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Friday, September 30, 2011

To Write for the Market or Write from the Heart

In these difficult economic times, writers are struggling with whether to write the stories on their hearts or write what the market will buy and sell. If you are depending on your writing income for a living, the pressure to write for a market may be even stronger. So what should a writer do?

I think it depends on where you are in your career and what doors are open to you. It's hard for a new, unpublished writer to break into publishing during great economic times, but even harder during a recession. But as Christians, we have to remember that God is still on the throne and He's the same God in the best of times, as well as the worst of times. Several authors and I are a testament, that new, unpublished authors can receive their first contract during a recession. In fact, it seems like more of a miracle.

Pre-published Authors
If you are still unpublished, take advantage of the fact that you can write whatever is on your heart and on a schedule that is convenient for you and your family. One positive aspect about a recession is that it's temporary. The market will change again, and if you are willing to be patient, it will swing back in favor of what you're writing. With God, everything is about timing and occurs in its proper season.

Don't try to write to a market. By the time you finish your book and begin shopping it around to editors, the market will have changed again. This is a time to sharpen your skills and have other books available. If you have plenty of finished manuscripts to sell, a publisher will be more confident in your ability to finish a novel, to write a series, and meet deadlines so you won't be a "one-book wonder". You will have more to offer readers after your first book is contracted.

New Contracted Authors
These authors have a foot in the door, but they don't have a sales history and may not be able to get anything published that would be considered "risky". Writers with new contracts are getting feedback directly from their agent and publishers. They know more about the direction of the market because of this feedback. These authors can talk to their contacts and receive professional input to which most unpublished authors don't have access.

For instance, a publisher gave me a revision letter that would require me to rewrite a significant amount of the manuscript. A month later, the recession hit hard and they stopped buying fiction. My agent, Terry Burns, pulled me off that story and had me lengthening another manuscript for a different editor that showed some interest. This publisher was still buying books in spite of the recession. This wasn't something I would have known without my agent's guidance.

In this case, I'm not exactly writing to a market, but I'm reworking what I've already written to make it more marketable for what is in demand now. However, the reworks aren't a complete rewrite and it isn't changing the heart of my story.

Multi-Published Authors
These authors have a proven sales history, a foot in the door with several publishers, and an agent helping them to manage their career. They can sell books on proposal and may even be asked to write a book for a "risky" sub-genre that a publisher might want to test in the market. Multi-published authors are in a better position to determine if they want to write for the market, write books from their hearts, or a combination of both.

I say this, because their manuscripts are rarely thrown in the slush pile. They are read faster than an unknown author and their stories will be contracted faster as a result. They can catch a trend much quicker than a new author. Many depend on their writing income for a living and write full-time. This means they can finish books faster than an author who is trying to write between a day job, family and church activities.

I believe an author can write both to the market and the books of their heart, especially when they stay true to what God has called them to write. This doesn't mean there won't be down times, but it does mean that you might grow from one season to another. In other words, what you start out writing during the first ten years may evolve into something different through the next ten years.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Meeting at the Arch by Terry Burns



American Christian Fiction Writers is the premier organization for Christian Fiction Writers with over 3000 members, nearly 700 of which gathered under the Arch in St Louis for their annual meeting. It was an amazing event.



I was very proud that my good friend and client Bonnie Calhoun won the prestigous Mentor of the Year Award. It was so well deserved as Bonnie is the computer guru not only for me (invaluable on both my personal site and the Hartline site) but answers computer and blogger questions for countless members in the organization. Her Christian Fiction Online Magazine is an irreplaceable resource for Christian Writers. Well done, Bonnie.





We were also very proud that Hartline Founder Joyce Hart was one of three finalists for the Agent of the Year Award. Joyce has been a leading agent in the Christian writing community for longer than the ten years ACFW has been in existence and had a lot of people pulling for her.







