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Monday, July 31, 2006

Major Marketing Campaign: Where Does the Money Go?

By Tess Gerritsen

Tess Gerritsen is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of Stanford University. Tess went on to medical school at the University of California, San Francisco, and was awarded her M.D. in 1979. After completing her internal medicine residency, she worked as a physician in Honolulu, Hawaii. In 1987, Tess's first novel was published. CALL AFTER MIDNIGHT, a romantic thriller, was soon followed by eight more romantic suspense novels. She also wrote a screenplay, "Adrift," which aired as a 1993 CBS Movie of the Week starring Kate Jackson. Her thriller, Harvest was released in 1996, and marked Tess's debut on the NEW YORK TIMES bestseller list. Film rights were sold to Paramount/Dreamworks, and the book was translated into twenty foreign languages. Now retired from medicine, Tess writes full time and lives in Maine.

(Reprinted with permission)

I’m probably going to hear from someone wiser than I am that I shouldn’t be talking about this, but I can’t help myself. I’m fascinated by the dollars-and-cents side of publishing. So let’s talk about the price of promotion. Specifically, how much it costs to promote a blockbuster book.

Most of you writers know what the usual self-promotion strategies will cost when you shell out for everything yourself. You know what it’ll cost you for printed bookmarks and the author website and maybe, if you’ve got the energy, the drive-yourself-and-eat-at-McDonald’s book tour. But do you ever wonder what it costs a publisher to promote the really big books? Do you ever wonder what a publisher’s announced ”$250,000 marketing budget!” actually does for a book’s sales?
First, let’s talk about what you might spend that much money on. Let’s start with ads.
A full-page, color ad in the NYT Book Review will run you around $30,000. Since the Book Review comes out only once a week, this ad will, theoretically, get you some prolonged exposure. But not everyone reads the NYTBR; they just focus on the rest of the Sunday paper. And there are some areas of the country where people don’t read the New York Times at all.

A full-page, color ad in the NYT daily newspaper will cost you even more — $50,000 or so. But it has a huge visual impact if it’s on the back page of, say, the arts section. While you sit on the train reading your newspaper, the passenger across from you is going to be staring at the ad on the back of that page.

Then there’s a whole host of other publications you can choose to advertise in. USA Today features book reviews in its Thursday edition, and it’s a popular place to advertise because it has nation-wide circulation and the newspaper is read by just about every traveling businessman who happens to be on the road that day. The other national newspaper that seems like a good place to advertise is the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal. It has a huge circulation. It goes to high-income households, right? It’s a way to catch the attention of those elusive male readers, right? So why does the WSJ carry so few book ads?

Because the price of their ad space will take your breath away. Last year I called to find out what a modest little ad in the WSJ would cost. I can’t tell you the exact amount, because I was so stunned I must have blocked it from my memory. All I can tell you is that it makes a NYT ad sound like a bargain basement deal.
So you can see how you can easily blow a hundred grand or more, just paying for ads in major newspapers. But do they actually sell books?
Most publishers will say that the cost of the ad isn’t justified by the number of sales the ad generates. I believe them. Still it’s true that an ad DOES cause a bump in sales. I watch my Amazon numbers whenever an ad runs, and I can see the effect on my sales ranking. But the effect is very short-lived — only a day or two. So no, I don’t think paying fifty thousand for an ad results in fifty thousand dollars’ worth of book sales.

What a big ad does do, however, is give a signal to booksellers that this is a major book. It tells them that if they didn’t bring in many copies, they’d better get on the phone and order some more. It tells those in the publishing and reviewing industry that this is a book they should pay attention to.

And it makes the author and agent very happy. I mean, let’s admit it– one’s vanity MUST be stroked.

If you want to blow a lot of money fast, try TV advertising. You’ll get lots of splash, will catch the attention of lots of eyes on the ad, but it’s also very ephemeral. Thirty seconds and poof — it’s gone. And because of the price of TV, chances are, you’ll only buy into limited markets. Channels that cater to women viewers for instance, like Oxygen and Lifetime. Or in certain regions of the country.

Again, the question must be asked: does it sell books? I don’t know the answer to this one. But there’s no mistaking the impact it makes on booksellers and others within the industry, as far as getting attention for your book.

I’m leaving out all the other fun and different ways to advertise, such as magazines, transit ads, radio spots, airplane tow-ropes, etc. Because no one really knows how well any single one of them works to sell a particular book.

But they’re all valuable in one regard: they get your name out there. Even if consumers aren’t actively paying attention, your name will become embedded in their subconscious.

I was once in a bookstore where I saw a woman eyeing the paperback rack. My book, BODY DOUBLE, was there. When she picked it up and looked it over, I couldn’t help asking her, “have you heard of that author?”

“I’ve never read anything by her,” she said. “But you know, I’ve heard her name about three times in the past month. So I guess I should buy this.”

Then she told me that “three times” is her rule of thumb. That’s how many times she needs to hear about a product before she’ll try it out.

So it may be that ads are effective in ways that aren’t immediately measurable.
Free publicity is what DOES work. Feature news articles, for example. Interviews on TV and the radio. Stories ABOUT your story.

And that’s where publicists and book tours come in. Publishers don’t send an author on the road so that she can sit forlornly in some half-empty bookstore and sell two copies of her book. She’s on the road so that the local newspaper will run a feature, and the local radio station will invite her to talk up her book. She’s there to get FREE PUBLICITY. And if her subject matter is unique and interesting (not just another ho-hum serial killer story) she’ll get the media’s attention. Since VANISH is about a corpse who wakes up in the morgue, when I went on tour, I brought along a whole file of real-life examples of awakening corpses, which I’d gathered from national news sources. (One of the reasons I subscribe to Lexis-Nexis is that it makes newswire searches so easy.)

This fall, when I go on tour for MEPHISTO CLUB, I’ll be ready to talk about the Nephilim, an evil bloodline mentioned in ancient and Biblical texts. (see the historical background for MEPHISTO CLUB.) The fact I’ve written a crime thriller won’t interest the media. What will interest them, however, is the fact there’s a whole community of conspiracy theorists out there who believe that Nephilim have hijacked the leadership of the world in order to foment wars and bring on


In order to snag the media’s attention, though, reporters have to know about your book. So some of those marketing dollars go toward printing up galleys, assembling press kits, and mailing them to reporters. Most of the time, these efforts are done in-house by the publisher. But occasionally, with a special book, the publisher (or the author herself) will bring in an outside publicist to help with the effort.
How much does a private publicist cost? There’s a huge range of prices here. I’ve heard of publicists who charge only a few thousand dollars. The big names, however, will charge upwards of $20,000 for a national effort. Then there are others who will charge you by the region — $2,000 to publicize you in the San Diego market, for instance, or $3,000 for the Los Angeles market.

Along with the cost of a publicist is the cost of the book tour. Which means hotels (usually very nice ones!) and media escorts and airfare. Most authors fly coach, but because travel itineraries can change on a dime, the airline tickets must be flexible (meaning expensive.)

Finally, there’s the price of co-op. This is the money publishers pay to major booksellers for front-of-store display and in-store promotions. I haven’t been able to find out what it costs, but I’ve been assured that it’s “very expensive.” (And I wish someone who knows will email me with the numbers. I promise to keep it secret!) Co-op is the one thing that WILL increase sales of a book. A book on the front table in Barnes and Noble will immediately catch the eye of the consumer. Once the book is moved to the back of the store, its sales drop drastically.

I know. I’ve compared the sales figures on my own books, both on and off co-op.
The real problem is that you can’t just throw money at the chains and expect to get that front table; Barnes and Noble has to AGREE that your book should be on co-op. The space on that front table is limited, and only a select few titles are deemed worthy of it.

And only the rare title gets to purchase the best space of all: the Barnes and Noble stepladder.

For years, my books have hit bestseller lists, but I can’t get more than two weeks on the front table, even though my publisher is willing to pay for it. And the stepladder remains an impossible dream for me.

So, what’s the best spending strategy for a marketing campaign?
If I were a publisher, here’s where I’d put my money, in order of priority:
First: galleys, press kits, and mailings to the media. This can be done most cheaply in-house. (Ths is one of the things an author can do herself if she finds herself without publisher back-up.)

Second: bookstore co-op. If the book’s not at the front of the store and easily spotted, it’s not going to sell. The publisher should try to get as many weeks as possible on that front table.

Third: Book tour. You’ve got the author working for free as a traveling salesperson. If she’s media-genic and has a good story to tell, the publicity will come.

Fourth: hire an outside publicist. Yes, there are some things a well-regarded private publicist can do that an in-house publicist can’t. The private PR person often has special contacts within the media. Also, when a journalist gets a press kit from a nationally known publicity firm, he knows that this must be an important book, and will take a closer look at it.

Fifth: Newspaper ads. I’d start with USA Today. If the budget can absorb it, then also ads in the NYT Book Review or the NYT daily. You can back this up with additional ads in magazines such as People or Entertainment Weekly. Or in a fanzine like Romantic Times, which offers quite reasonable ad prices.

