Terry has written more than 60 nonfiction books plus been published in
more than 50 magazines. For five years, he was an acquisitions editor at two book publishers and he's a former literary agent. Now Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing, a NY based traditional publisher. Terry encourages writers of any level (from beginners to professionals) at Right-Writing dot com.
Recently I got an email from “Tom” (not his real name). He
told about sending his novel out to numerous literary agents and not finding one. He
sent me his phone number and asked to “schedule a time to chat.”
From my experience, this author’s suggestion was a big
mistake. My time is as limited as the next person and I’ve “chatted” with
plenty of authors who have wasted my time.
Because Morgan James publishes about 25 to 30 novels a year,
and I work for them, I quickly transferred this discussion to my work email. I
wrote Tom and asked for several specifics—true for any novel submission:
1. I need the full manuscript
2. I need a synopsis
3. I need the author’s mailing address
Tom responded that he would be sending it to me and
appreciated the quick response.
About a week later Tom sent the preface to his novel and the
first chapter. He acknowledged in his cover note that I asked for the full
manuscript but he wanted to send what he wanted to send.
I quickly responded and asked for the full manuscript,
synopsis and address. It was several weeks ago—and to date I’ve not heard from Tom. I believe Tom is going to struggle to find an agent or a
publisher. Why? He has refused to send what is requested.
Possibly he is a
talented writer with a great novel but unless you follow the directions, you
will never be read and published (other than self-published—and the average
self-published book sells less than 100 copies during the lifetime of
the book.). These details matter and are part of the evaluation process as I
meet authors. Are they coachable and teachable?
Like I often hear from our Morgan James founder, David
Hancock, we can always fix the manuscript but sometimes we can’t fix a poor or
Are the lack of attention or following the details holding
you back from achieving your publishing dreams? If you are struggling to find
the right connection with a literary agent or a publisher. I encourage you to consider if your material is in the requested format and if you are following the directions in the guidelines. Not delivering what is requested can prevent you from achieving your dreams as a writer. It can be something simple but important to the editor or agent which blocks you from moving forward.
Have you ever discovered that when you added something which was missing, it changed how it was received and opened a new opportunity? Let me know in the comments below.
The Oscars aired last Sunday night. While the audience has been slipping for this event and they often highlight “different” films (ones we never see), I still watch it. This year, I could not watch it live because my wife and I were traveling home from Kentucky where a few days before my mother celebrated her 90th birthday. Prior to leaving, I set my DVR to record the program and we've been watching it this week.
Over the years, I've watched hours of this event and never seen a single person that I've personally met—until this year. Imagine my surprise when they called out the winner in the Short Film category and called Glen Keane and Kobe Bryant. Here's the two-minute clip:
Kobe Bryant Oscars 2018 Speech for Best Animated Short Film - Dear Basketball - YouTube
Many years ago I wrote a story about Glen and Linda Keane which was published in Marriage Partnership magazine (which no longer is publishing). Glen worked at Disney animation for many years and was the lead animator of The Little Mermaid, Beast from Beauty and the Beast and many other films. You can follow this link to read my article from 1992. It has been years since I thought about Glen and his work on some children's books. It made me wonder what happened to those books and reach out to Glen to see if I can reconnect with him. It has not happened at this writing but I'm hopeful.
Last week, literary agent Bob Hostetler wrote a terrific article: It's Not What You Know But Who You Know. Yes it is important to have skill in writing and storytelling but I agree with Bob, that who you know is a key part of the process.
How do you kindle or rekindle the various relationships you have in the writing world? Sometimes it is from an occasional phone call or an email. Or maybe you are both on each other's newsletter list or read each other's blogs. There are many different ways to establish and reestablish these connections. Part of my regular practice as a writer and editor is to reach out to new people—but also to reconnect with old friends. Last week I made a number of these phone calls and emails to others. In some cases, I get zero response from it but in others, it reconnects me to these people and we are able to work together again.
As you read this story, who comes into your mind that you need to reconnect or reach out to them? Make some concrete plans to do so and tell me about it in the comments below.
As we move into spring, there are a number of upcoming writers conferences. I've been going to conferences for many years and I enjoy learning from different workshops. Yet from experience, I have learned the necessity to check out the credentials of the workshop leaders or speakers. What type of expertise do they have in the topic they are teaching?
There is an old saying in the public speaking arena, if you really want to learn a topic, you need to teach it. While there is some level of truth in this saying (you learn a great deal as you prepare to teach it), there is also the necessity of having a certain level of expertise before you teach a topic.