I was proud to have nine of my clients there in addition to the clients that were there represented by the other Hartline agents. They spread out working the conference like pros, attending classes, gathering publishing information that they will all feed back to be used by all of us, and networking like crazy. They are from left to right, Emily Hendrickson (my editorial asst who writes as Emily Reynolds), Linda Glaz (Hartline agent as well as a client), Teresa Hooley Slack, Cheryl Linn Martin (who had not one but two 3 book offers to choose from while at the conference), me looking like a thorn in a rose garden, Linda Schab peeking over Pam's shoulder, Pam Meyers, and Bonnie Calhoun holding her Mentor of the Year award. Not pictured but with us at the conference was Kevin Parsons, Suzanne Hartmann and Regina Smeltzer.

It was a fast paced conference with great faculty and content. Each day featured uplifting worship opportunities and a constant stream of opportunities to pitch projects. Now I have to turn my attention to making all of the submissions my clients were able to get requested in these sessions.

See you next year in Dallas

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

First Pages Would You Read On?

Dear Reader;
Many of you are enjoying this column on our blog each Weds. If you are the bold and courageous type- submit your first page for posting consideration to Diana@hartlineliterary.com. Place First Pages in the subject line please. Once again we look forward to your comments on this First Page.

ONE

August 1920

Greenwood District

Tulsa, Oklahoma

It was always present, lurking in the shadows, taunting her mind and choking off the simplest of pleasures. The relentless oppression had not stopped stealing her joy, killing her spirit or progressively dismantling her life. It was hard to be happy about sunshine and clear skies in her state of mind. Three weeks had passed since the twister hit throwing dry dust everywhere. Another summer was almost over with its drought and hot winds killing the crops along with the dreams of many farmers. Prairie farmers constantly struggled against nature to yield adequate crops for the season.

Benjamina Freeman struggled against herself to quell the gnawing doubts and crippling depression. While in the city people forgot the parched earth and shriveled vegetation. Things were always lively in Tulsa. The atmosphere was different with its imposing brick buildings and booming commerce regardless of climatic conditions. No matter what people outside the municipality had to endure, merchants, customers and laborers in Tulsa never stopped hustling to take care of business. The energy was not inspiring to Benny, however. She stood inside the open door of the Ladies Fine Apparel Shop staring at nothing in particular as school children playfully made their way down the street. It was too much to try to work feeling the way she did. She would never stand up to the strain of greeting customers, pleasantly chatting with them when she knew what they were thinking. After all this time she was as shamefully mortified as ever. Her heart still broken as the day it happened. Injury and humiliation were her closest companions even if she’d learned to push them back a bit. The feelings chipped away at her every effort to operate free of the misery. She was contemplating her escape from the commitment she was pressured into when loud throat clearing interrupted her thoughts of closing and going home. She looked into the man’s crafty widespread eyes when he got her attention. “Morning, Benny, surprised to see you here. Where’s Ella?” He spoke with a disingenuous affability that annoyed her.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Conference Follow-up by Andy Scheer


Before I could write this, I had several post-conference tasks to accomplish.

Yes, I unpacked my carry-on and my briefcase, sorted my laundry into darks and lights, reorganized my workshop notes, and placed into one folder all the documents related to the conference.

But most important, I sent a couple of follow-up emails.

During the half-hour trip to the San Diego airport, I shared a shuttle with an acquisitions editor. We'd talked about her upcoming plans to visit the slickrock country of eastern Utah, and I promised I'd email her information about a spectacular but little-known state park and some hiking opportunities in nearby slot canyons. (She also said she'd update me on who is handling what acquisitions in another division of that publishing house.)

So before I sat down to write this, I sent my follow-up email to that editor--and another to one of the conference organizers.

I also responded to an email from one of the sixteen people with whom I had a Saturday appointment. He'd written for me years ago when I was an editor at Moody magazine. So when we met to talk about his novel in progress, the name rang a bell. I liked what he said about his project, and his brief follow-up email reinforced that he's someone who takes his writing, his professionalism, seriously.

But I also wonder how many of those other fifteen people I'll hear from. The conferees were surprisingly well prepared. I really clicked with several of the writers, and I told an exceptionally high number of them that yes, I'd like them to email me their polished proposal.

Still, my years of acquiring articles and writers for the magazine showed me that many writers take as a rejection anything short of an enthusiastic Yes! And in most cases, I asked for further details in those proposals that looked promising.