Sixth: If you’re really serious about promoting this book, there’s always TV.
(I haven’t mentioned online promotions here, because I’m not certain about their effectiveness. Also notice that I didn’t mention an author website; I just ASSUME that an author will take care of that absolutely essential promotional tool herself!)
Unfortunately, even a million-dollar promotional budget won’t ensure that a book will hit bestseller lists. Sometimes, the book’s just a dog. There are plenty of examples of publishers who’ve thrown fortunes behind a new author, only to get back 80% returns. But that’s the business. There are no guarantees.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What's your Pitch?

If you want to have television and radio interviews, you need to pitch to producers. A lot of sources will tell you to find what's hot in the news and find a way to weasel in on the story.

So, let's say you wrote a novel about an earthquake and suddenly San Francisco has its long-awaited shake down. Hmm, sounds like CNN might be interested in having you on as a guest. Should you pick up the phone and demand that your publicist call them?

Well…, hmmm, I don't recommend it.

This might sound a little silly to you, but you'd be surprised at how many authors call their publicist and request something like this. Chances are, however, that CNN will be able to find a real seismologist. Chances are also equally high that the viewers would be more interested in watching said seismologist explain why the earthquake was a certain magnitude, then listen about how you came up with the concept of writing a novel about an earthquake.

Another mistake that writers can make is to focus their pitch solely on their writing. Because every author writes, interviews about the writing life are not going to stand out. Unless you typed your manuscript with your toes, or were forced to pen your Magnum Opus on a park bench in NYC because you were homeless, why not make your Q&A stand out from among the other author press kits?

When looking for radio, magazine and television opportunities, the best tip I can give you is to make yourself interesting to their viewers or readership.

So, let's take our scenario earthquake book and consider this for a bit. For our purposes, let's also pretend that San Francisco is still standing.

You could try pitching something like this:

Is San Francisco really ready for the big one?

Nearly a million people live in San Francisco yet have no idea how devastating the expected earthquake will actually be. John A. Doe was shocked by what he discovered during his research for his novel, Earthquake—The Big One, and your listeners will be too. For a start, did you know that there are millions of little pockets of fossil fuel waiting to implode on us? The Queen of the Pacific has never been closer to sinking to the bottom of the ocean. I propose a guest appearance with John, where he'll tell us where the fiction ends and reality begins.

Okay, so I’m feeling a little tongue-in-cheek tonight, but you get the idea.

Barbara Warren ~ Author Interview

Barbara Warren lives on a farm in the beautiful Ozarks. She is a writer, editor, and Sunday school teacher. Her hobbies are reading and raising flowers. The Gathering Storm, her first novel, will be released from Jireh Publishers in September.

Plug time. What book or project is coming out or has come out that you’d like to tell us about?

My mystery novel, The Gathering Storm will be released in September this year. It’s set in the Ozarks where I live, close to the Missouri-Arkansas border. Stephanie Walker, the heroine had always felt rejected by her famous songwriter father, Marty Walker. When Marty is killed Stephanie becomes the main suspect and tries to solve the crime herself with the help of Brad Wilson, ex-con. The book deals with rejection, love and forgiveness, with a healthy dose of mystery.

Tell us about your journey to publication. How long had you been writing before you got the call you had a contract, how you heard and what went through your head.

It’s been a long road. I can’t remember when I first started writing. Even as a child I took a writing tablet on family trips and wrote. But then I married Charlie and I had a job and somehow writing got pushed aside. One day a local group held a writers conference in my hometown. I attended and won the humor contest and all of a sudden I had to write. I called some of the people who were at the conference and we started a writing group, which is still active. I started sending out stories and articles and sold several. Then I started working again, wrote off and on until I retired, but stopped sending anything out. Then after I quit work I finally I got serious about writing.

When I received the news that Jireh wanted to publish my manuscript I had a hard time believing it. A letter arrived in the mail saying they would send a contract in a few days.

I have enough rejection slips to paper my office. So it was very exciting.

The Gathering Storm is my first published novel, but Jireh is looking at the second in the series and I have a new project that I love. It’s a mystery about a group of women my age who talk like me and act like me. They’re bored and they decide to start a club solving murders as soon as they find one. It’s called Murder and the Sisters of the Do-Right All Faith Church. I’m having a wonderful time with it.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Yes. I think everyone does. Writers are a strange blend of arrogance (we believe people want to read what we write) and inferiority (we are sure no one will ever want to read what we write) When I have doubts they usually come at night when I’m tired. Then I’m sure I’ll never be able to write another word. I’m wasting my time. A real no one loves me, I’m going off and eat worms kind of mood. Then in the morning I turn on my computer and get started again. The problem is our writing is so much a part of us that we would have a hard time stopping.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I wasn’t persistent enough about marketing. You have to keep sending stuff out, keep studying to learn the craft. Accept the rejection slips as part of the business and keep trying. I love writing. I don’t love marketing, so I get lazy and that has hurt me. I’d do it differently if I had a chance to go back and start over.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

Study the markets. Get a Sally Stuart Christian Market Guide or a Writer’s Digest Market Guide, or both and study them. Look for publishers who handle the type of writing you do and target them. And I’d like to add, don’t be afraid of the small publishers who don’t pay advances. Get your foot in the door and keep trying.

What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve heard?

I was at a local writing conference and a brash young man was speaking. He told us to keep our group as a close community. Not open our writing groups to everyone, otherwise we’d have a lot of little old ladies in tennis shoes showing up and driving everyone crazy. Well, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how young you are, if you have the ability to write, then write and let God decide how He will use it. I’ve learned something from almost everyone I’ve met, regardless of age.
And I’d like to introduce myself. I am a “little old lady in tennis shoes.”

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

I wish I’d known more about how the publishing business actually works. All too often writers learn about the business of writing but neglect learning about the writing business, two entirely different things. We need to know both.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has been speaking to you lately?

There are so many scripture passages, which comfort me and speak to me, but the one on my editing brochure is a favorite. “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31 KJV. Those times when I have doubts I remember the Lord has promised I will fly like an eagle.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

Other than all of those rejections you mean? The funny thing about rejections, the more you get the less you mind them. They’re just a part of the writing life. When I took time off from writing to go back to work I had a difficult job, managing a deli in a grocery chain. I worked nine hours a day, but I had limited work hours to use with my employees, so if they didn’t show up I usually ended up working their shift too. By the end of the day I was too tired to write. After I quit work and started writing again and it was very difficult to pick up where I had left off. It was like starting over from the beginning. Since then I’ve tried to write something every day. Our writing muscles are like the rest of our muscles, they grow slack when we don’t use them.

What are a few of your favorite books?

I’m a great fan of the late Ann George. Her Southern Sisters mysteries like Murder Carries the Torch, Murder on a Bad Hair Day, Murder on a Girls’ Night Out, and Murder Boogies with Elvis, were the inspiration for my own Do-Right Sisters. Her books may be out of print now but I think they’re still available on Amazon.

I like Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn mysteries.

Anything by Hannah Alexander and Lori Copeland. And since I’ve started doing book reviews I’ve discovered so many great Christian writers. I’ve particularly enjoyed Judith Miller’s Freedom’s Path series and Kacy Barnett Gramckow The Genesis Trilogy. I could list a ton of others. All of the books I’ve reviewed were good and I enjoyed them very much. Christian Fiction has come a long way the last few years. I buy very few secular books anymore, and those are writers I’m familiar with and like.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

This is going to sound rather strange. But I used to do Children’s Church on Sunday morning and I wrote my own lessons. They are very simple, but I enjoyed them and the children I taught really seemed to like them. Those lessons used to teach godly principles to young children stands out as something special and important to me. They never earned me a cent and never will, but I believe God used them in His own way. I put the lessons in book form and handed them out to the Sunday school teachers in my church and they are still using them today.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Okay, this is going to sound very petty. Sometimes, because we’re writing for the Christian market, we can get the feeling that our stories came straight from God wrapped up in tissue paper and tied with a red ribbon. That attitude can affect our growth as writers. God gave the talent and it’s our job to learn all we can about writing, to constantly grow as writers. We should never stop striving to be better with every thing we write. It’s not glorifying God to do bad writing in his name.

I have an editing business, Blue Mountain Editorial Service, and ever time I get a manuscript with the words that “God gave me this. It practically flowed and I know it is inspired.” I cringe, because I know I’m in trouble. Any correction I make will offend. Because you see the writer didn’t write that. God did. And who am I to critique God’s writing. At a writer’s conference, an editor from Guideposts addressed this problem. She quoted from a reply she got from a rejection letter. “How dare you reject my manuscript? God dictated that. Don’t you recognize His writing?”

Funny, but a warning to each of us. If we write for the Christian market, we need to do the very best we can at that point in our writing career, but never be satisfied with our best. Keep learning, keep growing, and keep on getting better. God will bless our efforts.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing life?

