Thursday, July 29, 2010

Advice For Writers

In my last post, I discussed the odds against being given that fabled "rich and famous contract" as the result of an appointment with an agent or editor at a writer's conference. The odds aren't all that encouraging, but that doesn't mean you should give up hope. I also asked agents and editors for the best advice they could give someone who was preparing for an appointment with them. Here are the answers, from some of the most respected people in the industry.

Barbara Scott (Senior—now roving— acquisitions editor for fiction, Abingdon Press): The most important piece of advice I could give a writer is to have a completed or near complete manuscript written. An editor needs to know that an author is capable of finishing a piece of fiction. Know what the publisher is looking for and don’t ask for an appointment with me if you write fantasy or speculative fiction.

Nick Harrison (Senior Editor for Fiction and Non-Fiction, Harvest House Publishers): View your writing as a career, not a single project.  Make sure the agent/editor knows you have a destiny in mind as a writer.  Show your most important proposal, but be prepared to mention you have your follow up projects in mind.   Along the same line, if you can show that you are able to promote your book, that also demonstrates the seriousness with which you take your writing career.
Beyond that, being a good writer and having saleable ideas is key.

Chip MacGregor (Agent, MacGregor Literary): Have your proposal and sample writings so well honed that an agent or editor has no reason to say "no." That's easier said than done, of course, but that should be the goal. A great idea, expressed through great writing, in a great proposal, preferably by an author with a great platform. All of those things take time and talent.

Rachelle Gardner (Agent, WordServe Literary):
a) Practice pitching your book aloud to another person before the meeting.

b) Remember this is a conversation and you're talking to a person, so start your pitch by putting it in context, i.e. "Today I'm pitching a romantic suspense novel which is complete at about 85,000 words. It's about..."

c) Make sure you "put a finish on it" by ending your pitch with a question designed to spur further conversation, rather than simply ending abruptly and both of you sitting there in an awkward silence. This would be something like, "Is romantic suspense something you're looking for right now?"

One final word. Sometimes it's just enough to just meet an agent or editor. Allow them to associate a face, or more likely, a personality with the name when they hear or see it again. Agent Jessica Faust addresses this in a recent blog post. She thinks having an "elevator pitch" isn't as important as just networking. I think she's right.

Again, my thanks to Barbara, Nick, Chip and Rachelle for taking the time to respond to my questions. How much of what they suggested have you already addressed in your own preparation?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Unrealistic Expectations

A writing conference allows writers to learn from experts and to meet editors and agents (with an eye toward being signed by an agent or getting a go-ahead to submit their manuscript to an editor). In the publishing world, these meetings are extremely important to writers, especially to those trying to break in. For those writers among my readership who might be preparing to attend their first conference let me warn you about unrealistic expectations.

At my first writing conference, I had high expectations--too high. Like most newbies, I hoped to pitch my manuscript to an editor and have them offer me the "standard rich and famous contract" (as mentioned by Orson Wells in The Muppet Movie). By the mid-portion of the conference, I could see that wasn't going to happen. Fortunately, I realized before the conference ended that it was more important to try to learn the craft and make friends in the writing community than to buttonhole an agent or editor and get that longed-for approval.

What should be a writer's expectations when meeting with an agent or editor at one of these conferences? I asked several agents and editors to tell me about how many appointments they might have, how likely they were to ask for additional material, and how many writers they might ultimately sign as a result of the conference interview. According to the agents I asked, of the 25 to 30 people with whom they typically meet during a conference, they may request material from 20 to 40%. (Realize that they don't want to carry a hard-copy proposal home on the plane--they'd rather you send it, in whatever form they specify). Of course, that doesn't mean they'll get proposals or even requested manuscripts from this many. You'd be amazed at the number who get cold feet or fail to respond to such an invitation. However, in the final analysis, an agent will generally sign only one author out of all those who pitch to him or her at a conference, and sometimes they don't sign anyone.

What about pitching directly to an editor? More material is requested about 20% of the time by editors. By the time the dust settles, the editor may acquire one project from all the folks with whom they meet, both in structured appointments, around the lunch table, in casual conversation, etc. (And, please, don't pitch to an editor in the bathroom or during worship services! But I've already blogged about that.)

During the 36 years of my medical practice, I tried to guard against unrealistic expectations on the part of the patient (or myself). Before scheduling surgery or embarking on a course of treatment, I would often ask, "What will be your indicator of success?" If your conference experience won't be a success for you unless you are signed by an agent or get a contract with a publisher, I'd suggest you adjust your expectations.

My thanks to Rachelle Gardner, Chip MacGregor, Barbara Scott, and Nick Harrison for responding to my questions. I also asked these agents and editors for their best advice for writers who are preparing for a conference. That comes in the next post.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

What Do The Agents And Editors Say?

Writers look to agents and editors not just as integral parts of the publishing process--people they need on their team if they're to get their work in print--but as valuable sources of industry information. I regularly read blogs by agents (including my own agent, Rachelle Gardner) and editors, and there are a couple of new ones I'd recommend. My editor, Barbara Scott, has taken a new position with Abingdon Press, and is now a "roving editor." Her blog is filled with good advice. Editor and great guy, Nick Harrison, has a blog that currently offers invaluable advice for writers.

