• May 3, 2008

    The 2008 Bad Poetry Contest Starts Today


    No doubt you’ve been waiting all year for me to host my annual BAD POETRY CONTEST at MacGregor Literary. Next week is my birthday (a big one — I hit the big Five-Oh), and I always try to celebrate by inviting all the bad poetry my friends can muster. Just go to the bottom of this blog, hit "comments," and post some lousy piece of doggerel as your way of joining in the celebration. That’s right – You can be published! Right now! On my blog! Aren’t you just wetting your pants in anticipation?

    It can be a crappy couplet, a crummy bit of free verse, a lousy limerick (let’s stay away from rhyming with the city of "Nantucket"), or any other ditty you create that shows what a sensitive and thoughtful artist you are, when you don’t happen to be worrying about your lack of a book contract or whining about the bad job of marketing your publisher is doing for you.

    Warning: This is not a "birthday blog." So don’t feel you have to write a poem about birthdays. It’s just your chance to share your true deepfulness and reflectiveosity. You’re an artist — go art.

    For those not in the know, this contest grows from my belief that every poet has the same message, which can be subtly summed up this way: "LOOK AT ME! I AM SENSITIVE AND REFLECTIVE AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME! SO I’LL SHOW THEM HOW DEEP I AM BY WRITING POETRY!" (Feel free to edit that statement if you’re truly deep and meaningful.) I want you to know that I’m here for you poets — in fact, I was once accused of being sensitive, and have occasionally been forced to reflect on something, until I could grow up and get over it. Therefore, I’ve set aside the next few days just for you. Write! Create! Sit and contemplate your navel! Do…um…whatever it is

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  • April 27, 2008

    Mike Hyatt goes for broke…


    What a week for Mike Hyatt, the Prez at Thomas Nelson Publishers. Early last week he announced that TN would pull out of ICRS (the big CBA book show) in Orlando this July. Then he announced that TN would also pull out of BEA (the big ABA book show for the general market). A day later, he let people know that TN was cutting 10% of its workforce. And in his blog the next day, he dropped his biggest bombshell: that TN was releasing too many under-performing books, and they planned to "eliminate a significant portion of our workload" by significantly cutting their list.

    Wow. That is one lousy week.

    Or maybe it turns out to be a great week — who knows? It’s got to be tough to face all these problems, and even tougher to blog about them. Mr. Hyatt keeps a blog (michaelhyatt.blogs.com), in which he reveals some of his thinking. It can be an interesting read, and kudos to the guy for being willing to share some of his thinking. He’s got to be the highest-ranking person in all of publishing to offer thoughts in that format, and he took some hits for doing so — some people posted very personal attacks on the guy.

    Um… Look, let me get this out right at the start: Mike and I are acquaintances, not friends. He is always very pleasant to me, but we’re not hanging out together in Nashville or going to get a drink with one another at CBA. I don’t feel sorry for him — when he signed on to be the Boss, he had to know he’d face some tough decisions. You figure they pay him the big bucks to make these types of tough decisions. But I gained a huge measure of respect for the way he handled this. I was a publisher once (though not in a position of authority

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  • April 21, 2008

    On Conferences and Ideas


    I just got back from the best writing conference I’ve ever attended — the Calvin Conference on Faith and Writing. It took place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and featured bestselling authors such as Haven Kimmel, Kathleen Norris, Yann Martel, Phyllis Tickle, Rob Bell, Francine Rivers, and T. Davis Bunn. Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Chabon and Edward P. Jones spoke, as did Pulitzer nominee Robert Finch, and National Book Award winner Katherine Paterson. And (probably due to a clerical error) me.

    There were fascinating presentations, all done by smart people with really big titles. Mary Louise Bringle spoke on "From Despair to Healing: Theological Insights from Fiction," and others did things like "Graphalogia" and "Writing as Catechesis" and "How I Learned to Draw God." Meanwhile, I did my usual "the right way to sharpen a pencil." I also gave people tips on saving money by using toilet paper instead of kleenex. In case there were charismatics in the audience, I pretended to speak in tongues and heal somebody.

    Anyway, they do this every other year at Calvin. One of the reasons I like it so much is because of the quality of writer they get. Haven Kimmel is one of my heroes, so the fact that we got a chance to sit down and yack was special. (Her most recent book, She Got Up Off the Couch, is about her mother, who rose from poor roots to become an English professor. So when I got to sit and have a conversation with her mom, I was thrilled. And charmed.) Davis Bunn proved once again to be the nicest Southern Gentleman still living. Phyllis Tickle is always nice to me, though I have no idea why. So is the poet Luci Shaw, even though I’m never smart enough to figure out what she’s saying. Being able to chat up very smart people is always nice, though they generally just stand

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  • April 8, 2008

    As the Page Turns


    Lots going on in publishing these days…

    First, Borders may or may not be in trouble. It would seem incredible that the nation’s second largest bookseller, in the midst of a growth phase with smaller "boutique" bookstores going up in malls, would suddenly be facing a financial crisis. But they say it’s caused by the tightening credit rules, debt, and the cost of money. They had to refinance a huge debt load at a very high rate — never a good sign for a business. And rumor has it Barnes & Noble is sniffing around, hoping to try and snap them up on the cheap. Nobody in publishing wants that to happen. Competition is always good for business, and B&N would have very little competition in the brick-and-mortar book business if they were to purchase Borders.

