Category : Deep Thoughts

  • November 6, 2012

    On staying current, book clubs, and drinking juice naked


    I’ve had people sending me dozens of questions recently, so I thought I’d try to catch up by changing things a bit and offering several short questions and answers. So the next few days of the blog will sort of head in a new direction…

    Someone wrote and noted, “I have a busy life, and I seem to spend much of it in front of my computer. How can I keep up with the industry? What do you fell is worth sacrificing my writing time to follow?”

    My choices may be different from your own, of course, but I subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly (the bible of our industry), and I get Publishers’ Lunch and PW Daily on my screen every day. They offer a summary of news, with links I can go to when I want to find details. (For example, today the Authors Guild asked the government to look into the proposed Penguin/Random House merger, since it turns out there just MAY be a bit of market-cornering going on.) These keep me in touch with the industry. There are a number of blogs I like, but I’ll admit that I tend to look at the blogs of the authors I represent, and I can’t quite keep up with all the good blogs that have been created. Novel Rocket is good because it keeps you on top of a lot of titles. I still read GalleyCat. Most of the publishers have their own company blogs. I like Mike Hyatt’s excellent blog,,, Digital Book World, and I belong to a couple discussion groups to talk about the business and marketing side of publishing. I’ll invite readers to suggest other good industry blogs in the “comments” section…

    Someone wrote and asked, “What can you tell me about audio books? My publisher isn’t interested in producing my books in audio, though they sell well in print. Is there a way to

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  • October 30, 2012

    Does the publisher have the last word on my book title?


    Someone wrote to ask about titles: “I understand publishers have the last word on titles — how often do they change an author’s proposed title? And if they’re going to change it anyway, how important is the title we suggest?”

    Sure, the publisher probably has the final say on your title — in fact, if you read your contract carefully, you’ll probably find a note about that very fact in the section marked “editing.”

    That said, the proposed title coming from the author is always given weight by a publishing or titling committee. They want to use a title the author likes. In fact, the publisher will sometimes bend over backwards to be polite to an author offering up a lousy title. (My pick for one of the all-time bad titles: Heism Vs Meism, a book by Michael Yousseff with Harvest House. Michael is great. Harvest House is wonderful. The book probably isn’t bad at all. But that title sucks. When I saw it, I didn’t even know how to pronounce it. High-ism versus My-ism? My guess is the stores didn’t sell many copies because staff didn’t know what the title of the book was.)

    Of course, I’ve seen both sides come up with clunkers. Sometimes an author will get stuck on a totally unsalable title and be completely unreasonable about it — so let’s face it, if you don’t have a background in marketing, you may want to give up on that title everyone is telling you is awful. (A retired missionary, who had clearly been in the African bush too long, once went to a friend of mine with a book claiming God would send a wind her way, whenever she prayed for something to cool her off. Her proposed title? Heavenly Blow Jobs.) 

    At other times, the publisher will push for a title that doesn’t fit a book — they’ll claim to be basing it on market

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  • October 29, 2012

    How can a writer create a purpose statement?


    Someone wrote and asked, “Chip, can you help me create a purpose statement for me as a writer? I think I need to clarify my purpose statement. I’m a literary novelist… can you assist me in moving forward?” 

    If you’re thinking about creating a mission statement or a life purpose statement, here are some questions to think through:

    1. If I could sum up the purpose of my life in one word, what word would I choose? 

    2. What if I were to sum it up in three words? 

    3. How would I want my epitaph to read? If I were to live to be 100, what would I want people to say about me at my 100th birthday party? [And kudos to Bobb Biehl for these questions. Bobb is the president of Masterplanning Group International, and was thinking and writing on these topics long before anyone else in the business. You can find him at –and yes, he spells it “Bobb.”]

    You may also find it helpful to ask yourself some questions like these:

    4. Over the course of my life, what do I want to do? 

    5. What do I really want to be? How do I want to describe myself? 

    6. Who are the people or groups I most want to help? 

    7. What sort of things would I like to accomplish in my writing over the next three to ten years?

    8. As you look back over your writing career, what are the themes that are evident? Who have you written to? What have you written about? What are the timeless questions you continue to speak to? 

    As you look at your answers, you’ll start to see some themes. Once you have a feel for those, consider creating one non-technical sentence that can be sort of umbrella statement for your work life. Don’t think of this as art, even though you’re a writer –

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  • October 24, 2012

    If the publisher has said "no" to my book, can I try again?


    Someone wrote to ask,  “If a book publisher turns down my proposal or manuscript, does that mean everyone at the publishing house rejected my proposal? Can I try with a different editor? And how long do you have to let it cool with this publisher before I try again?”

    A writer needs to understand the entire decision-making process at most publishing houses. First, your work is more than likely getting into the building by way of an acquisitions editor — often a friend of your agent, somebody you met at a writer’s conference, or the person who lost a bet. They’ll read through it, maybe make some suggestions, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it is worth pursuing. (And a note on the process: more and more acquisitions editors are relying on agents to do the filtering out of junk, so the slush pile has largely moved from publishing house to literary agency… which means you may have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process.)

    Second, the acquisitions editor will generally take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around and make literary jokes (“I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!” “Yeah, let’s take a TWAIN out of town!” Editorial types love this sort of stuff… that’s why they’re editors and not writers). Eventually they’ll be forced to talk about the merits of your proposal. If it passes muster, it then moves on to the next step.

    Third, the ack editor takes it on to the publishing committee. This is a group of people generally made up of someone from editorial, marketing, sales, and house administration. The sales people will research how many copies their accounts might buy, the administrative people will explore what the hard costs of producing the book will be, and the marketing people will complain that

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  • October 23, 2012

    Should I negotiate my own book contract?


    I’ve had a number of people write to me and ask something along the lines of,“How can I negotiate my own contract?”

    Okay, let’s get something straight right off the bat: You probably aren’t ready to talk contracts with a publisher. Just admit it right now. You spend your time plunking away at a keyboard, and most of what you learned about publishing contracts came in a 45-minute workshop at some writer’s conference, or possibly in a book you barely understood, entitled something like Understanding Publishing Agreements in 6 Easy Lessons. If that’s the case, let me help educate you: When you start discussing contracts with a publisher, you might want to remember that he (or she) has a team of professionals backing him (or her) up. There’s an entire group of people whose professional existence is to make mincemeat out of you. Lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers — even the assistants probably know more about contracts than you do. Have I scared you yet? I hope so. Because I’m not trying to sound superior — I’m trying to get you to understand how important a contract is in your life. A publishing contract is a legal document governing everything about your book for as long as it’s in print… so you don’t want to sign something without having read it carefully, and without knowing what you are signing. There are going to be clauses that sound like they were created by lawyers for whom English isn’t their first language. There’s fine print. There are terms used that are completely foreign to you. And while the publisher isn’t necessarily trying to force you into signing a bad deal, he (or she) is in business to get the best deal possible and to make as much money as they can.

    Think of it as going to a garage sale and finding a great book — a leather-bound, first edition. Maybe it’s

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  • October 17, 2012

    How can I get the most out of my writing group?


    A reader wrote to say, “I’m going to a big writing conference that encourages us to join a critique group. You’ve talked before about the benefit of being in a critique group, but I was in a critique group that didn’t work. What I’m wondering is how to make a critique group actually WORK. Can you help?”

    I’m a huge fan of critique groups, and have participated in several until I moved or they wised up and threw me out. The experience has taught me a few principles for getting the most out of the group. Here are my Ten Laws of Critique Groups:

    1. Ask yourself why you want a critique group. What do you hope to get out of it? You ought to have clear expectations going in, so that you’ve got something to evaluate the benefits later. Some people basically want to hang out with other writers — more or less the same reason they attend writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your reason for joining, you should easily find a group that fits your needs. Others really want a dedicated group of professional writers to take a careful and thoughtful look at their material. If that’s what you’re after, you’re going to need to put a lot more thought into your group.

    2. The value of a critique group is based almost entirely on the membership. So look for people who are AT YOUR LEVEL or maybe just a bit better than you (if your ego can take it) and talk to them about the group. Basically, people want to know what the commitment will be (a weekly or maybe twice a month meeting that lasts a couple hours), what the expectations are (that members will actually READ the other member’s writings before coming to the meeting), and what the benefit is to them (you’ll hear advice for improving your writing).


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  • October 16, 2012

    How can I improve my online writing group?


    Someone wrote to say, “I signed up for an online writing group. The first meeting was great. Then… nothing. There’s no direction. I don’t know what to do. Help!”

    I know what you mean: You sign up for a writing group, and you’re excited when you receive an email telling you who else is in your group. You introduce yourself to the others. Maybe you go back to check out the things these folks have said on recent topics. One morning you sit down at your computer, log on, and can’t wait to start emailing back and forth with your writing buddies. Then something deflating happens…nobody has much to say. You’re not sure where to start. There’s not really a “leader,” so you don’t want to be the one pushing the group toward a topic, but everybody just seems to be sitting there, waiting for someone else to DO SOMETHING. You start to wonder if this group is a bit off the mark…or if it’s you. Instead of participating in the group, you start thinking of spending your time at something considerably more helpful — like online mah jong.

    If that describes you and your online writing group, may I offer a handful of helpful thoughts?

    First, some perspectives regarding a writing group…

    -The group should be a SUPPORTIVE experience. So keep it positive.

    -The group should be an EDUCATIONAL experience. Share your thoughts openly.

    -The group should be a CHALLENGING experience. Learn to listen.

    -The group should be a FOCUSED experience. The others are there to critique your work, not your character.

    -The group should be a FUN experience. Let people vent, say stupid things, poke fun, make jokes…and you do the same.

    Next, let me offer some ideas to get the most out of your group:

    1. Everybody read an article (maybe an online article) and discuss the writing.

    2. Ditto with a book…but this is considerably

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  • October 12, 2012

    What's your best writing advice?


    Someone just wrote to me and asked, “What’s your best advice for writing fiction?”

    I’ll offer mine if you’ll share yours…

    Here is my best writing advice: Write with verbs and nouns. I read that in Strunk and White’s Elements of Style back in high school, and it’s still the best writing advice I know. Too many new novelists think they’re going to flower things up with lots of adjectives and adverbs. That’s a trap. Just tell your story, stick to verbs and nouns, and spend enough time selecting the right word that you don’t have to prop it up with extraneous verbiage.

    That’s my wisdom. (And it’s brief, since I’m pulling jury duty all week.) What’s your best writing advice?

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  • October 9, 2012

    Does an author need to have a big ego?


    I’ve often talked at writing conferences about the motivation we have as writers — some people have a story they need to tell, others have advice they want to share, and still others simply want to be a star and get noticed. There’s something about that issue of “being a star” that becomes part of the writing business. So I was interested when someone wrote to ask, “As an agent, do you find yourself having to deal with ego issues a lot?” (His question came in within 24 hours of someone else asking, “Do you have to have an ego to survive in publishing?”)

    My perspective is that struggling with ego issues is part of any art form. If you’re a musician or actor or dancer, there’s a rush in getting on stage, in front of an audience, and basically shouting, “Look at me!” At the same time, that’s not the only motivation — the opportunity to express yourself, to tell your story, or reveal your vision is just as important. For a writer that same struggle exists. You’ve got to find a balance between expressing yourself in your writing and making this “all about me.”

    So, to make this easy, let me talk about myself rather than my authors, since the whole ego issue is something I have to battle. First, I’m not a star. I have no intentions of ever becoming a star. I’ve written books, but I’m in no way a celebrity author. And the funny thing is that I don’t really want to be a celebrity author, even though I enjoy doing a good job , and doing a good job in public. However…

    Second, I suppose if there is any place I’ve got a small measure of celebrity, it’s with the extremely small population of people who attend writers’ conferences — a group small enough that most people don’t even know it exists. In

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  • October 3, 2012

    How can I make a living at writing?


    When you look at writers who are making a living at their writing, you find they come in two basic types:

    TYPE 1 is the writer who writes all over the map. There are plenty of examples of this in publishing – writers who do kids books, teen books, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, study guides, and the occasional novella. They publish with multiple publishers, self-publish some titles, do some work-for-hire or collaborative writing, and cobble together a living. This author has good years and bad, makes decent money, is certainly out there a lot. On the nonfiction side, you find this much more with journalistic types — they’re taking on a variety of projects in order to make a living. 

    TYPE 2 is the writer who figures out what she wants to write, then writes it. She focuses on a genre, figures out her voice, and writes to that audience. An example of this is Terry Blackstock (there are plenty of others). Terry is writing suspense novels, everybody recognizes her voice, and she’s focused on that one audience. Another is an author I represent, Lisa Samson. Lisa writes literary fiction, knows who she is and what her style is, and focuses on it. 

    I’ll tell you right now that TYPE 1 writers rarely hit it big. She might make a good living, but it’s tough to really hit the big time when you move around in categories. You know that feeling of being overwhelmed because you’re doing six books in four different genres? Well, that’s the sort of life a TYPE 1 author is going to lead forever, because she finds it tough build an audience. Readers have trouble following her. Bookstore owners have a hard time getting behind her because they don’t know what her next book is going to be. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do this — frankly, it may be the only way to make

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