of the process on November 1 (see initial details on my 26-day project in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/). However, I actually began the writing-the-book portion on November 13. And I haven’t been following the “script” line for line each day.

Before I began this project/method/experiment, I had already written four chapters of this new book, and I had outlined my vision of how the chapters would flow. But the excercises in the first half of Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander helped me look at the work I’d already done from a different perspective. Consequently, when I began focusing on the book, I realized that a lot of organizational changes needed to be made. Some of the chapters I’d envisioned were no longer relevant (or, more importantly, interesting), while other topics emerged as significant.

For example, I had not planned to spend any time at all on treatment options, because every woman’s situation will be different and, more importantly, I’m not a doctor. (The primary target audience for this book will be woman who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.) However, I am now going to spend a chapter on chemo–not on the chemo itself but on the impact that the process of going through chemo can have on the woman’s life and on the lives of those around her.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that I did not have chemo for my breast cancer. Instead, I’m on a drug called Arimidex for five years (three and a half more since I’ve already been on it for almost 18 months). But I am going through chemo now for this newest cancer (see info on my weird situation in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/ )–and I’ve discovered that what women go through as a result of chemo is fairly universal, regardless of the type of cancer she’s fighting.

On that note, one entire chapter of this new book will be about hair! 🙂 Without giving anything away, just let me say OMG! This entire “hair thing” has, without question, been the worst part of the whole experience for me to-date. My own hair is now completely gone, and although you’ll never see a picture of me bald, I am including at the end of this post a few photo angles of me with my “new hair.” You can compare this “updated me” with the last photo I posted of me with my real hair at  https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-take-on-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years/ (scroll to end of that post). And, in summary, the minute I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see “me,” my emotional equilibrium returned, and I felt immeasurably better. The many steps along that journey will be in the book. Just let me say at this point, though, that I had no idea how unprepared I was for that aspect of chemo–and I’m hopeful that what I’m writing will help at least one other woman navigate those steps with substantially less trauma than I put myself through over almost two months.

Another Interesting WSJ Article on Self-Publishing

On October 31, one of those cherished family members I mentioned at the beginning of this post sent me a link to “Secret of Self-Publishing: Success” by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Any writer considering/exploring self-publishing as an option will find this of interest, whether you’re a new writer trying to decide which way to go for your first book or whether you’re an established writer who’s curious (and brave).

This is just the one more perspective now that self-publishing has become a legitimate path for authors of all genres to get their work into the hands of readers. I’ll be interested to hear what you think: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203554104577002230413747366.html.

Okay–Here Are My “New Hair” Pictures

Keep in mind that none of this is growing out of my head!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and putting up my tree! 🙂

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Lessons from the Trumpet Vine, by Jeri L. Glatter, is a beautiful inspirational book that has now been launched. I was privileged to be the editor on this project, and I’m sharing vicariously in the release of this exceptional effort!

Take a look at the amazing video book trailer at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6-LsQhJ6NA0; and check out all of the other information about the book and author at www.LessonsFromTheTrumpetVine.com.

All the best,

Cheri

P.S. I’m doing great, by the way, following huge surgery last Saturday. Hope to go get my nails done tomorrow. 🙂 Will visit a guru oncologist at Sloan-Kettering on the 26th, to whom I’ve been thankfully assigned. Meanwhile, I’m edging back into my writing and blogging. Need to get three new books out of my head by next spring! Stay tuned!

 

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Readers Favorite 2011 Award Winners Are In …

And Separation of Faith received a Bronze “medal” in the “Fiction–Realistic” category. Yay! So, the beat goes on … and everything I said about contests in my previous post today still stands.

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… with More to Come!

One of the questions I’m asked by authors who are getting ready to bring out their first books is whether or not I think that contests are worth the time, effort, and entry fees. And my answer is–especially for the increasing numbers of authors who’ve opted for a non-traditional publishing path–yes! Enter every contest you can get your hands on!