I hope they'll follow up. But if they don't, I'll take that as evidence that they're not yet ready for the Big Leagues. Time will tell.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Just whined and complained...by Linda S. Glaz

I just whined and complained on my own blog about the tough skin it takes to be an agent. But it was all true. I get so many really "good" books, but as Terry Burns taught me last year, a good book is no longer enough in today's market. A book must be great--stellar!

I'm not complaining, mind you, but it would be so much easier not to have to write an author who wrote a really good book and tell them they have to keep at it. Strengthen it, re-edit, polish, run it past a crit group, take some more writing classes, all the things that change a work from good to stellar.

I wrote half a dozen of those letters this morning. And it really breaks my heart to have to turn down a story that is so endearing, so exciting, just because the writing needs to be bumped up a few levels. A bit of work, I'm happy to take on, but when the entire book needs serious editing...

Okay, so I am whining a bit. There are some wonderful authors out there who just send their work out way too soon, and it's a shame. A bit more work and the book could be accepted.

***HUGE SIGH***

Friday, September 23, 2011

Preparing & Planning for Contests by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

Authors often hold contests during their book launch. Some of us hire professionals to handle our contests for us, but many of us are on a shoe string budget and must do the planning ourselves. On Monday, I'll be hosting my first contest beyond a simple book drawing on my blog.

I thought I might share a few observations and tips I've learned over the last few months as I've prepared for my contest.

1) Determine the purpose of your contest. While I hope sales will be a result, the main reason I'm hosting this contest is to build my social media platform and to raise awareness about the content I produce. This means I hope to gain more followers to my blog, FB and Twitter pages, as well as subscribers to my quarterly newsletter.

Studies show that buyers don't typically buy a product or service the first time they hear about it. Therefore, I'm after access to them. I want a means of being able to connect with them and share news and updates so that I can relate to them before I try to sell them something. I want to offer them more than just my books. I want to offer them uplifting news about God's Word, inspire them when they're feeling down, and motivate them to think positive when the rest of the world is trying to criticize them. I want to offer hope.

2) Determine your contest theme and entry method. Your purpose will depend on your contest theme and what you will require for entry. My theme is centered around the launch of my new book and the methods of entry will encourage people to follow my blog, Twitter page, like my FB page, subscribe to my newsletter and retweet or share a particular message promoting the contest. These are my calls to action.

Don't just let them leave a random comment on your blog. Have them do something that validates their entry into the contest and will promote you and your work. We can shout about our work all day long, but our network of reaching people is limited and it doesn't mean as much when we stand to gain something from it. However, if people have something to gain, they are more likely to share the info with their friends--thus, the free gifts. They like being appreciated by their friends and in the "know" about what is going on. You can't reach their friends, but they can. This expands your reach beyond your network and it indirectly gets others talking about you, your work, and coming to your site or social networks.

3) Determine your budget and your free gifts. Consider your target audience. Who are you trying to reach and what can you provide that might appeal to them? You might think that it would be best to have a nice, expensive gift to draw more people, but it may draw people beyond your target audience and then you're self-defeating your purpose. They will enter your contest for the chance at the free gift, but as soon as the contest is over, they are more likely to unfollow you and unsubscribe from your content. It's best to give away several small gifts that target your audience than a major gift that will draw a broad range of people.

4) Determine how long and when the contest will run. If you only host it for a couple of days, it will be over by the time people really start to hear about it. If it goes on for months, you may lose momentum, a sense of urgency, and risk people forgetting about it. A good length of time for a contest is a couple of weeks. Set the timing of the contest around something new to piggy-back on the excitement of a new offer. People always want the newest thing.

5) Study the laws and protect yourself with official rules. Each state has various laws on hosting contests. It's impractical to know them all and understand them and you can't possibly know where all your visitors will come from. Therefore, I recommend studying other official contests from reputable companies who have already hired legal attorneys to set their official rules for them. You can use these rules as a template and modify them as needed. Be sure to host these officials rules on your website/blog and make sure a link is provided to them wherever you promote the contest.