    Actually, I’m not sure the government would allow it. Borders and B&N combined account for 55% of all retail book sales in this country, and surely the government would see that consumer prices would be bound to rise if the two companies merged. However, if you take into account Amazon and other online booksellers, B&N could claim the two chains only amount to about a third of all book sales…so perhaps a permissive federal regulator would allow it to happen. But I hope not. Having two companies creates competition, which is always a good thing.

    Second, HarperCollins made big news with the announcement they were creating a new imprint that would rely on very different business practices than most publishers. Robert Miller, the longtime boss at Hyperion, has moved to HC to head up the new venture. The imprint will offer lower-priced books (word is they’re trying to keep hardcovers at $20), won’t pay advances to authors (instead relying on a profit-sharing plan), won’t buy display space in stores (instead relying on their online marketing efforts), and will sell books outright to retailers (rather

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  • April 2, 2008

    Good Grief — Why Don’t You Update This Thing?


    Some new information has come out on the bestselling books of 2007, and it’s fascinating stuff…

    First, there were nine novels that sold a million copies last year, according to Publishers Weekly (in fact, all the numbers in this column will be based on the most recent issue of PW): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Playing for Pizza, Double Cross, The Choice, Lean Mean Thirteen, Plum Lovin, Eclipse, and Book of the Dead. I don’t know how many of those you read but I can tell you it was a great year for Janet Evanovich, and that Pizza is one of Grisham’s clunkers. Ugh.

    Second, there were sort-of seven nonfiction hardcover books that sold a million copies last year: The Secret, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Decelptively Delicious, You: Staying Young, I Am America (and so can you), Become a Better You, and, apparently, The Daring Book for Girls. My reason for saying there were "sort of" seven books is because the recorded sales for that last book was exactly one million copies… which would have been an amazing coincidence. (On an honest note, You: On a Diet came in less than 2000 copies short of a million.)

    Third, there were eleven trade paperback titles that hit the magic mark: Eat Pray Love, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, The Road, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Pillars of the Earth, Love in the Time of Cholera, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Jeusalem Countdown, Middlesex, and Measure of a Man. And no, I’m not kidding… John Hagee’s Jerusalem really did sell more than a million copies. Unbelievable.

    Fourth, there were sixteen mass market novels that sold a million copies. I won’t list them all by title, but Nora Roberts held places #1 and #3, and James Patterson held #2, 4, 5, and 6.

    Fifth, the only children’s book to pass the million mark was Philip Pullman’s The

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  • March 19, 2008

    Online Writing and Publishing


    Susan wrote to ask, "What is your opinion of e-publishing as a means to break into traditional publishing?"

    I’ve yet to see this work much. I keep hearing about authors who plan to e-publish their novel one chapter at a time, which is an interesting concept and might be a nice alternative to those writers with a niche readership, but I’m not seeing it translate into regular royalty-paying deals. Stephen King tried selling his novel chapter-by-chapter and it went nowhere. And now publishers are becoming wary of allowing an author to include material in a book that has already been available on a blog or website or e-zine. I still believe the web is a great training ground for authors, but I’m not sure the practice of e-publishing is actually going to get you a traditional publishing deal.

    Laura wants to know, "When an author sends an electronic proposal to an editor at a publishing house through a referral or because of a meeting at a writers’ conference, how long should the author expect to wait for a reply?"

    It varies on the editor, the house, and the season (some seasons are busier than others), but it’s generally fair to say that an author will probably hear within 12 weeks or so. If you’ve been waiting longer than 3 months, it’s fine to check back with the editor, just to see if they’re still considering it. Be patient — publishing is a slow process.

    Lynn writes to say, "I have an article that has been showcased on an online writers’ forum and has proven popular. Now I’d like to find a publication where I could submit my article. Since most magazines have an online edition, would they consider my article already published?"

    You’re asking the question many writers are wondering. The fact is, this topic is still being debated, so I don’t have a definitive answer for you, Lynn. Check

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  • March 9, 2008

    Resources for Writers


    I’ve got a bunch of notes and questions regarding writer resources, so let me try to get to several of them today…

    On MONEY: Patricia wrote to say, "Thanks for your recent blog post about earning money. So if a book doesn’t ‘earn out’ its advance, is the balance applied against the next book?"

    It is if your contract is cross-collateralized — that is, if all your various book advances are "basketed" into one deal. If not — if each book is on a separate contract — then no, your advance cannot be applied to your next book. 

    On REMAINDERS: DeeAnn wrote me to ask, "What does it mean to ‘remainder’ a book?"

    That’s when the publisher sells the remaining copies of your book to a book wholesaler for less than the cost of printing. It commonly happens when your book is going out of print, or when they’re down to the last 1000 copies or so, and the publisher wants to be rid of them. The books might have cost $2 to print, but they’ll sell them for $1 apiece to somebody who will buy the entire remaining stock, just to get them out of the warehouse.   

    On SELF-PUBLISHING: Gene wants to note, "The latest issue of Writers Digest is filled with ads for self-publishing. I’m on my second agent, still trying to get  published, but it takes SOOOO long. How can you convince me not to go to lulu.com and have my book for sale on Amazon tomorrow morning? When will the traditionalists speed up the process?"

    You’re right — there are a ton of self-publishing companies. Some are good, some are not. Be careful. The problem with self-publishing is not the speed, it’s the sales. If you write a book, you have to make sure the book is good (and if publishers are all turning you down, there could be a message there, Gene). You also

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  • March 6, 2008

    An Editor Drops By


    Becky Germany is a Senior Editor at Barbour Publishing, and a familiar face at writing conferences. I recently asked her a couple questions about the industry…

    In many ways, Barbour has become a leader in Christian fiction — doing novellas, establishing a book club, focusing on mass market. Where does all the creative thinking come from?

    Becky: We’re the leading CBA publisher of fiction categorized as romance. We rank fourth in the number of units produced in fiction in CBA. We started publishing fiction as romance flip books way back in 1983 with authors like Colleen Reece, Irene Brand, and Elaine Schultze. I wasn’t at Barbour then, so I"m not sure how it was decided to settle upon romance, but it’s been our strength ever since. The Heartsong Presents book club began in 1992, the year before I joined the company, and out of that has come a number of stars — Tracie Peterson, Wanda Brunstetter, Lauraine Snelling, Colleen Coble, Cathy Marie Hake, and more (forgive me for not trying to name them all, Chip). Our fiction series have helped us remain open to working with unpublished authors and developing them into strong writers.

    Another Barbour strength has been doing series and repackaging previously published material (including Grace Livingston Hill) to extend the breadth and life of the product. Our novella collections were born when we decided we could create new short stories specifically for collections under topics of our choice. So the creative thinking seems to extend from Barbour’s roots, and builds on what we do best. Our team members are, for the most part, people who have been with Barbour many years and who know the company’s success model. We’ve learned to work within our strengths and to keep our product subjects broad, in order to appeal to the widest audience.

    What are some of the things that have worked (and not worked) in fiction for you?


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  • February 25, 2008

    The Hard Questions


    I’ve been sent some tough questions lately — questions that you might have been wondering about in your own writing career. It seems like there are some difficult publishing questions that frequently get ignored, so I’ll try to tackle a couple of them today…

    Donna wrote to say, "It seems like there are a ton of books that have sold a million copies lately. Can you tell me what the top books last year sold?"

    I can, but prepare to be surprised. There were only four books last year that sold more than a million copies — Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (which sold more than 7 million); The Secret (just shy of 3 million); Eat, Pray, Love (just shy of 2M); and A Thousand Splendid Suns (sold 1M). That’s it. Four books.

    There were another 15 titles that sold between a half-million and a million copies: The Dangerous Book for Boys, Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, and The Memory Keeper’s Daughter all sold just under a million. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious, Stephen Colbert’s I Am America, Sidney Poitier’s The Measure of a Man, John Grisham’s Playing for Pizza, Bob Greene’s The Best Life Diet, the two You titles (You: On a Diet and You: Staying Young), The Glass Castle, Eclipse, and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince all sold more than 500,000 copies. And that’s it. There were 250,000 new books printed last year in this country. 19 of them hit the big time. Yikes.

    John wrote to ask, "Do you have ethical problems with ghostwriting?"

    I hate this question, because too many people are quick to say "YES!" without understanding the terms. I used to make my living as a collaborative writer. A well-known speaker would send me his notes and his seminar on tape, and I’d turn it into a book for him. It was all his material — I was

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  • February 14, 2008

    The Four Best Words


    Today marks the four best words in the English language… And I don’t mean "Happy Valentine’s Day, Darling" (though there’s nothing wrong with those sentiments — I got engaged on Valentine’s Day way back in 1982). No, the four best words are these: "Pitchers and Catchers report." You see, for those of us who are diehard baseball fans, today marks the start of a new season. Nobody has any losses, everybody has hopes for the future, and there are people across America who believe that this could be our year. (Not everywhere, of course. My apologies to the people of Kansas City.) So on this happy occasion, I thought we should take a bundle of new publishing questions people have sent in…

    Rhonda wrote to say, "I had a book published several years ago with a small press. It’s now out of print, but I’d love to get it back into print. Do you think that’s possible?"

    The hard truth? Unlikely. I’m sorry, Rhonda, but the facts are there’s almost no market for books that have been in print once before. Publishers have a tendency to look at them and say, "Um…if that other publisher couldn’t sell this, what makes you think we could?" It happens occasionally, but most often with a successful author revisiting an old book, or repackaging a book that can now be tied to an event in the newspapers.

    Keep in mind that a book is like a man’s suit. It’s in style for a while, maybe even a long while, but eventually it seems dated. The culture isn’t static — things are moving forward all the time. The world is changing. It’s why parenting or relationship or health books that your parents read won’t speak to our contemporary world. So when your book releases, assume it’s going to be in style about as long as a new suit. In a while, it will start to

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