Submitting to Literary Magazines 101: Professionalism

I am truly honored to have Vince Gotera as my guest today. Vince writes poems and stories, as well as the occasional creative nonfiction. His books include the three poetry collections Fighting Kite, Ghost Wars, and Dragonfly, as well as the critical study Radical Visions: Poetry by Vietnam Veterans. Vince serves as Editor of the North American Review, originally established in 1815, the longest-lived literary magazine in the US. He has been a Professor of English at the University of Northern Iowa since 1995. He earned an MFA in poetry writing and a PhD in English from Indiana University. Gotera writes:

In a couple of days, I will be starting my tenth year as Editor of the North American Review — a tremendous privilege and honor since the NAR is the longest-lived literary magazine in the US, originally established in 1815.

About a year and a half ago, in a Facebook group titled “MFA in Creative Writing,” as part of an online discussion of editing and publishing, I dashed off an impromptu list of my pet peeves as NAR poetry editor. This list quickly took on a life of its own and was re-run on at least one other writerly blog and perhaps others. (As the movie Dorothy said of the Munchkins in Oz, blogs “come and go so quickly” so I can’t be certain how widespread the list “viraled,” so to speak.)

In any case, here (officially) is the precise text of that offhand list, originally written on 29 August 2007:

Okay … for me, the “turn-off” is different for each poem I ultimately reject. Here are a few immediate turn-offs, in no particular order:

• Botched ending … forced, too explanatory, too “universalized”
• Clumsy use of form … for example, if sonnet or sestina, etc.
• Slow getting going … should rock from first line down
• Too much full rhyme … I prefer slant rhyme
• Uninformed line breaks … be aware of lineation effects
• Abstract or image-less … unless experimental
• Superficial topic or handling
• Obviously unaware of poetic tradition(s)
• Cover letter explains poem … inexperienced submitter
• Poem sent with vita or résumé … very inexperienced submitter
• Says “copyright …” … does writer think I’ll steal the poem?
• Centered lines … unless important for theme
• Badly edited … errors, typos, grammar, etc.
• Font too small … many editors are older and have old eyes
• Monotype font or font too fancy … hard to read quickly
• Pseudonyms … let’s back up our writing with our names, ppl
• Handwritten … usually from prisoners, though I’ve accepted poems by prisoners.

There are other turn-offs but that’s all I can think of at the moment.

I do want to say that I don’t just drop the poem. My eyes touch every word. I read very quickly and wait for the poem to say, “whoa, you’re reading too fast.”

I also want to say that not every poem we take is already “perfect.” if a poem has something good going for it but has errors or whatever, we are willing to work with the poet in the proof stage. Not full workshop of course … that would be inappropriate … but suggestions and queries. In the long run, though, the writer’s in charge, of course.

Well, I’m grateful Pat has offered me a slot here as guest blogger. I would like to use this opportunity to expand on and clarify some of the items in that offhand list above. And maybe, if she’ll allow me, devote some later guest blogging slots to other pet peeves.

Today, I want to address professionalism in submitting to literary magazines. Five items above plus one other are germane. What I will say below about these six items are part of what many people — both writers and editors — refer to as “unwritten rules.” Oh, incidentally, what I’ll say below pertains directly to poetry, but of course writers of other ilk are welcome to adjust my advice for their own genre(s).

(1) The Cover Letter. Many writers don’t include a cover letter at all. The reasoning, I suppose, is that the editor will of course know why the poems are coming to the magazine. That’s okay, but I personally like to get cover letters because I think they’re polite. If they’re handwritten and say something like “Some poems for the magazine,” that would be fine. Our grandmothers told us we should send nice notes, and that’s what the cover letter should be. Sorry if I seem fussy here; I just think the transaction between the writer and the editor should be civil and friendly. A cover letter certainly can dispose me favorably (a little) toward the submission. Especially if a cover letter is fun or entertaining.

But … don’t try to impress me in your cover letter. Don’t tell me you were published here or there. Or that you have published so many books blah blah blah. When I see that in a cover letter, I don’t read it. For me, the poem and only the poem can get itself into the magazine.

Definitely do not explain the poem in your cover letter. As an editor, I’m trying to gauge how readers will understand the poem, and I don’t really care how you read your poem. Or what you meant. Or what poetic form or style you used. If the poem can’t “say” all that for itself, it’s not getting into the NAR.

It’s a good idea to list in the cover letter the titles of the 3 to 6 poems you’re sending. This will make our lives easier should your cover letter get separated from the poems. Not likely to happen but it could.

(2) Résumés and Vitas. Sometimes writers who know the cover-letter pitfalls listed above will instead send a list of publication credits. From my point of view, that’s equally annoying. Actually, more so, because it’s not as friendly as an actual letter.

What ever you do, never send a résumé or a vita; that really smacks of inexperience. Of not knowing the “unwritten rules.” There may be fields or disciplines in which one sends a vita with a submission, but not in the literary magazine world. Sending a résumé or a vita could possibly dispose me against your work. What I mean is that your poems will have to work that much harder to catch my attention. It could happen … the poems could be so good that they make me overlook the résumé faux pas but that would be a rare occurrence indeed. It’s never happened, actually, in my twenty years of poetry editing.