I start by checking my e-mail right after breakfast. Then if I have a free morning, which doesn’t come all that often, I’m at my computer, writing or editing until eleven. I try to be back at the computer by one thirty and work on my manuscript, or some one else’s, or on my newsletter, until six. Then after dinner I sit at the kitchen table and do editing or work on my own manuscript using my Alpha Smart, or read books to be reviewed. I know that’s more than most writers can manage, but I’m retired, have no children, live on a farm, and hate to shop. So I have more time than most. Also I read fast and can write fast and that helps.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

Oh my. I need so much. Could I just have a smorgasbord, take a little here and a bit more there? I think every writer I read helps me in some way. I get an idea for a story of my own, I learn a bit more about characterization, or how to develop a scene. I really believe we learn more from reading other writers than we do from reading books on writing. So I’m not sure I can answer that question by naming one writer. So many people have helped me in so many ways.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

Well again, this is off the wall. I have a humor/ inspirational book, non-fiction, I’d like to see published. I’ve sent it out and people like it very much but it doesn’t fit their list. I teach a woman’s Sunday school class, and the book has most of the principles I’ve taught over the years, linked with funny stories about real people. I’d like to see it published. But God knows about it and if He wants it published, He’ll open up a way.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

No. I get discouraged, but I don’t think I could quit. My head is too full of stories and ideas. No matter how much I might want to quit, I think I’d still have to pick up a pen and put words on paper.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

My favorite part is rewriting. Once the story is down on paper I enjoy reading through it and making changes. That’s when the story really comes alive. My least favorite part? I suppose sending proposals out and waiting to hear. I got a rejection on a story the other day that had been out so long I had forgotten sending it out.

How much marketing do you do? Any advice in this area?

I’m a newbie at marketing. I’ve read everything I can find about marketing and it seems to me that the most important part, other than getting stores to handle your book, is name recognition. I know when I go to a bookstore, the names I recognize jump off the shelf at me, and those are the ones I reach for first. All we can do to get our names out there helps. Interviews like this one gives us a chance to show people what we’re like and maybe they’ll remember. Another thing I’ve learned is to thank everyone for everything they do for me. The other day I did an edit of a proposal for a writer. It didn’t take long. A few days later a lovely bouquet of flowers was delivered to my door. You can bet I’ll remember that writer’s name. But I also remember the ones who thank me for doing book reviews or putting their news in my newsletter. That’s one thing we can all do and it doesn’t cost a thing.

Parting words?

I really want to thank you for interviewing me. People like you do so much to promote others and I really appreciate it. And I’d like to say, never get discouraged if you don’t seem to be going anywhere. Just keep writing, keep learning, keep entering contests and sending stuff out. Never give up. There are more quitters than failures in this business. Do your best and God will do the rest.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

10 Tips to Help You Along Your Writing Journey ~ Mary DeMuth

I've learned a lot of surprising things as I've realized the dream of being published. For those of you in the midst of the pursuit, I offer a few snippets of advice that may help you along the journey.

1. Make friends.
When you go to a writers conference, be more consumed with making relationships with other writers who are in your stage of publication. These dear folk will become some of your closest friends. As you get published, you'll be able to seek advice, ask for prayer, and kindly request endorsements.

2. Get used to rejection.
It happens on every level of the publishing process. You'll be rejected by publishing houses, agents, magazine editors,people who DON'T want you to speak. And as you get published, there's more rejection heaped on. Now that I'm a "midlist" author, I experience yet another level of rejection, getting messages like, "Well, we'll talk to you in a few months, when we see whether your numbers are up." Ouch.

Repeat to yourself: rejection is normal; rejection is normal; rejection is normal.Rejection is the air you breathe in this crazy business.

3. Realize that publishing is a BUSINESS.

Though you may view your writing primarily as a ministry, the folks paying you advances see it in bottom-line terms. Be prepared to be a part of that. Realize that a lot of the onus for marketing will rest on your shoulders.

4. Kindness will preserve you.

Don't burn bridges. Don't be petty. Shun gossip. Yep, this is a weird business populated by all sorts of people. Realize it's a small community and word gets out.

5. Do your best NOT to be difficult.

Meet deadlines. Answer emails promptly.Listen, really listen, to your editor. Unless it's deeply important to you, acquiesce to their changes. That will allow you to go to bat for the things you think really shouldn't change. But always, always communicate with kindness and respect.

6. Make friends with folks in the industry whether they help your career or not.

I've made some lovely, lovely friends who I will probably never publish with. The fun thing, though, is that this is a fickle industry. Editors and agents and publishers move hither and yon all the time. Connect with all sorts of folks, not for the sake of your gain, but because Jesus is fascinated by people and you should be too. Pay attention to the people God puts in your life. Perhaps that editor will become a lifelong long friend.

7. Don't become so hootie-tootie for your own britches that you are beyond editing.
Make it a goal to write a better book (or article or column) each time. Be teachable. Become a lifelong learner of the craft. Go to conferences.

8. Give back whenever you can.

Teaching enables you to learn more. Consider that helping other people become better writers is a gift you give to the future. You never know the impact Jesus will make through another writer.

9. Get rid of jealousy.

Life's way too short to brood on someone else's talent or success. Rejoice with those who succeed. No sticking pins (or pens) into the hands or brains of successful writer voodoo dolls. (Say THAT ten times fast!)

10. Continue to read widely.

Read different genres, classics, poetry by Siouxsiepoet, pithy articles by the Bertrand-one, writing books, comics,and, of course, Watching the Tree Limbs. (Sorry, I'm simply obeying number 3. . . yeah, baby, the marketing onus is on my shoulders!) If you'd like to add more advice, start with number 11 in the comments section.

Mary E. DeMuth
Christ Follower. Novelist. Freelance Writer.
Author: Building the Christian Family You Never Had
and Watching the Tree Limbs:

Monday, July 24, 2006

Author/Magazine Editor Interview ~ Kurt Rheinheimer

Kurt Rheinheimer did graduate work in English at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. His stories have appeared in numerous journals, including Michigan Quarterly Review, Shenadoah, Glimmer Train, the South Carolina Review, and Quarterly West. He lives in Roanoke, Virginia, where he is Sr. Editor for Blue Ridge Country and The Roanoker magazines. His short story compilation, Little Criminals, won The Spokane Prize.

~Tell us about your short story compilation book, Little Criminals.

The stories were written and published—mostly in literary journals—over a period of almost 30 years. They seemed like the best of the 60 or so of their type that I’ve written.

You won the Spokane for short fiction. Tell us more about that—who issues that award and how one gets nominated and selected.

The Spokane Prize is awarded by Eastern Washington University, in an annual competition for short story collections. There is a monetary award and the other part of the prize is publication of the collection.

Do you think you’ll have a novel published one day or are you more comfortable in the short story arena?

I don’t think I’ll write a novel. I’ve been writing short stories for more than 30 years and that form is what I enjoy. There are two other collections—one of stories similar to those in Little Criminals and the other based on family experiences—that I continue to submit for publication, as yet to no avail.

Besides being a writer, you'
re also an editor. How did you get into that field?

My education was in English and communication arts, and then, after a master’s degree, I worked for 15 years or so in the social services field. In the meantime, I wrote stories and freelance material, including a silly column in The Roanoker magazine, called The Star City Seer. It was from that experience that I was hired as the magazine’s editor, in 1984.

What is most rewarding about your job as an editor?

Bringing to fruition a magazine that is full of good stuff to read.

The most challenging?

Finding good writers, especially those who’ll dig and investigate and invest the time needed to do great work.

How would a person go about breaking into the field of magazine editing?

Read read read all the magazines you can; come to understand what they do and why; write write write for magazines until you become indispensable.

How would you suggest a writer breaking in to your magazine?

The Roanoker: Great investigative or topical ideas and the willingness to pursue them.

Blue Ridge Country: Great, compelling contemporary (‘40s-‘70s) history pieces.

Do you still experience self-doubts regarding your work?

Every story is a new start and none is guaranteed to work; many languish or go nowhere. So yes, there is plenty of self-doubt.

What mistakes have you made while seeking publication?

I hope not many. I try to learn the markets I submit to—that’s important, I think.

What’s the best advice you’ve heard on writing/publication?

When your rejected piece comes back, get out a new set of envelopes—one to send it and one SASE—and send it out again.

What’s something you wish you’d known earlier that might have saved you some time/frustration in the publishing business?

Well, I once had a story accepted at Redbook—they said they got 30,000 pieces of fiction in the slush pile per year and took one of them; I then wasted a year of writing trying to write to the market. Write what you know and think and worry about where it’s published after it’s finished.

Is there a particularly difficult set back that you’ve gone through in your writing career you are willing to share?

See immediately above. Also, in many ways, it is one long difficult setback. Getting stories published is hard, and when they are, hardly anyone reads them. Collection publishing is even harder, and the same thing happens.

What are a few of your favorite books? (Not written by you.)

The Flannery O’Connor short stories
The first collection by Joyce Carol Oates “By The North Gate,” I think.
The Raymond Carver stories
Any story by John Updike
“Like Life,” a collection by Lorrie Moore.

What piece of writing have you done that you’re particularly proud of and why?

There’s a piece—non-fiction—due out in an anthology next spring (’07) called “The Bad Case: A 50th Birthday Love Letter,” which chronicles my love of an on-the-fringe interaction with the Baltimore Orioles. I’m proud of it because I have long counted myself the best fan the team has, and taking on this piece gave me the chance to prove it to myself and anybody who might read it.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

Read the magazine before you approach it about material.

Can you give us a view into a typical day of your writing and editing life?