That resounding encouragement is not just because my second novel, Separation of Faith, has proven (unbelievably) to be a story with “contest legs.” Contests are not just about placing or winning. (And so far, Separation of Faith has not grabbed a first prize but has come so-o-o-o close! A full list of the contests and the specific placements is at the end of this post.) For all of us, yet particularly for those of us carrying the entire promotional load required to get our work into the hands of readers, contests can provide a much-needed assist. Each contest–even the list comprising all of the “festivals”–has a separate and independent panel of judges, and no matter how your book ends up doing overall, you’ll receive at least one piece of valuable input per experience. Of course, that input might not be something you want to hear, but sometimes the toughest feedback can turn out to be the most important in the scope of your entire writing/publishing Journey.

A case proving that particular point involves my first novel, The Truth About Cinnamon. Just like every other aspiring author out there, I was absolutely convinced that Cinnamon was what the publishing community had been missing. This novel was going to change the world! Well … that was seven+ years ago, and although the world has changed, Cinnamon is certainly not the reason. Contests, however, were instrumental in helping me understand a lot of things about my debut novel, not the least of which is the key role professional editing needs to play in your process if you’ve decided to follow a non-traditional publishing path. Unfortunately, as I was working on the final iterations of Cinnamon, I still believed that all of the edits I’d performed on the book myself (especially since I was an official freelance editor, which surely gave me all the tools I needed) would be more than sufficient. Plus, the book had been put through several proofing rounds performed by educators in my circle of family and friends. What more could I have possibly done? Well … a lot! And I could not have been more wrong about thinking I could manage that critical element on my own! That fact first began creeping into my world through feedback from contest judges.

The Truth About Cinnamon never placed once in any contest. And, after awhile, I stopped entering the book because I recognized that the results were never going to change unless I pulled the book out of circulation, made a ton of major changes, and then handed the book over to a serious, professional editor. Eventually, that’s exactly what I did do, but not until I’d finished writing Separation of Faith, which was subjected to intense (and seemingly endless, at the time) rounds of professional editing from the get-go. Many of the major lessons learned through The Truth About Cinnamon originated in feedback from contest judges. Those lessons included favorable input on characterization, descriptive elements, and the basic storyline. “Needs improvement” comments almost universally centered around point-of-view inconsistencies, unnecessary background information, and confusion in the timeline. But the single most cited reason for Cinnamon’s lack of success in every contest was the poor editing.

That lesson was so indelibly (and painfully) etched on my writing psyche that Separation of Faith–my second novel and the beneficiary of lots of heartbreaking input from novel #1–has actually been cited for editorial excellence! And the whole subject and scope of editing was covered extensively in this blog as I was documenting the editing phases of Separation of Faith in real-time. If you search this blog for “editing,” you’ll find a whole bunch of stuff that might be of value to you, because the time to concentrate on editing, of course, is before you publish you book–:-)–not afterward, as I originally did with Cinnamon.

When readers order copies of The Truth About Cinnamon now, though, they receive a re-edited Second Edition that has addressed the issues raised by readers as well as contest and other feedback while also cutting 20,000 words. That re-editing effort took nearly a year (as I squeezed that work into the rest of my life). Aspiring authors often get themselves into the same situation because they’re so excited about “finishing” their first book that they become impatient. If they’re pursuing a traditional publishing path, they begin sending the manuscript prematurely to agents and editors and end up with piles of rejections. If they’ve decided to take an alternative publishing path, they do as I did and publish too soon. Note to aspiring authors: If you’ve finished writing your first novel, that book is still an early draft until you and the book have been through at least two rounds (and probably more) of professional editing. If you’re sending in a manuscript–or if you’re publishing a manuscript–that hasn’t been professionally edited, you’re submitting/publishing a premature draft that will inevitably disappoint you. And that was the most important lesson gleaned from contest input.