(3) Copyright. The experienced writer should be aware of how copyright law works: that as soon as you write something, you own its copyright; in other words, you only have to show that you wrote something and when to defend your copyright. Inexperienced writers, on the other hand, will sometimes fear that their poems are leaving their hands and could be stolen by someone at a magazine. So they will include a copyright notice on the poem itself.

This is quite an insult. An arrogant one. First, this practice suggests that you think your work is so good that the editor or some other staff member will, instead of publishing your work, be driven to steal it. Second, this tells us you think we are thieves. Do you think this makes us friendly to your poem?

There are how-to articles and books out there that say put a copyright notice on your piece. That is old advice for an older time and is no longer necessary in today’s copyright environment. So just resist doing it. Your chances of getting published will increase. What I mean is that the poem will have a chance of a better reading without a copyright notice.

(4) Fonts. Something that we see quite often is a poem that has been printed out in 9- or 10-point font. Sometimes even smaller. I’m not really sure why people do this. Perhaps they’re trying to save postage. Or they want to squish their entire poem onto a single sheet. Who knows?

Look at it this way. When you are interviewing for a job, do you make it difficult for the interviewer? Or annoying? Do you dress in garish colors that make it hard for the interviewer to look at you directly? Do you whisper your answers to the interviewer’s questions so that you can almost not be heard?

What you do with fonts can be equally deleterious. Let’s face it, editors are writers who have some mileage on them; and that mileage takes years. So quite often, an editor will be someone with older eyes. How do you think the miniature font you’ve used to get your poem all on one sheet will be received by that editor with the graduated bifocals or trifocals? There is no problem with having continuation pages. In fact, when I send out poems, I use 14-point Times to make sure they are readable by all.

Speaking of Times font: I would dissuade you from using a typewriter font like Courier. Those are harder to read than Times or Palatino or Georgia or some other standard non-typewriter font. Remember that the editor must read quickly. For example, at the NAR, we read 7,000-10,000 poems a year. If the poem is hard to read fast, there’s a possibility it may not be read at all. Ditto with fancy curlicue or script fonts. Hard to read. Bad. Also sans serif fonts like Helvetica. A little easier to read but not as easy to read as Times. You may think Times is boring but it could help you get published.

(5) Pictures. No. Very bad. No pictures with poems. Even if you’re sending an ekphrastic poem — one based on a painting or a sculpture, for example. The enclosed or attached picture is a definite tip-off that the writer is inexperienced. An ekphrastic poem has to be good enough to stand on its own without the visual image next to it. In a blog, including a picture next to a poem is a plus. In a submission, BIG minus. Just say no.

(6) Pen Names. This last one is not the same kind of no-no as those above; it is not patently a bad idea. Nevertheless, it is still a no-no (at least for me). Pseudonyms were important to publish in previous decades for many reasons; one of these is that women or minorities had a harder time getting their work accepted without a “good old boy” name. This situation has changed, however, and people who use pseudonyms often do so now for romantic reasons. Or because they feel their poems are somehow NSFW (“not safe for work,” as we sometimes say in Internet slang).

A pen name some poet might think romantic, like “Valentine Lovesmith” or “Genevieve Queensryche,” is just straight-out silly; the real name of an American 19th-century romance writer, Mrs. E.D.E.N. Southworth (Emma Dorothy Eliza Nevitte), helped to make her a bestselling success story, but taking on a name like that won’t work today. I feel writers should stand by their own names; their poems should carry the weight and significance of their real names. Not all editors will probably agree with me on this, but I suspect a majority of them will.

Okay, that’s it for now. I hope you will see the sense of these “unwritten rules.” Basically, for me, it’s about friendliness and civility, again. Editors are your friends. They want to publish your work. They want to discover the next great poet. So make the submission easy for editors, professional, and your poems will be able to shine on their own as they should. Good luck with your writing and with your submissions.

One Introvert’s Guide to Reading at Book Signings

My guest today is Mairead Walpole, a somewhat introverted project manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her belt. In her spare time, Mairead reviews books for Crystal Reviews and writes paranormal romance. Her first novel, A Love Out of Time is available through Second Wind Publishing. Mairead writes:

When Mike at Second Wind Publishing asked me to attend a book signing over Valentine’s Day Weekend, my initial thought after the “how cool is this?” was “oh [bleep] – that means I have to speak in public.”

The whole concept of self-promotion is a difficult one for me because it requires a certain amount of extroversion and I am not the most outgoing of individuals. Contrary to what people who know me in my professional life may think, I am not a natural extrovert – it is a learned behavior. I tend to avoid being front and center so the thought of public speaking is right up there with having an un-anesthetized root canal, or swimsuit shopping. Ironically, much as my introverted soul hates it, I am told that I am quite good at it. The profession of “my alter ego” (project management) requires the ability to speak in front of groups at all levels of a corporation, so I have learned to mask my absolute terror fairly well. 