Next week, I'll have a couple of posts aimed at colleagues preparing for editor and/or agent appointments at the forthcoming American Christian Fiction Writers Conference (or any other writer's conference). I hope you'll come back on Monday for the first installment.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Previews Of Coming Attractions

Do you like the previews shown before movies? It seems to me that the sound is always turned up a couple of extra notches, and every time I think the previews are coming to a merciful end, here comes another. It's not much better when you rent a DVD. Now they're all preceded by trailers for several other movies. Not only that, have you noticed that you can't skip them by using the "shuttle" button? No, if you're going to watch the movie, you're going to watch the preview. To put it another way, "they've gotcha."

Once I joined the ranks of published authors, one of the first things I heard was, "You have to have a book trailer." Some called it a trailer, some a video, but whatever it was called, everyone was clamoring for me to put together a brief tease for my book. I've done it twice now (and will have to do a third one when Diagnosis Death comes out next spring). Videos for Code Blue and Medical Error are available on YouTube. So far, I've been underwhelmed by the response.

I'll admit, I put these videos together myself, rather than pay the fees (ranging from significant to "wow") to have them done professionally. And I'm sure that makes a difference.

I'd be interested to know whether you look for book videos. As a rule, do you like them? Do they affect your decision to buy a book? And...okay, I'll ask...what do you think of mine?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Welcoming Others

Ever since Kay and I joined our current church, we've worked in the New Member Class. This isn't a class where you have to sweat the final exam. There's only one key question asked on the membership commitment form. Rather, the three sessions give prospective members a great overview of the ministries and workings of our church. And the people who stand at the door, checking off names and handing out material, are key in making people feel welcome from the start. We think that's important, and we feel privileged to have a part in that ministry.

When I first began attending writer's conferences, I knew nothing and no one. That's not an exaggeration. I felt like the kid who transferred from a small country school to a big-city facility and was already behind everyone else. But more experienced writers, some of them published, some of them just a step or two ahead of me, went out of their way to make me feel welcome and help me get my feet on the ground. For example, Brandilyn Collins is the acknowledged queen of Seatbelt Suspense in Christian fiction. Yet after Brandilyn met me the first time, she always had an encouraging word for "Doc." The same was true of many authors and editors. They helped me feel a part of the writing community. And as I journey along my own road to writing, I've tried to pay some of this kindness forward by doing the same for those I encounter who are just starting their journey.

Where do you encounter people who need to be made welcome? At work? In the neighborhood? In PTA? In your church? Has anyone ever made a difference in your life by making you welcome? Think about what it meant to you, then look for an opportunity to pass it on. It makes a difference.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Medical Error is now available

My second novel, Medical Error, was due for publication on September 1, so imagine my surprise when my author's copies showed up on my doorstep yesterday. Today, I was browsing through the sites of a couple of online booksellers. Authors tend to do this the same way some men stroll through the hardware section of Sears. I put Medical Error in the search box, and almost fell out of my chair when I read "In stock, as of July 14." Wow! Out a full six weeks early.

For those who just can't wait, you can order your copy of Medical Error online at this site or this one. There are probably others where it's also available, but I know for certain that these booksellers have it in stock.

For those of you who've been waiting to read this second novel in the Prescription For Trouble series, I hope you find that it's been worth the wait. Thanks for your support.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Transparency In Our Lives

My pastor, Chuck Swindoll, said something in a recent sermon that set me thinking. "There should be nothing found or learned after your death that surprises anyone." In other words, we should live our lives openly and with transparency--the popular phrase is "What you see is what you get"--so that we don't leave behind any secrets, especially unpleasant ones.

After my first wife, Cynthia, died, I was left with the task of cleaning out her possessions, including gathering the papers she left in drawers and shelves all over our home. I found notes from Bible studies, reminders to do various tasks, mottos she heard and liked, clippings stuck in books, but I never found anything that wasn't totally in character for her. Hers was a life lived in transparency. What you saw was what you got.

That's not always the case. We can all think of instances where, after the death of an individual, things came to light that were surprising and in some cases disappointing. For every person who dies and leaves behind the pleasant surprise of an unexpected legacy, there are dozens who leave behind  tangled affairs, evidences of deceit, and unpleasant surprises. I don't want to be one of those.

We'd all like to think that our lives are open books, but I'm willing to bet that there are a few closets and dark recesses that we'd like to keep private. After I'm gone, I don't want anything discovered that will be a surprise. How about you?

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Schedule of Appearances

Somehow, I never thought I'd be posting something like this. Usually, I speak somewhere every month or two, do an occasional book signing, but for some reason I've become August's flavor of the month. Not that I'm complaining, mind you. For those of you who can't tell the players without a program, here's a list of my forthcoming appearances.

Saturday, August 7: Speaking in Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Writers of Inspirational Novels on the subject, "Medical Details In Your Fiction: Get Them In, Get Them Right." Check the link for directions to the meeting site. A brown bag lunch precedes the 1:00 PM meeting.