For example, I often find people who have written one or two novels, will be leading a workshop on a particular aspect of writing fiction. These workshops are the ones I would avoid because of the lack of qualifications of the instructor. Or in the area of social media, I often see people who call themselves "a social media expert" then I look at their twitter following and see they have less than 500 followers (almost beginners). I want to learn from many different people, but I also want to learn from people who have exhibited their expertise in the area where they are teaching.
Here's how to check out this expertise:
1. Read the background of the instructors and keynote speakers.
2. Use Google to search for their names and background
3. Make decisions ahead of the conference based on your research
From my years of attending workshops, I've walked out of a few workshops where the speaker has been unprepared or under qualified. Also I've grown to be more discerning of this issue when I sign up for an online course or take writing training from someone.
Are you discerning about who you learn from with your writing life? What are other qualifications that are important to you when you attend a workshop? Let me know in the comments below.
Early in the morning last Wednesday, I learned about the passing of Billy Graham. Because of my biography about Mr. Graham, my phone and email have been intense with contacts from media.
For example, I did three interviews with the BBC in the UK on Wednesday. On Thursday, I began radio interviews with East Coast stations at 5 am in Colorado and it continued throughout the day. I'm thankful for each opportunity to talk about the remarkable life of Billy Graham. Here's an example of one of these interviews with Keith Alan at 57th Street Media in Tampa, Florida (just follow the link to listen).
Mr. Graham preached the Gospel Message of Jesus Christ face to face to more than 215 million people (more than anyone else on the planet). Countless others heard Billy Graham through television and radio while others read his books and his articles in newspapers and magazines. The impact of his life work can't be explained. Mr. Graham has left an amazing legacy. His ministry will continue through his son, Franklin and his grandson, Will plus others at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Many in the media have been asking me about the legacy of Billy Graham. The concept of legacy boils down to his impact on the world and his singular message: that each person has to make a personal commitment to Jesus Christ. From my personal experience and writing about Billy Graham, I saw his life as focused on service to others. Mr. Graham was humble man and lived each day with integrity. Some of the basic principles of Mr. Graham's life and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association were formed in 1948 in Modesto, California and a document they created called “The Modesto Manifesto.” If you want to know more about the Legacy of Billy Graham, I encourage you to watch these short videos and celebrate a life well-lived.
Writing and publishing has been the consistent focus of these articles about The Writing Life. Each of us need to consider our own reputation and legacy. Our reputation or legacy is built one day at a time. As I get older time seems to pass more quickly and as Mr. Graham often spoke about, each of us will one day die. Day by day, what are you writing that will last? What is the purpose of your writing? Is it to entertain or to instruct or to help others? It is valuable for each of us to take some time to consider these questions about our writing.
What lasting legacy are you building with your writing? Let me know in the comments below.
Mega-promoter P.T. Barnum said, “Without promotion, something terrible happens. Nothing.” This statement is true for promotion and marketing but it is also true for almost every aspect of the publishing business. If you are not tapping into the power of asking, you are not having opportunities for your writing to be published and sold.
For example, if you want more reviews on Amazon for your books, are you consistently asking people if they are willing to read your book and write a review? It's been proven that a steady stream of reviews on Amazon (even if your book has been out a while) helps your book to sell even more copies. I understand it is important to get over 20 Amazon reviews (if possible) and 50 reviews is another benchmark. And when it comes to these reviews, I've often found willing people—but they haven't posted their review. Part of the process is to return to these individuals and make sure they have the book and remind them about the review. I understand there is a lot to read and write about since new books are being released into the market every day.
If you want to do more publishing in the world of print magazines, are you creating article ideas and pitching them to editors? I'm not talking about doing it once but over and over on a regular basis. You need to learn how to write a query letter then write your ideas and send them out to editors. I'd love for more editors to approach me with their ideas—but that is not my reality—even though I've written for over 50 magazines. Instead I have to ask editors to write for their publication.
If you want to get a literary agent, are you crafting your proposals then consistently pitching agents? Every agent receives numerous pitches every day and you have to be part of those pitches. As another strategy, are you going to conferences to meet agents and editors face to face and make your pitches? As editors (and a former literary agent), we work with people that we know, like and trust. Nothing happens if you sit back and do not actively pitch editors and agent.
Are you writing a book and need someone with a high profile to write the foreword for the book? Or does your book need some endorsements? Readers buy books every day because of endorsements and the foreword for the book—even if behind the scenes you had to write these endorsements. You will have to ask others for these endorsements, then probably give them a deadline, follow-up and even offer to write them a “draft” endorsement for it to happen. See how you have to be actively involved in this process and be asking for something to transpire?