6) Plan the contest several months in advance. This will give you time to determine if you want sponsors for the gifts, a chance to contact them and make arrangements. If you choose not to solicit sponsors, it will give you time to save and purchase gift items on sale or at bulk so that you can take advantage of discounts. In my case, I set aside some funds each month and purchased a few items here and there. That way it didn't seem like it was a huge financial burden.

These are just a few tips and ideas. Feel free to share other tips from your own experiences.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Marketing Question: Where has your $ paid off in Book Sales? by Diana Flegal

Hello Dear Readers;

I have been carrying on a discussion with published and non published authors about the personal investments they have been making or are considering to help promote and sell their books.

The question arose, "Should I put my money into a book trailer or a launch party?"

Since the launch party 's expense promises to be higher and the venue had only the space for 60 people- the author has decided to go with the Book Trailer, thinking it is where the author would get the largest bang for their buck ($).

I am thinking their is still great power in word of mouth sales and wondering if that was the best choice.

Can you all please contribute to the conversation by sharing where, in reality- the best jump in sales has come from and what you might do differently next time in book promotion?

The experts weigh in on blogs and through their marketing business' but from an author viewpoint- can you let us know what has worked for you?

Have a great writing day and may your POV come across as you desire, and quote worthy phrases spring forth from pen to paper!

Diana

Monday, September 19, 2011

My First Conference by Andy Scheer


This week I’m getting ready for my first writers conference—as a literary agent.

Yes, it’s not my first writers conference, or even my first time to attend the San Diego Christian Writers Guild’s annual fall event. I attended my first conference in 1988, when I was an editor for a magazine then called Moody Monthly. And I’ve taught and taken appointments at San Diego both when I was acquiring articles for Moody and when I was coaching writers for the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild.


But even after more than twenty years, it’s still easy for me to catch the pre-conference jitters.

To get ready for San Diego, I’ve tried to do my homework. I’ve studied the online faculty list to see which acquisitions editors I can renew acquaintances with, and which I’ll be meeting for the first time. As I send out proposals from my clients, I appreciate when those recipients are people I know.

I’ve also reviewed Jennifer Hudson Taylor’s Hartline blog entry from September 2: “Tips on Preparing for Writing Conferences.” Then I followed the link to one of Jennifer’s previous blog entries: “Surviving the Pitch to Editors & Agents.” She sold me with the title.

As I anticipate my upcoming appointments (which I hope to survive), I remember the scenarios I describe when I teach about writing query letters.

A successful pitch is not necessarily one to which the agent says yes. That’s true only if the underlying project and proposal are indeed ready for prime time. If they’re not ready or inappropriately targeted—and the editor sees that and so informs the writer—then the process has also been successful. Especially if the editor or agent, as most of them will, use the rest of the appointment time to explain how or why the writer can strengthen her work.

Where things get tricky are those situations in which the concept and the manuscript are good—but the pitch or proposal falls short. So if, during our appointment, I ask a lot of questions of the kind Jennifer mentions that agents may ask, don’t assume I’m trying to put you on the spot or that I think your concept won’t work.

Like manuscripts, usually the best pitches and proposals are ones that have undergone considerable revision. Compared to simply dismissing something, it takes far more work for the person across the appointment table to identify a piece’s most significant shortcomings and then to suggest how to remedy them.

As I meet with people at San Diego and other conferences, I hope and pray I’ll do my best to listen critically and well. And that when I respond, they’ll return the favor.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Christian Authors Guild in Atlanta by Terry Burns




I knew I was at a special place when the front door was a carved . . . yes carved relief of Jesus rising from the door. Amazing!







The Lodge at Simpsonwood is a Christian adult and family retreat center on the outskirts of Atlanta associated with the United Methodist Church. It was a perfect place for a Christian Writing conference. Set in peaceful woods with no hint of the presence of the large city just outside the grounds it was a time to work on our craft with presentations from a great faculty, great worship time, and just a time to de-stress.