In an effort to help my fellow introverts, the following are some tips and tricks that I adapted from the corporate world to apply to book signings. 

1.  Choose your book excerpts carefully.

Pick out several short excerpts from your novel that will not require a great deal of preliminary set-up for your audience. Make sure that the excerpt has enough of a hook or “punch” to it to leave your audience wanting more. The goal is to make them want to buy the book to see what happens next. 

2.  Practice reading the sections aloud prior to the event.

Practicing will increase your awareness of any editing errors, or tricky phrasing, that could trip you up during the reading. It will also help you gauge how long the reading will take. Recent research has indicated that the average attention span for a literate adult is around 12 minutes and maxes out at 20 minutes. Continuous attention span is significantly lower, coming in around 30 seconds. Use my personal definition of the K.I.S.S. principle: Keep It Short & Sizzling. 

3.  Read slowly.

Speaking quickly will not get you back in your seat any faster. You will be more likely to trip over words and feel the need to stop and re-read sections. You will also lose your audience because their focus will shift from your story to trying to keep up. 

4.  Breathe.

Sounds silly, but one of the main causes of a “shaky voice” is from shallow breathing. Reading at a slow pace will give you a chance to breathe. Take a breath at the natural breaks – commas, semi-colons, colons, periods and prepositional phrases. Your voice will be stronger, you will have time to use your voice to emphasize points, and your audience will have a chance to absorb your words. 

5.  Eye Contact. If looking at your audience is going to render you mute, don’t.

I know this sounds contrary to what most public speaking training will tell you, but a book reading is a bit different. People expect you to be reading to them. When you are done reading, make sure that you look directly at your audience letting your eyes rest on each quadrant of the room, smile, then thank them for their time. 

If you can look at your audience from time to time on the natural breaks or page turns, try to do so because it does help you connect to them. A trick for making eye contact is to direct your gaze at a point just above the eyebrows of a person in each quadrant of the room. You will appear to be making personal eye contact with anyone in that quadrant but minimize the risk of losing your rhythm by being “eye-locked” with someone. 

Public speaking is like most things in life, the more you do it the better and more comfortable you will become. Good luck and have fun!

How To Deal With Well-Meaning Friends and Readers

My guest today is Laurie Foston, author of science fiction and Christian genre as well as juvenile fiction, who also publishes under the name of Cheryl Henry Hodgetts. Laurie discusses how to deal with people who don’t understand the work involved in writing and promoting a book. Laurie says:

Here’s a comment that I borrowed from a New York Times Bestselling author, Rebecca Brandewyne. She’s the real deal in self-promotion. Anything she could join, create, or pass a test with flying colors to enter…she did!

This is her version of some well-meaning responses to your work when they find out you’re an author. I get this all the time.

“The vast majority of people think writing is easy and they, too, could be a writer – or, at least, a storyteller. In fact, put a published author in a crowded room, and invariably, almost everyone in attendance will have a story to tell that ‘would make a great novel!’

Inevitably, as well, they are ‘going to write a book someday, whenever they find the time to get around to it.’ A ‘few months – or even weeks – ought to suffice.’ But then again, upon reflection, they ‘really just don’t have the time, and in all honesty, they were never that good in English class, besides -‘

Frequently, at this point, the more enterprising of those present will actually offer to ‘let the author write it all down for them, sharing the proceeds fifty/fifty….’

Virtually every published author alive has experienced the above scenario – or some other version of it. The truth is, however, that far from being so easy that everyone could do it, writing is a highly demanding, competitive career, requiring a tremendous amount of self-discipline and solitary hard work.”

I would add here the obvious…they unwittingly want to reduce your joy to ashes…your hard work and success of the actual finished product to ” nothing-to-it.”

Knock yourself out then! Go ahead…bet ya can’t even get one page written down even if I gave you the plot.

Am I being harsh?

Before your publisher will take your submission for editing, you must read it three times. First for concept, then for plot holes, and other editing problems and then a line-by-line edit to make sure you didn’t let the word “two” get through as “too.”

As your book goes through production with your publisher, you will get the manuscript back and forth until you and the editor finally come to blows one way or another. It’s either going to be their way or yours. (So who do you think will win?) When the final proof comes, you must get someone to proof it besides yourself and YOU must read it twice.

Then you must find some way to survey it to make sure postproduction errors are corrected and sent back before too many people decide you can’t write. This takes another line-by-line editing to get the postproduction errors that people have found. (Family and friends will let them pass)

A quotation mark is backwards…there is a sentence repeat on such and such page, a run-on sentence slipped past twenty editors…and the list goes on.

This is hard work and if authors follow these steps they deserve their titles. Let no one try to steal your crown. You put up with the tattered nerves, fear, hair loss, intimidation, and struggled to stay above water while people acted as though writing were a mental disorder rather than a gift as they asked where you were while you pounded away at the keys.

Seriously, this type of reaction from people makes me rant and rave.

Forget the naysayers…..

Get online! Get online everywhere!