Even after pulling Cinnamon and basically rewriting the book, the editorial quality of the new version still doesn’t equal that of Separation of Faith. But at least the new Cinnamon is miles better than the original–and I’m even considering submitting the novel to a few contests again, just out of curiosity. 🙂

Meanwhile, Separation of Faith is on a contest role–and although the story and characters have obviously made some contribution to these placements, another primary reason for the novel’s success is the excellence in editing. A few competitions haven’t announced the winners yet, and I have a list in front of me of another dozen contests to enter (all named below). Here’s what’s happened so far:

  1. Amazon’s 2011 Breakthrough Novel Award: Made Round 1 Cut. Feedback from Round 2 was interesting and included reports from two judges. One evaluation was glowing and would have moved the novel into Round 3. The second evaluation was the exact opposite and didn’t even sound like the same book had been read by the two judges. So, keep in mind that there’s a great deal of subjectivity in contest judging–just like there’s subjectivity in readers themselves. That’s why I’m entering as many contests as possible. The more feedback you can get, the more you’ll see the consistencies (the positives and negatives) come through in the feedback.
  2. 2011 Paris Book Festival: Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
  3. 2010 DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Book Festival (one of the most prestigious and most important for self-publishers): Runner-Up to Grand Prize Winner.
  4. 2011 San Francisco Book Festival: Honorable Mention (2nd from top) in General Fiction.
  5. 2011 Beach Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
  6. 2011 New York Book Festival: Honorable Mention (top of list) in Fiction.
  7. 2011 Hollywood Book Festival: Honorable Mention (4th from top) in Fiction

Still waiting for results:

  1. 2011 Reader’s Favorite
  2. Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards–winners to be announced October 14, 2011
  3. USA Best Books 2011–finalists and winners to be announced in October 2011

Contests still to enter:

  1. Los Angeles Book Festival
  2. Benjamin Franklin Awards
  3. IPPYs (Independent Publisher Book Awards)
  4. Los Angeles Book Festival
  5. Foreward Magazine Book of the Year
  6. London Book Festival
  7. New England Book Festival
  8. 2012 Indie Excellence Awards
  9. Green Book Festival
  10. Hudson Valley Festival of Books

And I’m sure there are others. You can’t enter too many, in my opinion. Remember, also, that placing is fun, but what you end up learning about your writing and the story you’ve entered is the most important part of the process in the long run.

Good luck to you if you’re also on the contest path! Please let me know how you’re doing!

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But Especially Square-d!

On Tuesday, August 23, at 3:55 a.m., a message came into my email with the headline, “Your Square Card Reader has shipped … and should arrive on your doorstep in the next 2 to 5 days.” There wasn’t an exclamation point at the end of that message, but there was definitely one in my heart! So exciting!

Some of you who are on technology’s leading edge are already “getting” this. Others, however, might be asking, “What’s a Square?” Well … I didn’t know that answer either until a few weeks ago. Actually, I did know, but I didn’t realize that I did. And, if you’ve ever purchased a product or service while shopping in an Apple store, you know the answer too.

As an almost embarrassingly latecomer to Apple products, I was frankly bowled over by the technology in the Apple store in Atlanta last December when I was surprised by the gift of my iPad for Christmas. Aside from all of the “toys” lined up on tables on either side of the store, affording potential customers the opportunity to play and get themselves irrevocably hooked, I was particularly impressed by the “tools” available to each of the salespeople (none of whom appeared to be much older than eleven, but all of whom might just as well have been Steve Jobs himself in terms of their product knowledge and skill). Each of those salespeople carried in their hands a device that looked just like an iPhone. But when the time came to purchase the iPad, our particular salesfellow used his “iPhone” to complete the transaction–scanned the credit card, completed the payment, and sent the receipt to a printer. Never once did the guy’s fingers touch a cash register, primarily because there wasn’t a cash register anywhere in that store.

Well, the technology in those salepeople’s iPhones has now become available to regular people in the real world (outside of Apple stores), in the form of the “Square.” A couple of months ago, one of my editing clients, who has become a great friend as well, called me to make sure I knew about the Square (and I shudder to think how long I might have taken to discover this amazing development on my own). Basically, the Square is an app available on the iPad and iPhone. And when you order the app, the little Square is automatically sent to you. Writers like you and me, who have supplies of books we’re trying to sell at every conceivable opportunity (I always have a box of books and flyers in the car–and I even carry flyers and bookmarks in my purse), have heretofore been stopped short of the sale when the only option for the potential reader/customer/fan is to use a credit card. First of all, signing up to use credit cards for any sort of business has traditionally been comparable to getting approved for a top security clearance. And even when successful, there was a large and/or complicated machine required to process transactions.