While we depend on email, know that email can often not deliver—so make sure your pitch is reaching the right person and they are able to read it—even with a quick follow-up call or follow-up email to see if they got it.
If you don't have enough writing work or your books aren't selling, then I encourage you to become more active in asking others to buy your book or publish your work. Every writer (including me) would love to not have to ask others and have editors and agents clamor for their writing and work. In an extreme few cases, these writers exist—but for the bulk of us, we have to continue to pitch our work, promote our writing and get in front of new audiences.
How are you tapping into the power of asking in your writing work? Let me know in the comments below. Tweetable:
One of the ways we can grow as a writer in the knowledge of our craft is to read how-to books. Even though I have an undergraduate degree in journalism and have shelves of how-to write books, I continue to read books on the craft of writing. For years I've read at least one of these types of books every month. New how-to books continue to be created and published—and I learn something from each of them.
In fact, I'm on the lookout for notices about new how-to books and I enjoy reading them and writing reviews about the books. In this article, I want to highlight two new books that I've recently read and reviewed. I don't recall where I found out about these books but in each case, I looked the book on Amazon and noticed the book had one or no reviews. From my experience I know other readers are making buying decisions all the time based on these reviews. I know they are important to the author. Most authors are easy to find their website and contact information. I reached out to each of these two authors, Ann Byle and Carolyn Scheidies. I expressed my interest in reading and reviewing their book.
As a way to support other writers, I encourage you to take similar action. Reach out to these writers and offer to read their book if they will send you a review copy. Yes you get a book but this book comes with some responsibility: that you read the book and write your review.
Journalist Ann Byle has compiled and edited a wide-ranging look at Christian Publishing from her years in this business. As she explains in the opening pages of the book, “Most chapters are based on interviews I did with the professional or about his or her area of expertise.” The 45 chapters are broken into seven sections: Creating a Writing Life, The Craft of Writing, Exploring the Depths of Nonfiction, Discovering the Breath of Fiction, Writing for Children, Tweens, and Teens, Reaching Your Readers, and the Business of Writing. Each chapter includes an “Assignments” section with a series of questions for the reader to dig deeper into that particular topic. Some chapters include sidebars with additional resources and insight.
For a couple of the chapters, Byle writes from her detailed experience in the Christian market such as Chapter 16 Contents Is King: Article Writing for Magazines, Websites, and More or Chapter 42 Book Proposals: Whys and Hows of Creating a Great Overview of Your Book.
For almost any area of the field, reading CHRISTIAN PUBLISHING 101 will give you the basics and insights you need to start in this area. Byle has compiled a book of experts in each area that the book explores for example: Jerry B. Jenkins, Nancy Rue, Bill Myers, or James Scott Bell. Many will want to read this book over and over as a valuable resource. I highly recommend it.
Whenever I learn from another writer or editor, I want to learn from someone with experience in what they are teaching. Carolyn Scheidies is just such a person. In ESPECIALLY FOR THE CHRISTIAN WRITER, Scheidies teaches about writing letters to the editor, queries to magazines, articles, news releases and much more. You will gain insights for your own writing as you study the pages of this well-written book.
In the opening pages, Scheidies gives critical information saying, “Want to get published? Then you need three things in great abundance: passion, persistence and patience. Without these, you will never persevere as a published writer. If you don’t care about your subject, how will you make your reader care? And if you give up, you’ll never know how far you could have gone.” (Page 10)
Whether we acknowledge it or not, it is easy to feel overwhelmed
as an author. The realities of the publishing world can be daunting.
thousands of new books enter the market. In addition, authors and publishers are
promoting existing books to consumers. Every consumer has to hear about your
book seven or eight or more times before they reach into their wallet and
purchase your book. The average self-published book sells less than 100 copies
and the average traditional book sells about 1,000 copies.
Yet as an author you have a much bigger vision than selling 100
or 1000 books. When it comes to book marketing, there are dozens of books—and
each is filled with great ideas. Maybe you have read a few of these books and
are stuck in the “shiny object” syndrome where you are buying the latest and
greatest tool for marketing your book. While it may be good to purchase that
tool, are you using it and then measuring to see if it is working for
If you are feeling overwhelmed (and everyone has these feelings
from time to time), here's several ideas for you:
2. Plan a series of social media posts using Hootsuite or some other schedule
tool. When you put these posts into your tool, you are doing something active—building your platform and
presence in the marketplace.