I hope everyone understands that only the comments in Italics were actually off Rebecca Brandewyne’s site. The other ravings are those of my own. I could add to hers so easily. If people really knew how hard it is to work with publishers and sometimes editors, they would not think so lightly of the books resting on their bookshelves. That is an amazing accomplishment. But others need to know about it.

This is not a downer but it starts out with a touch of gloom!

I was on TV the day of my first book signing. I sold two books that night and those were to the same relative. My book came out at the wrong time….December 16th and the people going through the mall never even stopped to look at me. They ran past me as fast as they could to the Harry Potter books.

My first press interview, they talked more about John Grisham’s house across the street than they did my book. Then they gave my name as Hayes and my pseudonym as Lori Foster instead of Laurie Foston. We are two different authors.

I believe in holding a foot in every corner. Network, set up signings, join everything you can on the Internet, hook up with celebrities and watch them progress from 15 to 500 friends in one month’s time. What did they do to attract? Just be themselves! Be human! Sometimes we all get riled up! After their friends add up to more than they can handle…they get themselves a webmaster. (Wouldn’t that be nice?)

I have bought most of my books from Amazon’s forum discussion board authors, Facebook authors, or people who write me from Facebook and tell me about a good book. I buy from looking at their picture. I bought a lot of Rebecca Brandewyne’s books because she boldly posed herself on the back as the Damsel in the story when she first started out. She was just s-o-o-o-o a part of the story that she had to have herself in it. I bought it hook, line and sinker. Then loved the books.

Then I get on Facebook and see some authors who look like they may have a story that I haven’t heard before. Their picture tells a lot.

Take Pat Bertram’s picture for example. Pat’s picture and the kind of blurb on the back of her book match up. Sounds weird? She’s got the look of, “Rhythm-Rhythm-arie, I see something that you don’t see!” She’s spunky and has a spark of fire in her smile! Then I go to her book title, “A Spark of Heavenly Fire” and “More Deaths Than One.”

I’m sold!

Incidentally, Pat could have used the title “You Only Die Twice” and with the knowing look in her photo, she could have sold it that way too.

What? She looks like she knows something…she does!

I go to Amazon forum to Amazon Shorts ( always sign into Amazon people…get on a thread discussion…forget the naysayers…go to a forum! Every time I jump into the middle of an argument in a religious forum, I sell a batch of books. I always speak on the defense of the Lord, of course! I never have to say I am an author. They look up my name and there it is.)

Then I see a free short story advertised. (Still on Amazon right at this point!) I read it and I’m sold on buying the novel after I read the short story and see the picture of the author. He had a look like he had been in orbit.

If you have a book and don’t want to peddle bookstores, get on as many networks as possible. AOL, Yahoo, Amazon. Amazon will still be standing when brick and mortars tumble. Does your publisher have a web site that authors get on to exchange ideas? Get on there. You’ll learn how they promote their work and it will rub off on you.

Do you want privacy from the main public and want to keep your group small? Get on a Think Tank and the only people who can access that are the people you invite. Let them coach you until you are ready to take on the industry. If you have a message in your book, you have not finished what you were destined to do. You have to tell people about the message. Otherwise, it stays in the bottle and no one finds it out there in that huge sea of books.

People who have not authored a book have no expertise on the subject of how to promote a book. Your demographic area has a lot to do with local sale. However, you can take it to the bank from authors that you DO need to network and advertise to sell it no matter how big the publisher is or how long it has been out.

One more thing. In the case of Rebecca Brandewyne, the media works for her because she has degrees in journalism and communication. Unless you have a platform already on the media you will not be able to use the media as a first time author in the same way she did. I tried the media. I have a niece who was friends with the new channel hosting the “Morning Show.” They heard about the book, called my niece, and asked her for the chance to interview me because my publisher called them first. This made them look over my name and see that I had a family member working for their news channel. Thus one thing led to another and I was on that show. Things clicked together. Still the interview on TV did not affect my sales. I had sold all of my book stock to family and friends before the books came out to the public. John Grisham sold books out of the trunk of his car and even his platform in the House of Representatives could not land him an interview on TV for his first book. Media is great! Radio is great! But you need contact with your buyers. The greater salesmen will tell you that face-to-face sells more than a billboard!

If you want to sell without the media . . .  networking is the best source. Even John Grisham has a fan club on Facebook.

Being a Successful Author — Magic or Work?

My guest blogger today is Sia McKye, a marketing/publicity expert. This is the follow-up to McKye’s article, “Getting Published: No Magic Wands or Treasure Maps.” KcKye writes:

As an author, nothing can be quite as exciting as receiving word you’ve sold your book and it’s going to be published.  You are over the moon and flying high.  Maybe even dreaming of the NYT Best Sellers List. Finally, you’re getting validation for all your work and hours of writing.  Everyone you know hears about it.  You’re discussing galleys, Arc covers, the artwork, blurbs, and author endorsements on your cover. Tossing terms around like Pub dates, Arc mailings, targeted print campaigns, web promotions and Reviews, library marketing, and author events.  Your book finally hits Barnes & Noble and you find yourself going in just to look at a book with your name on it. You take pictures.  You start being obsessed with Amazon figures on your book’s placement of the day or week.  You’ve got it made, right?