Now I’m here to tell you that signing up for the Square is not only too easy to believe, but the process and the actual Square are free! Yes … free! There will, of course, be the standard processing fee (about 2%) for a credit card transaction (a deductible business expense, by the way, because remember that your book(s) create a business, whether or not we, as writers, want to think about/accept that fact). But securing the technology and getting set up will cost you absolutely nothing! Furthermore, when I do slide someone’s card through that little slot, their purchase amount will immediately be deposited into my bank account, less the fee (only thirty cents on the soft cover, as currently priced).

So, my Square actually arrived on Saturday and, as you can see, the thing is so small and totally portable that the miracle device literally fits in my wallet. (Photos attached to this post will undoubtedly usher in further awe-inspiring moments for you!) Although the iPad was my first Apple product, I’m now so jazzed about the technology that when my next wireless phone upgrade option arrives (shortly), I’m going to switch from the Blackberry to the iPhone. Until then, I’ll make sure to have my iPad with me everywhere I go. And I absolutely cannot wait until I make my first “Square” credit card sale of Separation of Faith and/or The Truth About Cinnamon. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too long–and you’ll be the first to know!

The Rest of the Week … Quake, Hurricane, Surgery … (“Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?”)

As I said … the message about the Square was in my email when I logged on for work Tuesday morning in my home office on the top (18th) floor of the building I moved back into last May. At a little after 1:00 that afternoon, as I was plugging away (having moved my laptop from my desk to the dining room table for a change of scene), the earth moved–and not because of any powerful, extraordinary words zipping from my Technicolor brain through my fingers into my Word document. No. The earth was moving because the earth was moving! Keeping in mind that I lived in California for almost twenty years, there was a part of my memory bank that recognized the shaking of furniture, lamps, etc., and the rattling of dishes in my china cabinet, as an earthquake. However, the disconnect came from the fact that I was sitting at my dining room table in New Jersey!

Since I always keep a cable news channel turned on as background noise, I immediately heard the announcement that there’d been a quake in the Washington, D.C. area. But holy cow! I was feeling that same quake in New Jersey? Next, an anchor who lives on Manhattan’s upper west side called in and said he felt it too. Then I got really excited because I’ve been working hard to cultivate Twitter (a social media element that I hadn’t been using effectively until the John Locke phenomenon–http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/47669-john-locke-hits-1-million-on-the-kindle.html), so I immediately went to Twitter and Facebook and posted “Did anyone else just feel the earthquake in New Jersey?” Well … an editing client of mine in Ohio immediately responded by saying that he felt the shaking in Cleveland! You have to be kidding, I thought! And then the rest of the story about that quake quickly became history.

Of course, that was on Tuesday. Four days later, on Saturday, Hurricane Irene began arriving in New Jersey. (The last edges of wind gusts finally wrapped up last night–36 hours later.) Up here on the 18th floor, the howling of the wind was extremely loud for the entire ten hours of the core part of the storm. And since my office is sort of like a green house in design (a couple of office photos are attached), the rain against all of the windows felt like being in a car wash. But we were all very blessed on my block and in the neighborhood where my daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter live in their new house. We had no damage, and we didn’t even lose power. (There were several power dips and surges yesterday–Sunday–afternoon, when the wind was actually stronger at times than on Saturday night.) A lot of people in this area of New Jersey are really suffering from wind damage and flooding, and they all remain in my prayers.

Finally, confirmation came through that I’ll be having another surgery (my 7th in 15 months) right after Labor Day. Most of the pathology is in, with a CT scan happening this Thursday to primarily check for lymph node involvement. Once all of the details are together, I’ll share more of what I know, since that’s what I promised you I’d do in my last post.

Meanwhile, we’re starting a brand new week today, and there isn’t a cloud in the breathtakingly gorgeous blue sky! Hope all of you have a fabulous, productive, and happy few days head as well, as we approach a well-deserved long holiday weekend!