3. Follow some new people on Twitter or
Facebook. Why? With the idea that some of those people will follow you
back and you will grow your social media following—a good thing to do if
4. Get more friends on Goodreads. There are 55
million registered readers on Goodreads. As an author, you need to be spending a
little time there on a regular basis. Use the friends section (see this link) to get
more friends. Many authors only have a few hundred friends. I used these tools
and built up to the maximum (which I learned when I hit it) of 5,000 friends.
Now everytime I write a review on Goodreads (for a book that I've read or
heard), it shows up on all these pages. You can have many friends if you
faithfully use the tools from Goodreads.
5. Look for someone to review your latest book.
Maybe it is someone you are corresponding with on email.Ask them if they are
interested or willing to write an honest review and get their commitment. Then mail
them your book. It's part of the publishing world to continually look for new
reviews and feedback about your book.
6. Write a query
letter to a magazine editor and pitch an article idea.
For many years I've been writing for print magazines. Also I've been a magazine editor and know from the perspective of an editor the competitive nature of this business. I've written for many publications which no longer exist. Yet I contend writers need to include writing for magazines as a part of your writing life. For several reasons:
1. You Gain Broad Exposure in Print Publications. For a minute, let's talk realistic numbers. Yes you “may” write a book which becomes a bestseller but that is extremely rare. Your lifetime book sales are somewhat tied to the way you publish. The average self-published book sells about 100 copies during the lifetime of sales cycle. The average traditionally published book sells about 1,000 copies during the lifetime of the book. Every author “hopes” to exceed the numbers but understanding them gives you a bit of a reality check on the publishing world. In contrast, the circulation numbers for print publications are much larger. It's fairly easy to reach 100,000 or 200,000 people through a magazine—whether a large publication or small. Admittedly books are more permanent than magazines but the reach is broad with print publications.
2. You Increase Your Platform. In the early days of my writing life before my first book, I wrote for magazines. Book editors and literary agents read magazines looking for writers. It is a lot easier to write a 1500 word magazine article (or shorter) than to craft a 60,000 word book manuscript whether fiction or nonfiction. Every magazine includes a short bio of the writer at the end where you can list a book and a website. The exposure is helpful to you as a writer. Marketing studies have shown that someone needs to hear about your book six or seven times before they actually purchase it. Your magazine writing can be a part of the exposure for your writing to new audiences. I have a lot more detail in my free, 43 page Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author.
3. You Practice Your Storytelling and Professionalism. Writing for magazines teaches some basic skills for every writer. You learn how to write interesting headlines and first paragraphs. You learn how to tell a focused story with a beginning,middle and ending. You learn how to write for a particular word count and deadline. Recently one of my Morgan James authors snagged one of his first magazine assignments. He could not reduce his manuscript from 2,700 words to the editor's request of 2,600 words. It was rare for me to help someone with this detail but I took a few minutes and made some suggested cuts for his article. It is a skill that I've practiced for years but learned in the world of magazine journalism.
I continue to write for several publications on a regular basis. With every submission, I show my professionalism and express my willingness to revise or fix any issues. While I work hard on meeting their expectations, I'm always willing to fix any issues. I recommend you take the same actions with your own submissions to publications.
4. You Must Be Pitching to Start the Editorial Process. I've given some reasons for being involved in print publications but how do you get started? You need to be select a publication, follow the guidelines and be pitching the editor with either a query letter or a full manuscript. The process begins with making that connection.
Recently I reached out to a local editor where I've never written for the publication. I've known this editor for years from teaching at writer's conferences. We exchanged some emails about writing for this publication. Unexpectedly, this editor wrote asking if I had a short article on the topic of hope. She gave a short deadline for this need. I searched for the word “hope” in a folder of articles on my computer and found a couple of possibilities. One article looked like it “could” work so I revised my short bio then read through the article one more time, and emailed it off to this editor. Within a short amount of time, she responded that the article was exactly what she needed and would go in the next issue. Some of my ability to pull off this article was my experience but also my organization skills. You can do the same thing but you need to be pitching these editors to get on their radar. Do they have an editorial calendar and can you pitch an idea for a forthcoming issue? You will not be published in magazines without taking regular action.
Are you writing for magazines? Tell me about your experiences in the comments below.
I enjoy reading memoirs. About four years ago, I noticed a memoir at my library called Molly's Game. I brought it home and read it cover to cover. The story began with a competitive skier in Colorado. Molly Bloom. Ultimately Bloom began to run a high stakes poker game in Los Angeles. While I know little about poker, the story and writing held my interest. At the end of the book, the FBI had arrested Bloom and the story was not finished or resolved. While I enjoyed and appreciated the book, I went on to reading other books and didn't think much more about the story—until last month when the movie Molly's Game was released.