Keep in mind that just having your book in print doesn’t mean it will automatically sell-books don’t sell themselves, even if they are listed on Amazon–or on the shelves of Barnes & Noble. As a friend of mine recently reminded me:  “Over 195,000 new novels are published by traditional publishers in the U.S. every year. Of those, 70% sell fewer than 500 copies.”

Here’s another reason to aggressively market yourself and your books and the importance in building a reader base. 

Debuting authors are lucky enough to get a first print run of 10,000 for their book, depending upon the genre and your publisher’s confidence in your work (some can be as high as 20,000). You might think 10,000 is a big number until you start calculating book stores and Amazon.  It’s really a small run and it’s not going to hit the best sellers list with that number. If they sell only 500 copies or less, then the publisher eats the cost of having the other 9500 shipped back to them, at full cost, and made into pulp.  Publishers are not happy when this happens, but they have a contract with you, maybe for a three-book deal. Maybe they’ll recoup their losses on the second book?  If they don’t will they take another three books from you?  Or drop you like a hot potato?  Can you see where active promotion and publicity is vital? 

On the other hand, you’ve worked your butt off with marketing and promotion. You’ve built up name recognition on the Internet through Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, and Gather, MySpace and other social networks.  You’ve worked hard at blogging and building presence and attracting your consumers-readers.  You started this long before your book was even sold.  You continued even after your book was sold. You’ve written book reviews on books similar to yours, written anything and everything related to your books and also to you as a person.  You’ve made yourself a personality, with likes, dislikes, and interests.  In other words you’ve become a real person to your readers.  They see you share the same interests as they do, you chat with them. You build characters in your books; surely it isn’t that hard to project yourself to your readers?

Because your potential readers like you and have gotten to know you somewhat, they do name-dropping about their “good friend, the author.” 

“Oh yeah, I know Anna Campbell and she just released TEMPT THE DEVIL.  Highlanders, honey, you have to look for it.”

“I just read the best suspense/thriller recently, A SPARK OF HEAVENLY FIRE, by my friend Pat Bertram.  We’re talking danger and a story of ordinary people becoming extraordinary to survive.  You’ve got to order it.”

“My good friend Judi Fennell wrote this cool series about sexy mermen and a kingdom under the sea. The first book is called IN OVER HER HEAD, you gotta read it!”

“Toni Blake is just the nicest person evah.  She writes some real sizzlers, we’re talkin’ hot and sexy.  She has a new one coming out called ONE RECKLESS SUMMER…”

It’s that simple and any debuting or popular author’s name can be slipped in there.  Why? Because you’ve worked hard to be assessable and real to your readers. Because once you knew your release date, you started building anticipation for your book. So now, your book is released and sells through at 80%, or 8000 books.  Your publisher is very happy and is patting him or herself for their ability to find talented writers.  They decide a second print run is good business. Because you’ve built a buzz you probably will do well on the second run. Your publisher decides for your next book (for a debuting author that can be as soon as two-three months later) to start out with a first print run of 25,000 and a much larger presence on the bookshelves of Barnes & Noble and more pressure for the staff to push your book.

By the way, to hit the NYT best sellers list?  The book needs a first print run of at least 35,000.  Maybe Nora Roberts or Christine Feehan may get that type of run, but look at all the time they invested in marketing and promoting themselves and their books.  As a debuting author, you’re not going to get that with a first run.

This type of marketing/promotion also works for POD authors.  True, you don’t have to deal with print runs and costly returns, but if your books are in bookstores, the return cost are still a bite and one you as the author have to foot.  It’s smart business; again it’s your business, to have these books sell through.  You want to be successful and to do that you need a solid reader base as much as, or perhaps even more than, a traditionally published author.  Collecting dust is not the image of your books you want in the bookstore management’s eyes or your own, especially if you want them to continue to carry your books.  Shelf space is not a guarantee of sales any more than having a book with your name on it is. 

Stirring up publicity and marketing of yourself as an author and promoting your book, is many times, the least favorite task for an author. The point is if you want to be a success as an author then it’s going to take hard work. A third of your time is spent in writing the story and the rest is spent in selling it to a publisher and then promoting the book and yourself as an author. Building that all important reader base. It’s a necessary part of business.   

Writing is a business. The author is the proprietor of that business. Products have to be promoted to be a success. It’s as simple as that. Once we realize that, we put ourselves in the right mindset to be a success.

There are no magic wands, treasure maps of shortcuts, or guarantees to be a successful author or being published.

Just a dream and a lot of hard work.

Contacting Famous People

D.B. Pacini ‘s youth/YA fantasy novel, The Loose End of the Rainbow, will be published soon by Singing Moon Press. Pacini writes:

An author I know often writes to well-known people asking them questions regarding research or asking them to endorse her books. Many graciously respond with answers, referrals, endorsements, and encouragement.  She told me to never be afraid to write to anyone I wish.  The worse that can happen is the person will not respond. 