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No … This Isn’t About Me

Not yet, anyway. 🙂 The author’s name is John Locke (www.DonovanCreed.com). He’s a 60-something baby boomer with big dreams, sort of like me. But there’s a major difference. As of June 21, he has self-published seven novels (Donovan Creed, the detective, is a recurring character), plus two unusual western novels (by his own definition), and now a how-to book titled How I Sold 1 Million eBooks in 5 Months! (http://www.amazon.com/Sold-Million-eBooks-Months-ebook/dp/B0056BMK6K/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1309223049&sr=1-1). And those five months were all in 2011! Here’s the link to this week’s news about his historic accomplishment: http://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/bookselling/article/47669-john-locke-hits-1-million-on-the-kindle.html

If you’re a struggling writer out there who’s just happened upon this blog, or if you’ve been following this Journey since the blog launched on November 4, 2009, there won’t be any surprise in this news: I purchased Locke’s How I Sold … book for my Kindle within moments of reading two days ago about the man’s success.

Locke does not present himself as a great novelist–a refreshingly realistic perspective, especially since I’ve recently read a couple of best-selling novels, which were published through one of the big six mainstream traditional houses and which I could not believe ever saw the printed light of day. Locke does believe he’s a good writer, though, who’s become a better novelist over time as he’s crafted seven Donovan Creed stories for a relatively small, carefully defined, “niche” audience (the “niche” being a key element of the “system” he presents in How I Sold …). And, even though I don’t think I fit into Locke’s description of that niche, my curiosity was definitely piqued. So, a few minutes ago, I ordered two of his Creed novels–his earliest and his most recent, in order to experience his writing growth. 🙂 After all, the books are only 99 cents on Kindle (another key part of his “system”).

But the most important aspect of discovering Mr. Locke (for me, at least, and I suspect for a whole bunch of you as well) is that, until a few short months ago, he was in virtually the same position that I (and many of you) are in now–where we’re only selling a handful of books, despite back- (and bank-) breaking promotional efforts. He was languishing along with us in the ever-growing quicksand field of self-published authors, taking solace only in his unflagging determination and the encouraging legitimacy conveyed by his readers.

One significant difference between where he was and where I am was that his body of work is much larger than mine, due, as I learned at the end of his How I Sold … book, to his goal of completing a new novel every eight weeks. In one of the messages I wrote to him after finishing his book, I suggested that, whatever method(s) he uses to create a novel every eight weeks might be a great subject for his next how-to book! I already know that I’m taking way too long per book, but I’ve been working with the goal of producing a book each year. The idea of cranking out six per year never even flickered through my head. In fact, I’d be happy with a novel every six months. Would I buy a book by Locke that explained how he creates a new novel every eight weeks? Especially since that book would undoubtedly be priced somewhere between 99 cents and $5? Well … let me think.

At any rate, in less than six months, John Locke went from selling dribbles of his books on Amazon and other sources to being the first self-published author (and only the fifth or sixth author of any kind) to break through the 1 million book level on Kindle. And this wasn’t just by happenstance. He created a plan–a “system”–which he follows faithfully. And then, when his system actually worked consistently, he took a little time (a few weeks, apparently) to write a book that captures that system for the rest of us, in case we’d like to give the concept a try.

And that’s exactly what I’m going to do! I’ll use Locke’s system for the nonfiction work in progress, hopefully due out on eBook by early fall, and then again for my next novel (which I’ve decided will definitely be a sequel to Separation of Faith–http://tinyurl.com/3tljkpc).

“Isn’t that going to be sort of risky?” you might ask.

Au contraire! “What do I have to lose?” is the question circling around me. What would any of us risk losing, compared to where we are now?

Imagine this: thousands of self-published authors–even tens of thousands, perhaps–suddenly experiencing wild success through eBook sales! Sure would be hard to marginalize that statistic or question the validity of authorship when paired with such soaring numbers of happy readers!

I’ll definitely keep you posted on what happens–and please let me know if you give Locke’s ideas a try yourself! From the beginning, I’ve been saying that there’s enough room in this dream for all of us!

Suddenly, the lyrics from an old boomer song by Buffalo Springfiled have begun rolling through my head: “There’s something happening here. What it is ain’t exactly clear.” That song spoke to a whole generation in the 1960s and early 70s about huge and very serious changes taking place in the country. Although clearly on a lighter, much smaller, and far less dangerous scale, I do believe there’s a revolution underway in the publishing world today. And I would like to be on the leading edge. How about you? 🙂

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