Get up, run or otherwise sweat, go to work, read the paper at lunch, come home 5ish, eat, work in home office at least a half hour and hopefully longer, pick up the guitar, watch a few innings of the Orioles.

If you could choose to have one strength of another writer, what would it be and from whom?

From John Updike, the ability to write like the poet he is no matter what he’s writing.

Do you have a dream for the future of your writing, something you would love to accomplish?

To have the boy-eyed story collection published.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

There’s never been that thought per-se; there have been times when I got much less done than others. It was more neglecting than quitting.

How much marketing have you done for your book? Any advice in this area?

Very little: A couple of readings and a bookstore or two. I guess the advice is the same as about most things: You get out of it what you put into it.

Parting words?

Only the axiom from my grandfather: Take two and hit to right. Which translates, in life, I reckon, to something like, take your time, think about it, and do the best you can with what’s before you.

Book Description:

"The characters in Kurt Rheinheimer's first collection are players in the late innings of a tied ball game between hope and the limitations imposed by their histories, obsessions, affections, loyalties, and unspoken regrets. More real than the residents of Masters' Spoon River, more familiar than the denizens of Winesburg, Rheinheimer's people, young and old, look straight at us, as though waiting for us to remember that we are not alone in our struggle to understand and to become whole. Though the stories have the weight and reach we expect from serious fictioin, they also frequently tiptoe on the margins of hilarity. And the washed up ball players, hubcap collectors, minor league umpires, mobile home salesmen, and all the others we meet on our way through small town America also serve out generous helpings of charm."

Click here for more information.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

How to find Media if you're working your own publicity

If this is your first novel, you've most likely spent the majority of your time working on your craft. You may not have given much thought as how to publicize your novel. For this post, I decided not to use any of the tools available to me as a publicist and consider some ideas and resources that anyone can utilize.


Want to be on a National Show like Oprah? Try their website. Many have a list of shows that they are working on (usually found under the "Be On the Show"). See if you fit a show they are planning.


Did you know that at the beginning of most magazines there is a section that lists the names of the editors and contributors? You can also find the magazine's address. Spend some time in Barnes and Noble flipping through their periodicals. Find ones that might be interested in your novel. For example, if you write westerns, check out magazines about horses, rural life, and cowboys. If you're book is mom-lit, check out the parenting and baby magazines.


A quick google search of "newspaper reviewers" led me to this site: I suggest checking the paper's website to see if the contact information is still accurate. While you're there, see what other book reviewers are on staff and read their reviews. You may decide to send your novel to one of those.

Local TV and Radio:

Check out Type in your city and state. At the bottom they compile a list of radio and television signals that are strongest in your area. Most of these stations will have a website with contact information.

We all know blogs are a great way to network. Contact your local library and learn what groups in your area to support writers. Google book review sites and read their submission guidelines.

Anyone else want to throw in a few suggestions?

Jacqueline Winspear ~ Author Interview

Jacqueline Winspear is the author of three previous MAISIE DOBBS novels, Maisie Dobbs, Birds of a Feather and Pardonable Lies. Maisie Dobbs won the Agatha, Alex, and Macavity Awards, and Birds of a Feather won the Agatha Award. Originally from the U.K., Winspear now lives in California.

What new book or project would you like to tell us about?

My new book, MESSENGER OF TRUTH, will be published on August 22nd - I am very excited about it. You can read more about the book by going to the following link:

Tell us about your publishing journey. How long had you been writing before you got a contract? How did you find out and what went through your mind?

MAISIE DOBBS was my first novel, started in Spring 2000. I was working full-time and also had a life-coaching practice as well – but I did have a flexible schedule which allowed me time to write. I stopped work on the novel completely at one point, mainly because I moved, got married, and generally had many other life issues to deal with, including recovery from a serious horse-riding accident.

It was during my convalescence that I completed MAISIE DOBBS – at the end of August 2001. I bought a copy of Jim Herman’s book – A Guide to Book Publishers, Editors & Literary Agents – and read through the section on agents. I made a list of 30 agents whom I thought might be interested in my work, then I divided that list into three groups of 10 – groups A, B and C. I could only afford to send out 10 proposals at a time, so I thought that by the time I had received all the refusals from the first 10, I would be ready to send out the next lot.

I sent out the first batch of proposals during the first week of September 2001 – and at that stage I had only a first draft of the manuscript, mainly because I was still only half-way through my physical therapy rehab and didn’t have the energy to revise. I had calls from three agents within two weeks of that mailing going out and within two months had signed with one of those agents. I worked on some suggestions made by my agent, and also made my own changes. She went out to publishers a couple of months later, and the book was sold within another month. That takes us up to spring 2002 – and MAISIE DOBBS was published in June 2003.

At every step of the way, I thought to myself, “At least I made it this far.” By the time I knew I had an agent, I was thinking, “Now I’m in the game, I’ve got an agent.” And all the time I felt so grateful, so fortunate. And I still do, nothing is taken for granted. I feel so lucky to be doing something I love to do.

Do you still have self-doubts about your writing?

I wouldn’t trust myself if I felt completely confident. The only thing I don’t doubt is that I will meet my deadline – I am good with deadlines. They’re there for a reason, so I always make them.

Was there ever a time in your writing career you thought of quitting?

No, never. But then I have never thought of writing as a “career” or a “job.” It’s work I would do whether I had another job or not. I have only been a full-time writer for two years. This is something from which I will never retire – writing is what I do.

What mistakes did you make while seeking an editor or agent?

I don’t know that I made “mistakes” as such – I had a plan and it bore fruit, so I don’t think I would have changed anything.

Do you have a pet peeve having to do with this biz?

No. Publishing is a business, and that’s the first thing you have to keep in mind as an author. As a business it has to make a profit to remain viable and it has to pick its winners to back and it has to keep a raft of shareholders happy.

I think authors who familiarize themselves with the business will have an easier time being part of the team working to bring a book into the market – because the fact is that when you are writing your book, you’re on your own, but as soon as the book is submitted to your editor and it goes into production, you are part of a team, although obviously you have the strongest connection to what is, in effect, a product.

I know that seems a tough perspective, but it’s no secret that the publishing industry runs on some pretty tight margins – it’s not oil or pharmaceuticals. When you think of the hundreds of thousands of books published every year, I think that shows a real leap of faith – as does the emergence of new, small publishers, which keep a balance in the marketplace to counter the influence of the big monolithic “media” organizations.

What do you wish you’d known early in your career that might have saved you some time and/or frustration in writing? In publishing?

I believe that everything happens at the right time, even if that right time means a long wait. I’m happy with the manner in which events have unfolded in my work as a writer.

Was there ever a difficult setback that you went through in your writing career?

Not really. I think I have to answer this in such a positive manner because I didn’t know what to expect when I began writing fiction – so even if there was a setback, I wouldn’t have known it then.

What are a few of your favorite books?

This is a smattering from a cast of thousands:

East of Eden by John Steinbeck; USA by John Dos Passos; A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway; Everything ever written by Jane Austen; Tender is the Night and The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald; The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico; Precious Bane by Mary Webb; As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee; Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham; The works of Graham Greene; White Teeth by Zadie Smith; And generally, I love anything by the following authors: P.D. James, Susan Isaacs, Susan Howatch.

What work have you done that you’re especially proud of and why?

The work I am most proud of has nothing to do with any of my books. It was the part I was privileged to play in getting someone else’s book published. There’s an instructor at UCLA Extension that I really admire, and I try to join her classes whenever I can – her name is Barbara Abercrombie. A core group of us have come back to Barbara’s classes time and time again, and together we played a part in publishing a book of which we are all very, very proud. I can only tell a small part of the story here, but I hope it will inspire people.

Nancy Davenport came along to The Illuminated Writer as a beginner. At seventy-two years of age, she was past retirement and wanted to tell her story. Each time Nancy read her work in class, that story unfolded – and we were all absolutely captivated. She made us laugh, cry, shake our heads in disbelief and ask when the next piece was coming. I was just thrilled to see her back again at the next class, and the next. She already had emphysema, so when she began to have trouble speaking, we thought it would pass. We took it in turns to read her work, often penned in her beautiful handwriting.

In spring 2005 Nancy was diagnosed with ALS – Lou Gehrig’s disease (“And I’ve never even held a baseball,” she said). As she lost the ability to speak, so her voice on the page became louder – and still she came to class until she could walk no more. We knew she was dying, and knew, too, that her dearest wish was to have her work published, to hold her book in her hands.

As soon as Nancy delivered the final chapter at the beginning of February 2006, we set to work along with the amazing people at iUniverse, who pulled out the stops so we had early copies one month later. Barbara Lodge, one of our classmates who was helping to care for Nancy, placed a copy in her hands in the first week of March and we had a “publication party” at her bedside on March 12. Nancy died three days later.

Her memoir is called, ETERNAL IMPROV, and is available at You will see that my name is listed there too – I had nothing to do with the writing of the book, but when you put a book into production with iUniverse, all the contact names are published on the webpage.

When we walked into Barbara’s memoir class in April, I felt as if Nancy would come though the door at any time, leaning on her walker, ready to sit down and read another of her stories, or offer words of encouragement to someone else. Her book sits on my desk at home, as if the title itself were there to remind me that life, like writing, is an eternal improv.