Bestselling author Cec Murphy did the Keynote and taught several sessions. Editor and Author Lin Johnson, editor or Christian Communicator and author of more than 70 books was on the faculty as was writing coach Tiffany Colter. Other faculty included editor and author Mary Lou Redding, editorial director for Upper Room Magazine and author of six books, and Les Stobbe and I were the literary agents in attendance, taking appointments and teaching sessions.

The Christian Authors Guild is an organization in the Atlanta area that meets monthly and has a very strong membership. While they have had extended workshops before this is their first venture into a full writing conference, but judging from the comments from the attendees it surely won't be their last.

It was well organized, in a perfect setting, and is a conference that is easy to recommend. Pit on your schedule for next year, and you can find out more at http://www.christianauthorsguild.org/

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Observe a Lot by Andy Scheer



You can observe a lot,” said baseball great Yogi Berra, “just by watching.”

To that I add, “and by listening.”

This weekend in Denver I attended the annual convention of a group that collects books and memorabilia linked to adventure writer Clive Cussler. (The group's president, whom I met at the Colorado Christian Writers Conference, asked me to call a square dance at the end of their Friday evening session.)

I had read at least a dozen novels by the evening's speaker, veteran writer Justin Scott, so I looked forward to his talk. I expected I'd hear about his experience co-writing with Cussler—especially his latest, “The Race,” about a 1910 cross-country airplane competition.

But I didn't expect to receive practical help on one of my own projects. Good thing I was listening.

Someone asked Scott about his research, as he'd never before written about aviation. I wasn't surprised when he spoke of visiting the Old Rhinebeck Aerodrome, a living history museum for early aviation. Then Scott mentioned a book “Stick and Rudder,” that, while written in 1941, had educated him about the basics of flight and piloting. Though his book was set thirty years earlier, the aviators in his novel needed to apply and be able to talk about those principles.

I wasn't prepared to take notes, but I found a napkin and jotted the title. Just what I needed for a story I'm writing that's set in the mid twenties and involves an aviator.

Then someone asked about Scott's writing practices, which enable him to create two novels a year: one for Clive Cussler and another (using his pseudonym Paul Garrison) for the estate of Robert Ludlum.

Not surprisingly, Scott said he gets up early and goes straight to his office so he can put in six hours of work by lunchtime. During those hours he doesn't take phone calls, check email, or succumb to other popular distractions.

Then he added a detail I've never heard an author mention: He uses two computer screens. One always shows his work in progress. The other displays resource material: his outline and notes, a dictionary, a search engine, and such. Reserving a second screen for those tools means his project always remains before him, open.

Maybe this technique can help you work more efficiently on your own big, research-dependent project.

Over the years I've observed that successful writers are always learning. Once when I was on staff at a writers conference, I rode in a car for some twenty minutes with two of the keynoters, novelists Jack Cavanaugh and Francine Rivers. Rather than discuss the North Carolina scenery, they took advantage of the time together to talk shop: How did they each approach a certain aspect of the craft?

After all, you can observe a lot by listening.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Best Laid Plans by Linda S. Glaz

We all have grand plans from time to time. Sometimes they come to pass, other times, we simply hope and then put the plan aside for another time.

Our lives are carved with extreme care as we dream about tomorrow, but what is God’s plan for our lives? Do the two coincide?

Our characters should also have dreams, plans, grand visions for their lives.
What dream or plan have you had that has been snatched from your hands for whatever reason? Maybe God simply said “No” and you had to put the dream away for a time. Hearing about others’ dreams and visions helps us to make richer characters in our novels: characters with depth, weaknesses, and strength.

Care to share one?

Friday, September 9, 2011

Lacking Blog Comments? Afraid of a Bit of Controversy? by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

So many of us prefer to stay on the sidelines and keep out of the way of controversy. We fear it may hurt our image or our reputation in the industry. So we stick to safe topics, non-controversial subjects and keep writing our blogs and wondering why we haven't provoked or inspired someone to leave a comment. It doesn't feel good when someone leaves a comment that is in direct conflict with our own opinions or what we have publicly stated. We are ingrained to want everyone around us to agree with us.