I decided that there were several well-known people I would like to contact.  

*One was movie producer Paul Davids. He had written/directed a movie I absolutely love, Starry Night; about master artist Vincent van Gogh.  I researched and secured the email address of someone who knew Paul. I wrote and asked that person to please ask Paul to read my novel, Emma’s Love Letters.  I was thrilled when Paul agreed to allow me to snail-mail him a copy of the manuscript.  He was extremely busy with numerous projects but he took time to read my manuscript.  He then generously provided revision suggestions that made the novel more cinematic. My website for Emma’s Love Letters now features a wonderful endorsement from Paul Davids.  

*One was John Prine. The amazing John Prine is the favorite modern day musician/poet of Emma, the main character in Emma’s Love Letters.  I though he would get a kick out of how he is portrayed in the novel. I called his record company, Oh Boy Records.  They allowed me to snail-mail them the manuscript and they gave it to John.  How cool is that?  It is very cool.  

*One was author John Bellezza, a highly respected and incredibly busy Tibetan scholar. The second novel for my youth/YA fantasy Universal Knights trilogy features Tibetan youth and young adults as the main characters. I emailed and asked John if he will serve as a consultant to insure that my information is authentic and honorable to Tibetan people. He read The Loose End of the Rainbow and then agreed to serve as a consultant for the second novel.  I’m thrilled. 

*One was Stephen Hawkings.  I admire him and I want to share The Loose End of the Rainbow with him.  I’m not asking for anything in return, I just want to give him the story as a gift of appreciation.  I have sent him an email.  His website states that it can take a while to receive a response.  I may never receive a response, but maybe I will.  How cool would that be?  It would be out-of-this-universe cool.  

*One was David Friedman.  He is the still photographer behind some of the greatest images in cinema.  He is the first and only still photographer to be voted into the Motion Picture Academy of Arts and Sciences and the man who took the last cinematic images of Steve McQueen and Bruce Lee.  He has recently published My Life in the Movies (Dalton Watson Fine Books, 2008). After an apprenticeship as an assistant cameraman, Friedman went on to become one of the most in-demand still photographers in Hollywood from the late 1960s until the late 1980s. While shooting on location for dozens of Hollywood’s classic films of that era, he befriended stars such as Steve McQueen, Bruce Lee, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, John Travolta, Michael Caine, James Caan, Goldie Hawn, Cissy Spacek, Omar Shariff, Olivia Newton-John, Jack Nicholson, Richard Dreyfuss and Jaqueline Bissett. Some of his movie credits include Brian’s Song, Summer of ’42, Little Fauss and Big Halsey, Enter the Dragon, Carrie, Grease, Superman, Rambo II, The Falcon and the Snowman, Rocky IV and The Running Man. Friedman was also the still photographer for Steve McQueen’s last two motion pictures – Tom Horn and The Hunter – in which a chapter is devoted to each film. 

A good friend of mine is a friend of David Friedman.  She asked him to read my manuscript for The Loose End of the Rainbow.  He was on an international tour for his newly released book.  I mailed my manuscript to his home address.  He loved the novel and is providing an endorsement.  

*What I’m trying to share with these examples (I have several more) is that we must be daring. We must try to contact anyone we wish and be open and honest about our reasons.  I’ve contacted well known people for a number of reasons.  Some have not responded.  That is fine.  The best part is that some have responded.

So You Want to Become a Published Author?

This is a reprint of an article written by Roger Dean Kiser, author of  The White Boys: An American Tragedy, and is one of the best I have read about the realities of the publishing business. Kiser says:

If I may, I would like to make a few points that may be beneficial to a few of you interested in publishing a book. 

I am sure that my stories had a little to do with pushing my rating to a higher position, but most of all it was the hard work going on behind the scenes. I spent hours upon hours of reviewing stories in order to make enough money to promote my stories. I always watch the time of day, and the date(s) to make sure that my work would be seen, at just the right time, and by the most readers. A time when most of you would be on the computer and available to read and review.

No matter how good your story (or my story is); if you do not do the hard work your stories will go unnoticed. It will become nothing more than a bunch of worthless words. 

As time goes by you will learn that writing a story is the easy part. Getting published is the hard part. However, even if you self-publish, which I would never do, how many books will you sell? After your family and a few friends buy your book who is left? Even then you will have to battle your friends to support you. Believe me, I have been there. 

In my opinion, self-publishing companies are somewhat like some funeral homes. They thrive off the client’s feelings. The self publishing company uses your feelings of happiness and joy, while a funeral home feeds off your feelings of loneliness and guilt. 

For example: Let’s take your first book and place it in Barnes and Noble. Inside the front cover we place a ten-thousand dollar bill. Now you and I know that inside that book is something of great value (your work). Now in comes the customer who sees twenty-five thousand books sitting on shelves, along with yours. How would they know that your book has more of a value than do the other books? THEY DON’T. 

Then how do you sell your book? Well, I can tell you this… The publisher is not going to do it for you. They are out to make money and whatever it takes to promote your book is going to be your responsibility. 