I should add that I am often asked why I go to the classes – the assumption being that because I’m already a published author, I wouldn’t need such a thing. My answer is always the same – creativity is a muscle, and if you don’t use it, it’ll atrophy; if you don’t cross-train, you’ll never go beyond the plateaus that come along time and time again. There’s an athleticism with words to be gained in writing exercises, along with the camaraderie and encouragement of other writers. There are many ways to exercise that creativity muscle – this is just one of mine.

Do you have a scripture or quote that has spoken to you lately in regards to your writing?

God grant me the fear to keep me succeeding.

(and most of the time, that “succeeding” means actually finishing a book!)

Can you give us a look into a typical day for you?

When I am writing a novel, I like to get to my writing as soon as I can in the morning. Once I have finished writing for the day, I have many emails to deal with, along with the administrative work that goes along with being a writer. And I have to leave time for research, which represents an investment of several hours per day. But I also have to fit in walking my dog and riding my horse, so I am a busy person each and every day.

Do you have a word or page goal you set for each day?

Minimum 1500 words

Are you an SOTP (seat of the pants) writer or a plotter?

Probably a bit of both. I mean, I like to have a map, but the great thing about having a map is that you are more likely to wander off the beaten track in search of adventure.

What author do you especially admire and why?

There are many, many authors for whom I am filled with admiration; however, one in particular always comes to mind. Though she is a long-established author, I think it has been during the past seventeen years or so that Susan Howatch has demonstrated her extraordinary gift for combining a depth of scholarship with commercial fiction in a way that is witty, intelligent, insightful and though-provoking.

Starting with her “Starbridge” series, and now with the series based upon the fictional St. Benet’s healing ministry, Howatch has proven herself to have a wonderful gift in writing for the broadest readership in novels that show both a depth of compassion and academic endeavor. Her work is complemented by an understanding and empathy for the human condition, along with a religious scholarship. I think she writes really, really good books.

What is your favorite and least favorite part of being a writer?

Bottom line - I love writing and I feel blessed that this is now my day job as well as something I love to do, but I do not like the actual business of travel, because I do a lot of it in connection with my writing. And when I say I dislike the travel, I mean the flying, or driving or whatever – I’m fine once I get to my destination, as it is always just great to meet the people who read my books. But I am also rather scared of flying now, so that adds to the pressure.

Do you have any parting words of advice?

I really believe that if you can see something, you can make it happen. Call it the power of visualization, if you like. I never saw my first novel as anything but a published book – it was never just a manuscript. For example, I’m no artist, but I designed a cover, stuck it on a ring binder, and each day I added my finished pages so that at the end I had a “book.” The extraordinary thing is that the cover design for the first edition of MAISIE DOBBS was along the same lines as the amateurish design I had come up.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Associate Publisher Interview ~ Chip MacGregor, Part III

How important are writer’s conferences to the new writer?

I think writer’s conferences are a great way for newbies to get educated in the process of writing. Hanging around a bunch of experienced people in your chosen field is ALWAYS an excellent idea. If you want to be a mechanic, you hang around mechanics. If you want to be a millionaire, you hang around millionaires. It’s nice to find somebody a bit further down the path.

Do you think a new author should start by writing the easier to place books, (like sweet romances, etc.) even if it’s their heart’s desire to write a gothic thriller or whatever?

I do. In fact, I’d suggest a new author start with something much shorter – articles, reviews, short stories. Every new writer needs to learn the craft, needs a place to be bad. That’s one of the biggest problems newer writers face today – they have heard all these wonderful stories about writers getting published, and they assume it happened overnight, so it could happen to them. It’s the curse of the internet, or maybe the curse of MacDonalds – “You can have it now, without waiting!”

Unfortunately, good things take time.

I’m a ballroom dancer. I sometimes teach swing dancing. If you’re a total clod out there on the floor, I can help you get the basic movements in less than an hour. You won’t be Fred Astaire, but you won’t be Frankenstein either. I can teach just about anybody how to survive on a dance floor. Still, you can expect it’ll be awhile before you’re replacing the lead in 42nd Street.

Describe a dream author’s attributes.

He (and feel free to replace with “she”) can write like Mark Twain.
He has ideas bigger than Alvin Toffler.
He has the platform of Oprah Winfrey.
He solicits input into his ideas.
He is flexible, but he knows his own mind.
He listens to advice and input.
He meets his deadlines.
He helps us sell his book.
He looks for ways to help us make him more successful.
He says yes to our marketing requests.
He works to understand the business of publishing.
He sees me as his partner in the business of writing.
He makes an effort to work with me.
He occasionally says thanks.
When he has a complaint about me or my team, he comes directly to me with it.
He makes us a lot of money.
He only sends me one email every other day.
He sends me Starbucks products at Christmastime.

Who do you like to read?

I love everything Ross Thomas ever wrote, and just about everything Helen MacInnes ever wrote. I think William Shakespeare was a genius with words, Mark Twain the greatest American writer ever (the man could create clear and clever prose while half drunk and falling off a log), and that modern Americans should read both.

I love Barbara Tuchman, Mark Helprin, Tom Pynchon, Lauren Winner. I think Haven Kimmel is a genius, Sebastian Junger the writer we all aspire to be. I believe people overlook the great writing style of P.G. Wodehouse, Russell Baker, and Dave Barry (yes, THAT Dave Barry), and that people are afraid of Dostoyevsky needlessly. Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, and Frederick Buechner have been the most influential spiritual writers in my life.

If you want me to name people who aren’t as famous, I also like many of the writings of Sue Monk Kidd, Davis Bunn, Tom Bodett (of Motel 6 fame), Garrison Keillor, Robert Fulgham (yeah, it’s dopey, but I love it), and Lisa Samson. Some people have this image of me as being too negative, but I believe I see several young writers in CBA who have incredible potential to write something great.

What should aspiring novelists be reading?

Hmm… I think aspiring novelists should be reading great writing, not just the same old stuff everybody in their genre is reading. Read HUCKLEBERRY FINN, LITTLE DORRIT, NOSTROMO, CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, 100 YEARS OF SOLITUDE, E.M. Forster, Lewis Carroll, and Jane Austin. Pick up a copy of IN THE BEGINNING by Alistair McGrath to see where books came from, and DICKENS FUR COAT by Daniel Pool to discover the roots of the modern novel. If you want to see where we get our American novels, start with Twain, then try AN AMERICAN TRAGEDY, something from Carl Sandburg, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, and Saul Bellow. Don’t miss THE SOTWEED FACTOR, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, CATCH 22, FARENHEIT 451, THE JOY LUCK CLUB, OF MICE AND MEN, and, maybe, THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD. You’ve probably heard what to read from somebody else. But don’t miss C.S. Lewis or Chaim Potok or Victor Hugo’s LES MISERABLES. And read books on how to write better. I enjoy the work of Noah Lukeman, Patricia O’Connor, and Carolyn See.

I’ve heard Hachette Book Group will only work with proven authors, is that true?

Nope. I’m always looking for great writers. I’ll admit that a track record helps, but it’s not true that we only work with people who have done a lot of publishing.

What genres are you actively pursuing; and must an author be agented to query?

Actively pursuing women’s contemporary fiction and suspense thrillers. Would love to find a writer of legal thrillers.

What are you most encouraged about when it comes to CBA fiction? Least?

I’m most encouraged by the new writers with great talent. Some names: Ray Blackston. Ginger Garrett. Sigmund Brouwer. Davis Bunn. Charles Martin. Siri Mitchell. Lisa Samson. Rene Gutteridge. They’re taking us in new directions, publishers are suddenly willing to move in those directions, and the whole of CBA fiction is looking good.

I’m least encouraged by…ack! I hate this question. It’ll make me sound negative. Um…okay, recently I was asked to help with a fiction writing contest. (There have been several, so nobody can trace this back to any one contest or group.) I read the finalists. I kept thinking… “These are the FINALISTS? There was a group of experienced writers who PICKED these as finalists?” They were awful. Every one of them. They were everything I speak out against – trite, stupid stories, stupid names, overwrought dialogue, everything pat. I would guess what was going to happen on the next page and invariably be correct. In the end I helped choose a winner based on the fact that “I hated this one the least.” To me, with all the good fiction being produced in CBA, and the incredible opportunities for growing our writing, I couldn’t believe this was the best people could do. Very discouraging.

But then, I keep in mind that “these people need a place to be bad.” (They certainly qualified.) So I keep spreading the message, and hoping writers are listening.

What new trends do you see in the way of fiction? Non-fiction?

Trends that are working in CBA include creative nonfiction, humor, fiction books that are focused on relationship, charismatic titles, nicely designed interiors, and the use of agents by authors. Trends that are not working include children’s books, homeschooling, most men’s titles and many audio titles, art-based gift books, and old-line CBA thinking.

The biggest change we’re facing is the delivery system to consumers – they’re walking into Wal-Mart instead of Betty’s Dove Book Shop to purchase their Christian books. I think future trends will include the continued slide of denominations and the rise of the postmodern church, an emphasis on volunteerism and self-help, even more of an emphasis on speed, and a whole new slate of Christian experts/spokespersons.