Saturday, August 14: Meeting at 9:30 AM with the women of Stonebriar Community Church at their Books and Bagels gathering, to discuss Code Blue. This one is open to all women, so I hope to see a number of you there. I'll be signing copies of the book afterward.

Sunday, August 15: Along with a fourteen other Texas authors, signing copies of The Tender Scar and Code Blue, and answering questions at the Texas Authors Tea at the Frisco, Texas, public library. The event runs from 1:00 to 4:00 PM. Iced tea, cookies, and a chance to rub shoulders with and get signatures from local authors. Free to the public. Y'all come.

Sunday, August 29: Speaking at 2:30 PM to the Greater Fort Worth Writers group on "So You Want To Write A Book." I'll also be signing copies of The Tender Scar, Code Blue, and (if they get here in time) the very first copies of Medical Error. They meet in the Community Room of the Keller, Texas, police department. If you're not afraid to get that near a police station, come by.

I hope you'll check out the links and--for those appearances open to the public--drop by and chat. If you're interested in having me speak to your group, contact me by clicking on the email tab above. Thanks for your support.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Authors and Jealousy

When I first began writing, I received a great deal of support and encouragement from other authors, including a number who were well-established and very successful. I marveled then and marvel now at how authors can be supportive of people who are essentially their competitors. Does Macy's cheer when Dillard's has a wonderful quarter? Does GM send a congratulatory telegram to Ford, saying, "Great job on your new line?" I'm afraid not. But in the world of writing, and especially among those of us who write Christian fiction, that's exactly what happens.

I'm on FaceBook and Twitter, although I try not to spend a lot of time there. However, it doesn't take long to see congratulatory messages flying back and forth among my friends, many of whom are authors, when they have a book published, when they gain representation by an agent, even when they just reach their daily writing goals. I have to confess that at times I have to watch myself, lest I begin thinking, "I haven't had the chance to write in days, and here so-and-so continues to knock out 2000 words every day." Or, "Yeah, I'm finishing a three-book contract, but I don't have a publisher for my next book yet." How easy it is to slip into that trap.

This isn't confined to writers, of course. It's a temptation to look at the person in the next cubicle, celebrating a promotion, and think, "It should have been me." The possibilities to let jealousy creep into our lives are virtually endless. Had some of that in your own life recently? How did you handle it?

Monday, July 05, 2010

Report From Baseball Camp

I'm back after taking my grandson, Connor, to a baseball camp outside Cooperstown, NY. His team of twelve-year olds didn't win all the marbles, but they had fun. And so did I.

Connor and his best friend spent the first night with the friend's dad and me in what was termed a "cottage" in the ad the dad answered. It turns out that it was a single wide mobile home, situated along with two others on a farm twenty minutes from the camp. So much for truth in advertising.

The next day, we drove to the camp and the boys joined more than two hundred others who were there for a week of baseball and fun. It was a beautiful complex. Eight fields, all perfectly manicured. Cameras with wide-angle lenses mounted behind home plate, streaming every game via the Internet back home to parents, as well as to TV sets in the lounge. (And, no, I didn't watch the games from there. The parents were there in person for every game).

The boys won their first practice game, but then we hit the really good teams and our next games were shortened by the "mercy rule" (ten runs ahead after four innings). But the boys bounced back--sometimes better than the parents. They won their first "tournament game" before being knocked out in the second round. But they had fun.

I won't take the time to show pictures of the ceremony where each boy received a replica "Hall of Fame" ring. I won't show the pictures we made on a trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame. I won't even show the one of Connor and his friend, Paul, skipping stones across the Susquehanna River. I'll just show one more picture, my favorite.

Some things are just more important than baseball. Like family. Like taking time to have fun together. Like this was.

Have a blessed week. And don't forget to hug those you love.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Fourth Of July

I'm just back from a trip, so I trust you'll forgive me for borrowing words from a previous post. I stand behind it, now more than ever. I'll be back blogging next Thursday.

I grew up in an era of patriotism. Two of my uncles fought in World War Two--one of them didn't make it back home. Even in the early 1960's, when I was called upon to serve in the military at a time when unpopular wars and "police actions" were becoming the norm, I wore the uniform proudly. I might not have agreed with all the actions of my Commander-in-Chief, but I'd taken an oath to "preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States," and I took that oath seriously. Today, when I stand for the National Anthem, I stand at attention, wishing at times that I were once more in uniform so I could salute Old Glory instead of simply doffing my hat and holding it over my heart.

Do I believe in the adage, "My country, right or wrong?" Not totally, but neither did the author of that oft-misquoted phrase. Naval hero Stephen Decatur actually said, "Our Country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!" In 1872, Senator Carl Schurz said it even better. "My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right." Yes, it's still my country. And this July Fourth I'll fly my flag to celebrate the millions who have sacrificed so much to give us the freedom we enjoy. And I'll pray that, where the United States is right, it's kept right. More important, where it's wrong, my fervent prayer is that it will be set right.

God bless America. Have a wonderful weekend.