BOOK SIGNINGS:

Well, I was lucky and I sold more than 600 copies of my first book in about four months. I held book signings in four states. During that four month period I made about seven-hundred dollars. However, I spent almost that amount in traveling expenses. 

Having a devious mind, I thought of a trick which I used on Amazon.com. I would find books similar to mine and I would review them. Not once did I ever give a bad review. However at the end of the review process it asked if I knew of a book which was a better read. If so, it asked for the ISBN Number of that book. Hell yeah I know of a better book, MINE! 

I then spent hours entering the ISBN number of my book. I repeated this thousands of times over the next few months. How many books did I sell that year? Quite a few. Damn that was pretty good. Bought myself a new truck. Once the money was gone, I was right back where I started. 

I worked twenty hours a day, seven days a week to push my books. I gave away thousands of my stories for free just to get my name out there. I have stories in more than 30 books in five countries. My stories are now used in five states for the testing of school children. I have stories on ten thousand web sites around the world. Yet, how many of you have ever heard of Roger Dean Kiser? 

What is my point? The point is this: writing is a never-ending battle. It is a claw, scratch and very hard climb to ever reach the top.

Oh, let me tell you about the movie deal. 

I managed to put together a movie deal with Universal Pictures, based on my book. I was to receive fifty-thousand dollars up front and then four additional payments of fifty-thousand dollars, as the film progressed. My publisher (Adams Publishing) told me that they held (all) the rights to my first book and that they were to receive the fifty-thousand dollar payments. I was to receive 7.05% of that.

To make a long story short: They refused to budge and I refused to budge, so the deal fell apart. In the end we both got nothing. 

THE POINT: 

Do not sell your soul just to get your story published. Hold on to as many rights as you can. There are many rights associated with the publishing of a story/book. Television rights, movie rights, book rights, audio rights, foreign rights, CD rights, DVD rights; and the list goes on and on. 

An extreme example of the contract: You can sell to white people but not to black people. You can sell to red people but not to white people who are deaf. You can sell to black people but not to white people if they are crippled. You can sell to purple people but not to brown people if they have one eye. A contract is so involved that the average writer cannot understand what is actually happening or what it is saying. Generally, the writer is so excited about being published that they will sign anything placed before them. 

THE LAWYER: 

I know you will go get yourself a good lawyer and he will make it all simple and clear. Don’t bother wasting your money. The damn lawyers are just about as bad as the publishers. They will suck what little money you do get, out of your pocket faster than a sponge dropped in water. 

DON’T DO ANYTHING without giving the contract much thought. Many times the book itself is not where the big money is located. The large payday is in a movie and/or television deal. What you get in the contract is not as important as what you might give away. 

The contract(s) with publishers are that extreme and are that detailed. They want every penny they can get out of the contract. They act as though they care about you and YOUR IMPORTANT STORY. Believe me, they do not care. I will repeat myself….They do not care. It is all about the money. They want you to do all the work. They will keep you hyped and allow you to spend everything they gave you up front to promote your own book. Another thing they do not tell you is this: Whatever monies you do get up front must be paid back as the book begins to sell. If they give you three thousand dollars, up front you will have to pay that three thousand back to them out of your royalties. They know that you are excited and will spend every penny of that money in the promotion of your wonderful book. Why wouldn’t you? You are going to be a millionaire anyway, RIGHT? 

Several years ago I hooked up with several producers/directors from Hollywood. I had them purchase the rights to my first book from Adams Publishing. I was made many promises and felt I was on my way to the BIG TIME. 

Well, to make a long story short…They purchased the rights to my book. I got fifty dollars and that was all I ever received. They made several of my stories into movies (called shorts) and entered them into many film festivals. They received top awards and then the producers moved on to several major film deals. I was left behind and forgotten. It is important that you ask that a TIME LIMIT be placed on the contract. Should something go wrong you will not be locked into the contract for years. 

I then published another book (overseas) and was told that I had violated my contract with the above producers/directors and that they were going to sue me.

Well, to make another long story short…..I won the argument but by then the foreign publisher was too scared to proceed and withdrew the book from the overseas market. 

The main point of this writing is to show you that writing has many pitfalls and it is not an easy business. It takes a lot of hard work and hours, upon hours of your time. 

What is the secret to writing a good story? Not just a good story, but a story (or book) that will sell. It must have meaning and it must have a purpose. Your story must shine above all others. If your writing does not invoke feeling(s) it is useless. It is useless because it is only equal to thousands of other stories written about the same subject. 

I have always said “Any writer can make a reader see an apple, but a good writer can make them taste it.” 

That is the secret. You have to make them cry, laugh or get mad. Everyone wants to feel something when they read. That is why they pick up a book, or watch a television show. That is what it takes to become a published writer. 

One last thing you should know. 

My thought was this: If someone offered me a movie contract, based on my book and it made twenty-five million dollars and I only received one-million dollars I could live with that screw job. However, that is not how the Hollywood system works. If they make twenty-five million dollars you will be lucky to receive twenty-five thousand dollars. To be even more honest you will be lucky to receive five-thousand dollars. 

The reason this happens is because, under the contract rules, they will use your portion of your proceeds under what is called expenses. They will eat lobster and steak, while drinking fine wines throughout the entire shooting of the movie. All the while, patting you on the back and talking about what a great book you wrote. When all is said and done you will be left alone with a book that is useless and has no more value. It is important that you get some money upfront. 

How much money are we talking about for a story which might be used for a television series? 

If the story is used in Canada you will receive about one thousand dollars per story. If used in the United States you might receive as much a five thousand dollars per story. 

If you do get a chance to get a piece of the pie; you had better grab all you can while the grabbing is good. When the smoke clears that will be all you get out of the deal. 

GETTING KNOWN: 

Use your time and energy to get known to as large an audience as possible. Do that in the shortest amount of time possible. The internet is one of the best free tools you have. Forget your local newspaper unless you are scheduling a book signing. It is a waste of time. It might be helpful if you live in a large city (one million or more). If you get something working in your favor, stay on top of it. Do not wait for others to make a decision for you. Call them, hound them and stay on their ass until you have succeeded. Others do not care about you, your work or your interests. They will do favors for you only if it puts something in their pocket. I have wined and dined with the best and it was all a waste of time and money.

What I did in order to get my name and stories known on this site is exactly what you have to do on a larger scale. YOU and YOU alone have to make it happen. No one is going to make it happen for you. All I can tell you is that you had best sleep with one eye open when it comes to Publishers, Television and Hollywood. 

WHAT ABOUT AN AGENT? 

Many are up and coming agents who are looking for the next Stephen King so they can make millions quickly. If you sign a contract with an agent (who is worthless) you are locked in for a year or two. That can kill you. Most good agents want to represent writers who are already established-someone they can/will represent for less of a percentage. It is almost impossible to talk to a well known agent.

Getting an agent to represent you is like applying for credit. The bank will not give you credit unless you have an established credit record. How does one establish credit if no one will give them credit in the first place? Taking on a agent is a chance you will have to take. 

Does anyone remember Five Star Music Masters? They were a company who charged thirty-five dollars to put your words to music. Thirty-five dollars was a lot of money in the 1950s. They made millions. No one was ever turned down. All submitted poems and words were “fantastic” and would hit the top of the music chart. (Is there a lesson here?) 

One last thought to remember: If a publisher thinks your story is worth millions they will pay you one-hundred thousand dollars to allow them to publish it.

For those of you who write “heartfelt stories” Chicken Soup for the Soul Books is the best way to have your work published. Its an easy $300.00 per story and I have sold hundreds of my own books because of my stories printed in that publication. Their web site submission is free to all. 

I am not saying give-up or don’t try to make a career in writing. What I am saying is this…A walk though the woods can be very enjoyable, and profitable if you know where the bears and the deep holes are located.

Good luck and good writing.

The Most Important Word in Book Marketing

A small town near where I live does a big spread in the county newspaper every December with ads from all the stores under the headline, “Shop Locally.” A nice sentiment, but that’s all it is. Why? There is no “because.” The merchants give no one a reason to shop locally. If they said the prices were lower, the merchandise unique, the stores specially decorated, or even that the clerks were friendly, people would be more willing to spend their Christmas dollars in those places, but as it is, all the merchants are saying is “shop here” and nothing more.

“Because” is the most important word in marketing, and that goes for books, too. You tell your friend, “You have to read this book because . . .” Without a because, the plea to read is just that, an empty plea.

Nonfiction is easy. “You have to read this book because it tells you how you can get rid of that big lump on your neck without cutting off your head.” (Okay, a silly example, but you get the point.) Fiction is harder. Saying, “buy my book because it’s a romance like every other romance you’ve ever read only different,” might work. But what if you don’t have a romance?

Two of my novels are being released next month by Second Wind Publishing, and I’ve been trying to figure out the becauses.

Buy More Deaths Than One because . . .

Buy A Spark of Heavenly Fire because . . .

And that’s as far as I got. My books don’t easily fit into a genre, which is the type of book I like, but when it comes to selling them, it’s a drawback. So I have to look to the story to find the because.

More Deaths Than One: Bob Stark returns home after 18 years in Southeast Asia to discover that the mother he buried before he left is dead again. He attends her funeral and sees himself married to his college girlfriend. Is his other self a hoaxer or a doppelganger, or is something more sinister going on? Even worse, two men who appear to be government agents are hunting him for no reason that he can fathom. With the help of a Kerry Casillas, a baffling young woman Bob meets in a coffee shop, he uncovers the unimaginable truth.

A Spark of Heavenly Fire: In quarantined Colorado, where hundreds of thousands of people are dying from an unstoppable disease called the red death, insomniac Kate Cummings struggles to find the courage to live and to love. Her new love, investigative reporter Greg Pullman, is determined to discover the truth behind the red death at all costs, until the cost – Kate’s safety – becomes more than he can pay.

The because is in there somewhere. I just have to find it.