Some of the most read blogs are the ones that challenge us--these are the blogs that provoke us. And do you know what? Most of them have the largest following. Some people follow because they agree and like the subject matter. Others follow because they think it's interesting to see people argue over opposing opinions, but they lurk and don't get involved themselves. Another group follows because they definitely disagree and they want to know what the opposing side has to say. They like giving their $0.2 worth.

While the most controversial topics are politics, religion, atheism, there are other topics that might relate to our books or a common theme in our writing and we're missing an opportunity. Perhaps instead of another blog about writing and books among the millions already in existence, you could start a niche blog that feeds on some controversial thoughts, but something you're passionate about and it will build readership based on the need for such content. It doesn't have to be negative, but informative. It doesn't have to be judgmental, but challenging. It doesn't have to be arrogant, but open-minded to discussion. It doesn't have to tolerate rudeness, but be moderated with fair and equal boundaries.

Here are the top 50 Controversial Mom Blogs. I'll be honest, I never thought of parenting as controversial, but after reading through some of these blogs, I can see where some valid points are made--things I had never considered, but maybe should have. They aren't negative as much as very thought-provoking.

What are your thoughts on finding a niche blogging topic that will generate REAL discussions. Do you shy away from ANY kind of controversy, moderate controversy, or do you not care one way or the other? Can you see where a bit of controversy could increase your blog traffic if handled appropriately and moderated well? Do you follow any controversial blogs that you think do this well? Share your thoughts.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

What makes a best-seller? by Terry Burns



I’ve heard this discussed a lot and it is hard to say... a major effort? Luck?

It’s just my opinion on the subject, but I think there are several major paths to a book becoming a best-seller:

First: The most common path is the book is by a previous best-selling author. There is a huge readership base built up and the author really has to drop the ball for the book to FAIL to achieve best-seller status. In addition, based on the track record of the previous books the publishing house throws major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Occasionally a book fails to live up to this promise and in spite of the publisher support does not get the job done.

Second: An author, maybe regardless of the strength of the writing, has so much name recognition and such a huge platform that the book has major potential. Presidents, politicians, major sports figures, and other celebrities would fill the bill on this. Once again, based on this potential, the publishing house throws major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Once again this does not always work and sometimes in spite of the huge name identification the public does not respond in the necessary numbers.

Third: A publisher can decide when they acquire a book that it is going to be a best-seller. The editor that acquires it goes into committee and convinces the PR people, the marketing people, and the company leadership that the book has the potential to do it. Even though it is a debut author that does not have a large platform, the publishing house decides the book justifies it and puts major advertising, promotion, and the full distribution and placement support behind the title. Yet again in spite of the faith and confidence of the publisher this does not always work.

Fourth: Even if the publisher has not pegged the title as a potential bestseller and the author does not have name identification, the author themselves may generate so much word-of-mouth publicity, or buzz, and may on their own pursue so many avenues of publicity and promotion that the book begins to produce much better than anybody thought. Even if a publisher has not planned major support for a title, they will respond when a book starts to attract notice and will begin to match or exceed author efforts. There generally isn’t a large number of authors that achieve this but it can work, and again ends up with the publisher putting advertising, promotion, distribution and placement behind the title. On occasion a book starts producing so strongly in a small house that a major house comes into the situation, taking the efforts to a whole new level. That’s what happened with ‘The Shack.’

So, is it luck? Yes, I’d have to say some luck might be involved.

For Christian authors is it something ordained by God and beyond our control? No. Ordained by God, yes, but the Lord works through people and it is possible that we fail to do what He wants us to do in order to achieve His purposes. How often we fall short of what the Lord wants us to do. If God wants it to happen, it will, as long as we do what He needs us to do in the process.

Do publishers decide what books will be bestsellers or not? That one is both yes and no. If I am correct in my assumptions above, it is very difficult to reach best-seller status without a publisher that believes in the book and throws their support behind it. But we also see whether they decided it was a possibility up front or came to give that support later that it did not always guarantee success.

But how about these books that go straight to ebook and go viral – achieve best-selling status with no publisher involved at all? I’d have to say these comments are about traditional print books reaching that elusive status. I’d have to address doing it in ebooks in a separate blog – as soon as I come to understand what really causes one of the titles to stand out that strongly there.