What’s your favorite chick-lit book?

Sophie Kinsella’s CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC. But I know this is a trick question. A couple of people have been suggesting that I hate chick-lit. (A curse from Camy and bloggers like her who fail to grasp my brilliance.) Not true. I just think we’ve explored the misunderstood-girl-with-chubby-thighs-who-works-in-publishing-in-New-York-and-has-struggles-with-her-relationships-but-a-heart-of-gold story line. For goodness sake, give us something else.

We’re starting to see that. Tracey Bateman’s CLAIRE books are great, and Laura Walker’s novels at Westbow have real charm. There are undoubtedly others.

What accomplishment, writing, agenting, publishing, etc, industry-wise, are you most proud of?

From an industry perspective, it’s easy to point to a couple of big winners – when Lisa Beamer’s LET’S ROLL hit #1 on the NYT bestseller list, I knew I’d hit the big time. That was a special moment. When I finally got publishers to buy Donald McCullough’s THE CONSOLATIONS OF IMPERFECTION and Mary Jenson’s OVER SALSA AND HOT BREAD and Marcia Ford’s MEMOIR OF A MISFIT (three of the most well-written books I ever represented), that meant a lot, even though none of the books sold. And I’m still married, after 24 years, even though I’m difficult. There’s a real accomplishment.

Still, from a personal perspective, I think I’ve helped a lot of people. I think there are writers out there who have read my posts and learned a bit from me. Maybe I’ve helped them move forward. I have set up a bunch of writing groups and mentor/protégé relationships – some of which I’ll never even know about. That’s been probably the most meaningful thing to me.

What’s your best advice for aspiring novelists? Non-fiction writers?

Writing is hard work. Approach it that way.

Is there something writing-wise that you’re working on and can talk about?

Sure. Right now I’m working on a book about the Great Schism of 1378. The Roman Church was falling apart. The plague had killed more than one-third of the priests in Europe. People were beginning to see themselves as nations. Governments were tired of the Church dictating to them. The people were in desperate need of spiritual guidance. When the Pope (who had been living in Avignon) died, the College of Cardinals gathered to elect a replacement. Dominated by Frenchmen, they were determined to elect another French pope. The Roman people encircled St Peter Basillica, demanding an Italian.

About 11 o’clock at night, they put the pope’s mitre on an 80 year old Italian priest and pushed him outside to wave at the crowd. The people, thinking they had their pope, went home to bed. Two hours later, the Frenchmen elected a French pope (a terrible human being who had been accused of slaughtering civilians while a soldier), then got out of Dodge. The next morning the people discovered the duplicity and rioted. They forced the Italian cardinals to elect an Italian pope. They foolishly chose an illiterate country priest they thought they could control – unfortunately, he was mentally ill, had moments of extreme violence, and was even more manipulative than the cardinals who elected him.

The church thus had two popes: an Italian in Rome, and a Frenchman in Avignon. They each had their armies, fighting each other, and it led to some tragic-comic moments – before one battle, both climbed ladders and excommunicated the soldiers on the other side. (Pope A: “You’re going to hell!” Pope B: “No, YOU’RE going to hell!”) With a weakened treasury, the church couldn’t do as much in the world. Their influence in civil affairs waned. They offered absolutely no spiritual leadership to the masses of people who wanted a leader, but didn’t know who to believe. One monk in England wrote, “The church has become a whore and a laughingstock; the butt of every joke.” This went on for more than forty years. (The modern Roman church calls this “the Babylonian Captivity of the Papacy,” and try to suggest some evil leaders tricked the church into moving the pope to France, but I don’t know of any non-Catholic scholars that accept that explanation. This was a disaster of major proportions, brought on by the church’s own corruption.)

How to resolve the situation? They couldn’t call a church council, since only a pope can convene a council – the French wouldn’t attend a council called by the Italians, and vice versa. Eventually some cardinals got together and resolved the situation by sacking both men and electing a third…but neither man stepped down, so for a time they Roman church actually had THREE popes.

From this situation rose some of the worst practices of the medieval church – selling indulgences to raise money, the violent questioning of suspects, an insistence on blind following of the leader. And yet, at the same time, it gave rise to reform movements – people who wanted to see the church become pure and strong again. From this sprung holiness groups, the rise of civil governments, the conciliar movement, and the Protestant Reformation. It’s a fascinating story that touches on history, doctrine, politics, leadership, and organizational influence. I’m writing about it for Random House.

Parting words?

Always take your wallet on stage with you.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Associate Publisher Interview ~ Chip MacGregor, Part II

Can you explain the process a publishing board goes through in deciding to publish a book?

We generally start by drawing a pentagram on the floor in goat’s blood…oh, wait. You probably don’t need that much detail, right? Okay, let me give you the big picture. I’m going to assume you mean the editor has already worked with the author and agent to get the proposal in shape, so that it already has a salable idea, strong writing, and a clear sense of the author’s platform.

The first hoop to jump through is always that of finding an editor who actually likes your proposal. The editor will then generally bring the idea to an editorial group meeting, just to bat it around with other editors and get ideas for improving it (or to be told nobody else likes the idea or the writing…or maybe they just don’t like the author).

The next step is to refine the proposal and, at least at our house, to bring it before our Nashville group so as to get recommendations from somebody in sales and somebody in marketing. Assuming it gets past that group, the proposal is then brought to our Pub Board – the final authority on which books we’ll choose to publish. Our PubCom is a broad group – a handful of key sales people, some representatives from our marketing and advertising division, our business manager, our publisher, even the president of our company. That means there is a conglomeration of people from both Nashville and our NY offices, and we come together to discuss the viability of the projects that have made it this far.

Everybody has read the proposal beforehand, and done research on the author and the idea, so we all come ready to discuss it. (Really. As a matter of fact, I was always surprised when I would talk to CBA sales types, and they would admit to not being readers. I know of one publisher who offered a cash bonus to any sales rep who showed up at a pub board meeting having read a book by the author they were considering. I’m not exaggerating. And these are the guys you’re relying on to get your books into the stores… Fortunately, HBG/USA has a reputation for having one of the strongest sales teams in the industry.)

Anyway, at that meeting the editor who has worked with the author and agent presents the book, introduces everyone to the author, and talks a bit about the unique strengths of the project. Sales makes their projections, marketing talks about the promotional opportunities, and we basically try to come to agreement – Can we publish this book successfully? Does it fit our publishing program? Is it a big idea? Do we like the writing? Does the author have a track record? Is there a built-in market for the project? Who will buy it? How will we market it? In the end, the decision is largely made on group enthusiasm based on our research and discussion.

I sometimes don’t agree with the decision, but I’d say in the huge majority of cases the bulk of us are in agreement, whether it is thumbs up or thumbs down. We make the decision then and there, after that it’s up to the editor to either share the bad news or negotiate a deal with the agent.

Besides stellar writing, what can an author do to increase their chances of getting a book contracted?

Hate the question. It makes it sound like there is a trick, and if the potential writer learns the trick, he or she can also get published. In my view, that’s a crock. Every book proposal needs three things: a great idea, great writing, and a great author platform. Rarely a publisher will agree to do a book based on just one of those factors (for example, a celebrity book based solely on the fact that the author is well known), but they will often make the decision based on two factors.

So if you’ve got a great idea, by all means begin working to build a great platform, and spend time working on the craft in order to become a better writer. I have often seen pretty good book ideas presented to me that are attached to terrible writing by unknown authors. And the fact is, I can’t buy your book based on the fact that you woke up with a good idea. In my experience, good ideas occur all the time. The rare event is when a writer with a good idea determines to put in the time required and express that idea in a coherent and entertaining manner.

So this question actually skips over an important point: the easiest thing for an author to do in order to get published is to improve the craft of his or her writing. There are a million venues for doing that – critique groups, writer conferences, mentors, books, classes, etc. Again, I feel as though the reason most wannabe authors remain unpublished is because they just aren’t willing to put in the time, to do the hard work and become better at the craft of writing. In other words, laziness will keep you from being a great writer. Given the chance, inertia will dominate. And then you can make yourself feel better by saying, “I COULD have been a great writer, if only I’d put my mind to it.” It reminds me of the high school student who waits to write his paper until the night before it is due. Then he stays up all night, bangs it out, gets a C+, but tells himself, “That’s because I waited. If I would have started earlier, I’d have gotten an A.” It’s a gentle way of lying to ourselves.

If you want to get published, the BEST thing you can do it to become a better writer. As I’ve said a million times, greatness will out. I don’t know of any great writer who goes unpublished.

Okay, but your question was what will improve the odds aside from becoming a better writer…and the answer is simply, “Work on those other two areas.” But I hate saying that. Why? Because I don’t like telling people, “Come up with better ideas.” It just seems lame, like telling me to dunk a basketball or suggesting that I try to look “more like Brad Pitt.” Some things are simply out of my range.

Truth be told, I don’t really know where good ideas come from. Sometimes they come from research (“we found that 47% of readers at Borders wanted to see someone use science-based murder investigation procedures on the Waco incident”), other times from looking at the culture (“we saw all the interest in American Idol, so we decided to do a novel based on that storyline”). Often great ideas come from our own needs (“I never knew how to study my Bible, so I researched and came up with a great plan for teaching yourself Bible study methods”). And sometimes you can just look at classic books and realize our culture needs it’s own voice on the topic (“no 25 year old mom wants to hear what a 70 year old grandpa has to say about raising little kids – we decided to find a young, fresh parenting expert”). But I don’t have some secret for generating great ideas. They just come – and they’re not all equal. Perhaps the best thing that happens to a mature writer isn’t just the ability to write with more clarity, but to evaluate the worth of all the ideas they come up with and focus on the real winners.

I’m also not a huge fan of talking to authors about their platform. It’s just not my area of expertise, and I feel pretty lame saying to people, “Become famous. Go get yourself your own TV show or establish yourself as an expert speaker.” There are plenty of other people who do a great job of explaining this (Ellie Kay is a fine example in CBA – check out her tapes at conferences), so I’ll leave it to the experts.

One more thing needs to be said about this
topic… 90% of the stuff I reject is rejected for one reason: it isn’t good

The idea is weak or trite or unclear. The writing is elementary or pedantic or flowery. The author has no platform and no plans to get one. Compare writing to playing the piano – you wouldn’t sit down at a piano one morning, plunk out some notes, and expect that by the afternoon somebody should be paying to hear you play. You probably wouldn’t assume that your first attempt at composing a melody line will have much depth or be musical genius.

To create something good enough that people will pay money to hear you play it will require a huge investment on your part. Hours of practice, every day, for years. Experienced teachers. A broad array of musical influences. Even then, there is no guarantee you’re any good – innate talent plays a role in your career choices. Using that as a contrast, why would we expect a newbie writer to be any good? Why would you assume that, because you thought up a plot line, it has some element of quality to it? Let me suggest that you can do yourself a favor by doing some self-editing (not all your ideas are great) and by getting some perspective (listening to others tell you that not all your ideas are great). But stop looking for “the secret that will get you published” and start treating this like any other art form.

What is your pet peeve when it comes to the business of publishing?

1. “My best friend told me this is a fabulous idea. She’s a cook at our local junior high.” (Hint: Your friends love you. They’re not going to say anything bad about your writing. They probably also don’t know diddly about writing or publishing.)

2. “I can turn this manuscript in the first of August. I need the book out by the start of my conference speaking in October.” (Hint: Most major houses require your completed manuscript to be turned in twelve months before copies hit store shelves. Yes, we can sometimes crash the schedule for a timely or important book…but you wouldn’t believe how hard it is to do that. Wise up. You’re better off having that long lead time – it allows the marketing department to create buzz for your book, the sales department to talk with their accounts about your title, the publicity department to get your book reviewed, and the editorial department to thoroughly work out all the manuscript problems. When you try to speed that up, you increase the probability of errors in all parts of that system. Patience is a virtue. In publishing, it’s a necessity.)

3. “I would NEVER allow you to cross-collateralize my contract! I read on the View that it’s the tool of Satan!” (Hint: Do you have any idea what it costs for Hachette to produce your book? Not just the advance, but the investment of personnel and time? Publishing is a partnership. Allowing me to spread our risk over a couple or three books makes it more likely you’re going to actually get published. Besides, if you can’t explain what cross-collateralizing is, you probably don’t understand it enough to be talking it down. It’s intellectually dishonest – like criticizing people from another country for doing something that doesn’t make sense without ever studying them to understand their culture.)

How true is the adage it’s all in who you know? Is networking really that important?

OF COURSE networking is important. Good grief. Name the job in this country where networking is unimportant. (I’m waiting. Anyone? Anyone? Bueller?) Let’s say I have one slot to fill and two equally worthy projects. One of them is from a person I don’t know. The other is from a person I’ve met, who has made an effort to get to know me and my company. A writer who has proven she knows how to listen to advice and put it into practice in her work. Someone I met at a writers conference and was impressed by her insight. An individual I like, who I’m comfortable with, who has proven she’s not a pain. [Gina: oh shoot, until the "not a pain" part, I was so sure you were talking about me.] Given that scenario, and the fact that the two ideas are of equal worth to me, the writing in both proposals is good, and the platforms about the same…who do I choose? Who would you choose?

Get to know people in the industry. Go to industry events. Attend writer conferences. Stop to introduce yourself to people. Be prepared to talk knowledgably about books and writing. Rub shoulders with people. Have a conversation about normal life – don’t make it seem like your book is the start and end of your life. You’re going to find some editors and publishers become friends. I met Julie Barnhill at a gathering of women writers years ago. She came over, introduced herself to me, and was both friendly and pleasant. We struck up a conversation. Eventually I became her agent. Ditto Mary DeMuth, who I met at the Mount Hermon conference several years back.

There are a bunch of others with a similar story. I found Siri Mitchell to be very talented as well as a knowledgeable individual. I thought Ginger Garrett was delightful, AND she could sit and talk Braves baseball with me. Sure, all of these people had talent, but they also came across as normal people who I might meet and be friends with (assuming I actually HAD friends…and that I could recognize normalcy.) Of course, the reverse of this is true as well: Don’t be a pest. I was at a conference recently, and I had this one guy more or less stalk me. Every time I turned around, he was there, a dopey smile on his face, pushing his lousy book idea, trying too hard to be my best friend. He gave me the creeps. I don’t care if he sends me something great, I’m not going to publish him because then I’d have to deal with the clown on a regular basis, and life is too short to be surrounded by Mr. Weirdness and the Children of Doom.

How can an author take their work from good to great?

This is my favorite question, because I get to prattle on and sound like an expert, and I’m fairly certain the writers reading this will actually get something out of my answer.

1. Improve your vocabulary. (It’s okay to find your readers occasionally have to get up and go get their dictionary while reading your book. Growth is a good thing.)

2. Find your voice. (This is my favorite writing topic, of course. Most writers seem to be pretending they are still writing an English paper. Kill the teacher in your head. You’re writing your life. You’re writing to a friend. You are NOT writing for a grade. You are NOT writing to show off. You are revealing yourself via verbs and nouns.)

3. Get organized. (Every book requires research and planning. EVERY book.)

4. Know your topic. (If you don’t, you’re wasting your time. And if you send it to me, you’re wasting MY time. I won’t waste it on you again.)

5. Learn to set the mood. (Your emotional tone should shine through your writing.)

6. Develop a sense of rhythm. (Short sentences speed up your pace.)

7. Refine your ability to use imagery. (Your images should be…as clear as a Siamese cat wearing a red coat and dancing the Highland Fling. Or something.)

8. Be clear.

9. Don’t belabor the obvious.

10. Learn to create strong leads and stronger closings. (Grab me. Then send me off to ponder.)

11. Meet great characters and reveal them on the page. (If you don’t know these people, if you don’t know their setting, you’re about to write a crummy book.)

12. Read your dialogue out loud to yourself. (Your ear will catch anything dishonest.)
13. Make sure you have a story to tell. (And remember that every story has conflict.)

14. Write in scenes, and let every scene raise the stakes. (Every story has beats to it. Learn to think in paragraphs.)

15. Show us the journey. (I want to be moved. I want to read your story and be changed.)

16. Write with verbs and nouns. (Stolen from ELEMENTS OF STYLE. Still the best writing advice I know.)

17. Work as hard on every sentence as you do on your lead. (Don’t get lazy.)

18. Shut up and listen to your editor.

19. Write every day. (Nothing will move your career forward faster.)

20. Read widely. (And read something different from your own stuff.)

21. Go back and rewrite. (Don’t assume it was perfect the first time.)

22. Depth is found when multidimensional characters that I can relate to face timeless questions in complex circumstances, then make decisions that are open to interpretation…so they may not be right. (THAT’S what causes me to learn, what helps me to understand myself, what leaves me thinking about your book. And this can’t be faked – so don’t write with an agenda. Nothing is more boring than to read a polemic. We’re tired of both Rush Limbaugh’s outrage and Al Franken’s posturing. They’re going to spend hell together, arguing their points.)

How important are writer’s conferences to the new writer?

To be continued tomorrow ...

Monday, July 17, 2006

Associate Publisher Interview ~ Chip MacGregor, Part I

Jerry Chip MacGregor (note the lack of “ ” on either side of Chip) is an Associate Publisher with the Hachette Book Group USA, formerly the Time Warner Book Group. He oversees the editorial function for two imprints, Warner Faith and Center Street. The former is the line of Christian books produced in the US by Hachette, the latter is the “heartland” publishing initiative for the company, offering fiction and nonfiction books that reflect the values of middle America.

Chip would like to think he is notorious in Christian publishing circles for being (a) a snappy dresser, (b) an insightful critic of writing and books, and (c) an international bon vivant. In reality, he’s a bit of a pain. Many know him for being a successful literary agent for years with Alive Communications – a place where he represented such luminaries as Brennan Manning, Michelle McKinney Hammond, Lisa Beamer, and dozens of others. Others recognize the name from having spoken at more than a hundred Christian writers conferences (clearly the man has too much time on his hands).

What you might not know is that Chip comes from an immigrant family (his grandparents came over from Scotland), grew up in Witch Hazel, Oregon, in a household where neither of his parents went to high school, and was the first person in his family to ever graduate from college. He was first published at the age of 8 (a letter to the editor), got his first real job in publishing while he was in college (copy editor for Clearing, a magazine for junior high science teachers), graduated with a Master’s degree from Talbot Seminary, and did his doctoral work at the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!). He has authored about three dozen books with his own name on the cover, another couple dozen with someone else’s name on the cover, about 40 Bible study guides, and been a contributor or general editor for many other projects. After making his living as a writer, he began working with other writers as an editor, then as an agent, and he maintains a keen interest in the mentoring of Christian writers around the country.

[That’s pretty much the official story. Can I give you some other details? I’ve been married to Patti for 24 years, God help her. I’ve got two kids in college at Seattle Pacific University, and another about to go to college. I love Shakespeare, baseball, reading great novels, and card magic. My books have hit #1 in their category on the bestseller lists three times. I enjoy all things history, and currently have a book contract with Random House to do a book on the medieval church from an organizational development perspective.

One of the things that is so striking about you, (besides your good looks, amazing fashion sense and obvious genius), is your blatant honesty. Does speaking your mind get you into as much trouble as it seems it would?

Yes and no. Some people (many people) seem to be fans, and send me nice notes on occasion, like when they’ve gone off their meds or had too much to drink. Others clearly do NOT like me. Especially nice church ladies who can’t understand why I’d say that a book is bad or a writer has done a terrible job. They’re entitled to their opinion. But something those in the industry know is that I rarely get upset when someone disagrees with me. This is a business, and I treat it as such. If somebody wants to disagree, they’re entitled to do so. And they’ll find I can take it. But the funny thing is, most who disagree never actually write to me. Instead, they write to others, and make subtle remarks about my character, because they don’t have the brains or the balls to be biblical and confront me.

Too bad. I learned long ago that there’s nothing I can do about rumors (and I’ve had my share). So for all the noise and hoopla surrounding my thoughts, careful readers will see I’m always trying to do the same thing: help writers improve by pointing out the things I believe to be true and the lessons I’ve learned.

However, yeah, sometimes I get into trouble. For example, I happen to think Jim Dobson is a guy who did a lot of important things for the Christian community in this country. Back in the days when he was the face of evangelicalism, he was doing good stuff, and getting people to talk about important issues. At the same time, I’ve offered the occasional criticism (let’s face it: the man can be a tad bit sensitive; he’s no biblical scholar, so his attack on Zondervan’s NIrV was astoundingly stupid; and I thought BRINGING UP BOYS was flabby, redundant, and out of touch – nothing more than a means of making money on his good name). But when I shared some criticisms of his book at a Christian writers’ conference in California several years ago, somebody sent him the tape. He had -- (well…that may be too strong…I don’t have any direct evidence Jimbo actually set this in motion) – SOMEHOW, by some unknown means, one of his henchmen at Focus on the Family called me on the phone to berate me. For what? Criticizing his stupid book? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

I mean, you’re telling me that Jim Dobson is sitting there amidst his millions of dollars and numerous real estate holdings, and he’s concerned because Chip MacGregor offered a criticism of a book that he didn’t even write? Give me a flippin’ break. I called the guy a moron and hung up.

Oh, and the story doesn’t end there. After sharing that story in print one time, I had several people write to me to offer criticism – not of Dobson and his band of merry men, but critical of me for daring to say something negative about Saint Jim. So, yes, I occasionally get some heat. But nothing I can’t take. I’m a critic – a critic of books and writing, and particularly of Christian books and Christian writers. Don’t we need critics to offer some perspective and advice now and then?

Um… I should add one thing: If I spent a lot of time complaining about all the criticism I get, I’d be crying wolf. I don’t get that much. Sometimes my employers have been unhappy when I’ve said something about an author they’d like to work with. And I certainly have my faults: I suffer fools badly. I can be too caustic. I’m occasionally wrong. But I really do think I’m helping move us forward, even if it’s only in a small way.

One of the debates in Christian book review circles is a lack of harsh reviews of CBA books. Should Christian authors be brutally honest when we review other Christian authors?

One of the things I noticed several years ago is that the world of Christian publishing had become awfully “nice.” Nobody ever got a bad review, even if the book in question was clearly a hunk o’ dung. I remember reading this very polite review for a CBA novel about ten years ago – I read the novel, but the only way I could finish the stupid thing was to tear out the pages I’d read and light them on fire, in hopes that occasionally sticking my hand into the flames would keep me awake. Mourn the trees that died so this tome could see print.

That experience made me wonder…why can’t we be honest? I mean, how are we ever going to get better as Christian writers if we feel the Lord is somehow calling us to be eternally nice? I’d suggest that many of the Old Testament prophets helped the culture make strides not by being nice, but being honest – even blunt. Ditto Paul. Ditto Jesus, for that matter (take a peek at his criticisms of the upstanding church leadership of His day). Okay, I understand that we sometimes do a nice review to help a book sell. Or to pay back a friend who said something nice on our own book. Or because we can’t think of anything else to say. Fine. But where does that author go to get better?

Think of it this way: Let’s say we have this nice young novelist who has just published her first book with Heartsong Presents. It’s a genre romance (Daphne meets Buck. They fall in love. Buck, who is as stupid as his name would suggest, misunderstands something and they quarrel. The romance is off. Then the fire breaks out and threatens Daphne’s barn. Buck comes to the rescue. They both are too stupid to realize they’re just characters in a trite novel, so they fall back into love again. They move into each other’s arms. There is an ellipsis in which nonChristian readers will assume they’re going to have sex. And the story wraps up with everyone tired but happy.)

Okay. She (the author, not Daphne, who is busy having an ellipsis with Buck) gets her book reviewed in a couple places. The reviews all say, “It’s lovely.” Her friends at church are impressed. She gets to sign copies at her local Christian Book Store (which is no doubt having a sale that week on Thomas Kinkade Napkins and Precious Moments Soap-on-a-Rope). She gets to hold it up at Glorietta and have all the wannabe’s fawn over her.

So…how does Ms Novelist improve her craft? I mean, everybody is telling her that she’s suddenly a genius. She starts posting opinions on Chi Libris and the WritersView. Pretty soon she is mistaking her inexperience as experience; substituting immaturity for maturity. And she moves on to sharing her weakness with everyone as though it were a strength. (Think that ain’t happening? Take a look at the writing experience of some of the experts.) I’m just trying to point out Ms Novelist needs to have a dose of reality. She needs somebody who is a bit farther down the path to suggest to her that she’s not All That.

So I think part of my job, part of the responsibility I have to the industry, is to try and help Miz N improve. That means I get to be honest. And I should point out that I long ago stopped reviewing books for magazines, newspapers, web sites, and other places that are basically marketing venues. I never try to torpedo anyone’s book, so you won’t find a bunch of toasty reviews I’ve created in trade magazines. It is NOT my job to harm someone’s book sales. If Christian Retailing and Publishers Weekly want to give the book solid reviews, then I think that’s great for the author’s sales. My comments ALWAYS take place in venues that are followed by writers, NOT by the general reading public. (In fact, my ego stays in check by reminding the rest of my brain that, outside of the very small audience that is Christian writers, nobody really knows who I am.)

So what’s the harm in being honest? Even brutally honest? Can’t we all admit we’ve got stuff to learn? I read books about writing regularly, because I really want to improve my craft. I listen when somebody I respect talks writing – a Cec Murphey, a Doc Hensley. I even listen to writers I used to represent, because I represented some good people, and I love hearing what they have to say – a Mary DeMuth, a Julie Barnhill, a Keri Kent. I figure if I’m going to be an opinionated loudmouth, that’s okay so long as I can back it up. But that means I really need to be teachable, or I’ll turn into nothing more than a pompous ass.

What does an associate publisher do? (Or in your case what should you be doing?)

As Associate Publisher, my job is to coordinate the editorial function for the Nashville offices of HBG/USA. I’m in charge of the acquisitions process for all the books we publish, so I’m regularly identifying and chasing authors and ideas we need to pursue, looking for areas where we can grow. I implement company policies and try to give strategic direction to our list. I oversee the list, the budget, the personnel, and the processes in the editorial department. When I arrived, our office wasn’t very strong with our systems. Now we’ve got great people in place and our systems seem to have been smoothed out.

I hire (and occasionally fire) editors, train the staff, and make sure the Editorial Assistants are moving forward in their careers. I do some editing and copy writing, and I try to stay in touch with some of our key authors and agents, as well as connect our office to our marketing, sales, and managing editorial departments. I go to lots of meetings and drink an inordinate amount of coffee. Right now I’m part of a strategic planning group out of New York that is moving our company forward technologically by exploring new ideas and systems that can help us do our jobs more effectively.

But, in all fairness, most of the work gets done not because of me but because of the people who work in editorial with me. This is no false modesty – I’ve got people around me who are great, and who routinely make me look good. In my opinion, the editors we have at Hachette Book Group are as strong as any set of editors anywhere.

Can you explain the process a publishing board goes through in deciding to publish a book?

To be continued tomorrow ...