Prolific screenwriter Aaron Sorkin wrote the screenplay. While in general, I do not go to many R rated films, I was eager to watch Molly's Game. The movie picks up where her memoir stopped and tells the rest of Molly Bloom's story. Repeatedly throughout the movie, Bloom is pressed to give the government the details of her high stakes poker clients and she refused. If she gave in, she would get all of her funds back from the government and much more but she did not.Why? She didn't want the release of this information to destroy or hurt the lives of her clients. Also she was protecting her own name. One of the themes of the movie is how Bloom was firm on protecting her own name. It is a well-crafted story and worth seeing.
This film started my thinking about what steps am I taking to protect my own good name? I've written many books and magazine articles and worked as an editor for several publishers. In this era of social media, stories can spread rapidly on networks—whether they are true or not. What steps are you taking to monitor and protect your own name?
Here's a couple of action points:
1. Be aware of the necessity for every writer to be cautious about what they put out on social media. Those posts are there forever.
2. Be actively monitoring your own name and how it is used with free tools like Google Alerts, TalkWalker and others. I use several of these tools and I find each one finds different sites and are easy to use and monitor.
I have been on Twitter since July 2008 and posted over 40,000 times. No one else is making these posts. Each time I type something on Facebook or Twitter, I'm aware of the longevity of such actions. These posts are searchable and long-lasting as in forever.
What actions are you taking to protect your name online? Let me know in the comments below.
Good communication is important in the publishing world. As an acquisitions editor, I spend a lot of time every day answering emails, returning phone calls, texts and other forms of communication. Yet some emails go unanswered and phone calls are not returned. There are many possible reasons. Maybe it is the sheer volume of email. Maybe you are using the wrong email address or possibly you are trying to text someone whose phone line doesn't receive a text message. I've written about this topic before on The Writing Life. You can use this link to see some of these articles and read them.
Recently I could not reach an author for some additional information about his submission. If an author does not send their mailing address, I can't get their submission into our system at Morgan James. We acknowledge every submission with a letter in the mail—and we receive over 5,000 submissions a year and only publish about 150 books. These numbers show the massive volume and potential for missing some details. With this particular author, I tried several times on email and could not get a response. It turned out my emails were landing in his SPAM folder.
A different author filled out a submission form on the Morgan James website located in the lower right corner when you go to the site. I contacted this author as soon as I received the information. She wanted a phone call back. I returned her call but did not get her on the phone and left a voice mail message. We did not speak but this exchange had some red flags in the communication process. With each exchange she never gave her last name nor any specifics about what type of book she was writing (despite my specific requests for this information).
Next this author didn't feel like she was getting in touch with me, so she filled out another submission form complaining to my colleague (another red flag). This colleague checked with me (see the internal communication which goes on?) and learned the details of our exchanges from my perspective.
Finally this author called me again and we actually spoke to each other a few minutes on the phone instead of exchanging voice mail messages. She wanted to inform me how we had missed out on a great publishing opportunity (admittedly never explained) through my lack of follow-up. I listen and attempted to clarify but each time, she refused to give additional information (another red flag).
Our publishing house has worked with thousands of authors over the last fifteen years. Besides my work at this publisher, I've worked at two other houses and reviewed thousands of submissions. Whenever we publish a book, our company invests thousands of dollars in the creation and promotion of this book. Good and clear communication from the author is important—and something we learn and evaluate with every exchange. Here's some basic principles for you:
1. Follow-up when you don't hear back or get the information you need—in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe the person you are trying to reach is on a deadline, ill, traveling or any number of other reasons.
2. Be clear and forthcoming in your communication with the editor or agent. There are no “secret” books or problems with giving the editor your complete information including your last name and details about your book. Without the author, the idea has no value—zero.
3. As publishing professionals, we are looking for great ideas and clear communication. Because Morgan James is not a self-publisher but works as a team, I can not look at your submission and offer you a contract. Yes I have influence on the decision and champion the author and the book to my colleagues. If we are able to offer a contract, that offer comes from the group. The best publishing in my view is a consensus-building process. Individuals have blind spots and miss critical elements in this process where the group can help each other and produce excellent work. Authors have to take their own responsibility to market and promote their own book—yet working with their publisher in this process.
I wrote this article to help every writer understand the importance of good follow-up in the publishing community.
Is follow-up one of your skills? If not, how can you improve in this area? Tell me your experiences in the comments below. Tweetable: