The Business of Writing with James Scott Bell

Marcy and I had the privilege of meeting James Scott Bell at the Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference in California last year. He gave us a free critique (part of the conference) and helped set us on a new path to publication that landed us in New York at the Writer’s Digest Conference. And who did we find there? James Scott Bell. He was a guest speaker, so we had a chance to reconnect. Much to our great delight he remembered us. He graciously agreed to give this interview on the business of writing.

Thank you so much, Jim! And to our readers, enjoy. 🙂

Lisa

LHW: You’re a successful author who’s sold a lot of books, but in support of the writing career you speak and teach at conferences, tweet, blog, give interviews <grin>. What myth would you most like to dispel for new writers about the successful writer’s life?

JSB: That it ever gets easier. In fact, in some ways, it gets harder. Or should. Your standards go up with each book. You know more, you set the bar higher. And you want it to, if you’re a real writer. I have a number of bestselling author friends, and they all feel this way. It’s nice to have a career doing this, certainly. But it’s work, too. Don’t think it’s ever a fluffy ride on a cloud.

LHW: You’ve stated elsewhere that new writers need to focus on craft first – without a good book the rest doesn’t matter. But, at what point in an author’s early career should they begin thinking about the business behind the writing? How does one plan for that? What are the key items to think through, and consider?

JSB: A writer should think about this being a business from the very start. Know how the business runs, what publishers and agents and readers look for, what sells and does not sell. Learn how to plan at least two years ahead. Set goals for finishing projects and getting them out there. Learn about production–editing, cover design, copywriting and copyrighting. This approach establishes its own momentum. You can be doing things every day toward your goals, and there’s a power in that.

At the same time, never think that business knowledge and marketing can cover a multitude of writing sins. One still has to be able to consistently deliver the goods, and that means learning the craft by writing, revising, studying, getting feedback, and more writing.

LHW: You have a wide range of new ‘products’ being offered through ebooks, traditionally published fiction and non-fiction books (at my count you released 9 books in different formats on Amazon in 2011). You’re speaking and teaching at writers conferences, and Donald Maas just announced that the two of you will be doing a new workshop together in the fall. There’s been a lot of doom and gloom talk about publishing lately. In your opinion, is this a good time to be a new writer/author?

JSB: Never a better time to be an author! Ever. Period. Because of choices. It’s always been hard to get published traditionally. And yes, it’s harder at this moment because of the shakeups in the industry. Not impossible. New authors are getting deals. But we have the independent route now that means there’s a real alternative. There wasn’t before. Yes, you could pay a lot of money to self-publish in print, but 99% of the time you couldn’t sell enough to make any real dough. Not only has indie publishing been a boon for books, but also for short stories and novellas. The latter market was virtually non-existant. Now it’s back, better than ever.

Yes, it’s a great time to be a writer.

LHW: A lot of indie authors are telling new writers they must be prolific and produce new content often, 3-5books a year, to be successful. Not many traditionally published authors can manage that kind of output. Looking ahead, what do you predict will be the key factors for a successful writing career? Being prolific? A wide range of ‘products’? Social media clout?

JSB: I love being prolific, but I don’t think you need to put a number on the speed of production. Consistency is a better word. A writer who wants to succeed at this needs to establish a consistent rate of production (I always use a weekly quota of words), and plan projects out in advance (I have enough for at least five years hence). The “keys” to success are quality and consistency, which is why I advocate a systematic studying of the craft of writing for the rest of your life. Some writers sniff at craft study, but they are fooling themselves and others. Would you want your brain operated on by a surgeon who doesn’t keep up with the medical journals? Make craft study a part of the “quality control” of your business–and all writers are in business for themselves.

Social media certainly has a role to play, but if one gets obsessive about it, the ROE (Return on Energy) just doesn’t add up. Recent studies have shown that books are not sold in great numbers via social media. Create relationships with readers in social media, but always remember the best thing to do is write excellent books and let word of mouth take over. Concentrate your energy there.

LHW: Any advice for emerging authors about the business of writing?

JSB: Learn business principles: goal setting, time management, marketing fundamentals, quality control, pricing, copywriting, sales. You can get good books on all of these and study them when you can. I wrote a book, The Art of War for Writers, which covers a lot of this territory, but you can go deeper into each area.

The most important things a writer can do are, in order of importance:

1. Write

2. Keep improving what you write (study craft, get critiques)

3. Sell what you write (via marketing and business principles)

And try to enjoy the ride. I blogged about a new definition of success for writers, where freedom is the operative word. Freedom and responsibility. It’s exhilarating to hold them in your own hands.

JAMES SCOTT BELL is the author of the #1 bestseller for writers, Plot & Structure, and numerous thrillers, including Deceived, Try Dying, Try Darkness, Try Fear, One More Lie and Watch Your Back. He served as the fiction columnist for Writer’s Digest magazine and has written highly popular craft books for Writers Digest Books, including: Revision & Self-Editing, The Art of War for Writers and Conflict & Suspense. Under the pen name K. Bennett he has written the zombie legal thrillers Pay Me in Flesh and The Year of Eating Dangerously. He lives and writes in L.A. His website is www.jamesscottbell.com

What do you think? Is this a doom and gloom time for writers, or a world of new opportunities?

Results From Writers Digest Conference 2012

Many people have asked us to tell them about our experience at the 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference. (WDC12) Here are a few observations and of course, the results of our trip.

First, keep in mind that there are different kinds of writer’s conferences. Some conferences focus on learning craft, others are geared more to the business aspect of writing, still others are geared for fans of writers or the hobbyist. Some conferences work hard to foster networking and relationship building and provide lots of opportunities for attendees to mingle with faculty, others don’t worry so much about that.

We went to Times Square to rework our pitch the night before

I’ve been to several different kinds of conferences geared to both the Christian and general market, and have found value in all of these experiences. Know what kind of conference you want, and what that conference offers so you aren’t disappointed.

My impressions:

A Conference For Professionals

This conference is meant for professionals, not beginning writers. I met more than a few people completely overwhelmed because they had just begun to start writing – which is OK if you knew what you were getting into. This conference was planned with the professional in mind, and focused a lot of the sessions on the business of writing, the career behind the writing. Loved that.

What became very clear was how much this industry is changing. Barry Eisler was a keynote speaker this weekend, and if you follow publishing news you might recognize his name because he recently turned down a 2.5million dollar two book deal from St. Martin’s Press to self-publish – and then accepted an offer from Amazon. He claims the book published electronically with Amazon has done better than any of his other books by a large margin. That’s astounding. I’ll be blogging more about that in the weeks ahead.

Writers come to this conference to pitch their work, and agents come expecting you to have something worth their time. Agents were not paid to come, they are there only to find new talent. It’s your chance to skip the cold query process that can last from 3-6 months, and the inevitable agency slush-pile jockey. It’s a chance to meet the person face-to-face, which is such a valuable opportunity in this digital age.

There are no meals really to socialize over. There are no editors or publishers, all the agents were from New York and just arrived for the 3hour Pitch Slam on Saturday afternoon and left again. Everyone is there to sell their book – get out of their way.

The Pitch Slam

You all want to know how the pitch slam works. As we waited in line for the doors to open, people clutched their pitch sheets, recited their pitches to themselves, forced the people around them to listen to their pitches. Not many people laughed or joked, and they defended their place in line with quiet ferocity. Many people dressed in business casual – others wore suits, a few came in jeans and t-shirts. The agents were all dressed in business casual.

The agents sat behind a table with one chair in front of them, and a small pile of much-coveted business cards at their elbow. You had 3 minutes to interest them enough to get their business card. That’s what it’s all about. That’s the goal – to get a business card. You’re not going to get signed in 3 minutes, no one’s going to jump out of the chair and declare, “I want to represent you.” It felt a bit like being lowered into a shark tank – only our intent was to look interesting enough to get snagged by a shark or two out of the hundreds swimming (or floundering) around us.

Generally the agents were intent, focused, and very business-like. They weren’t interested in small talk or chit chat – just your pitch.

Chuck Sambuchino gave a fabulous run-down of how to master the 3minute pitch. It’s different than writing a query letter, there’s just not enough time. You have to boil down your whole novel to a 90 second pitch, 3-10 sentences. It’s like Survivor Elevator Pitch. Marcy will be blogging about this process next week.

Line-ups became very long very fast. Even though we had 3 hours, I was only able to speak with 5 agents, Marcy reached 6. You can estimate how long the line is – 10 people in front of you that’s a 30 minute wait. It adds up fast. I waited in line for more than an hour for just one agent (and yes – she liked us. She asked for a full manuscript.)

Bring a notebook and a pen in case the agent has run out of cards, and to write down what the agent has asked for. We were asked for material from 7 agents, and every one asked for something slightly different.

I was very thankful for my iPod. Playing Bejeweled Blitz while waiting in line helped calm my nerves – my scores were embarrassing though.

How to Prepare

We read every agent’s bio weeks ahead of time and continued to check the website right up until the day before the conference to select those agents who were interested in acquiring our genre – this was a rather broad list. We stalked each agent on social media – what kind of person were they – was this someone we could see ourselves working with? We looked up their recent deals on publisher’s weekly, and checked the absolutewrite watercooler site to see what other writers said about them. This further cut down our list. Then we took that list and prioritized them, and there were a few last-minute cancellations. We found some of the bios were a little outdated,  vague, or conflicted with what their agency website said so we had a couple of agents tell us they don’t represent what we were writing which was disappointing.

What Surprised Us

Not one agent asked us about prior writing experience or publishing credits. There wasn’t time. The questions from the agents who were interested were more intense than we’d expected. We were asked about character arcs, the history behind the story, what aspects were fantasy, how we started working together, is there a mythological tie. I was surprised by how tiring the whole experience was. All we wanted to do afterwards was leave the hotel for a bit and not talk about our book at all – just revel in our success for an evening.

Results

The majority of the people we spoke to only received one business card. I saw at least 3 people out in the hallway crying afterwards, and they didn’t look like happy tears. Marcy spoke with one lady who got requests from all 5 agents she spoke with. Results seemed to vary. We split up to pitch twice as many agents. So, we spoke with 11 agents, and got requests for more material from 7 of them. We are very pleased with this result.

We micro-blogged our way through the conference on the GWP Facebook page. If you missed it, it’s easy enough to scroll down the wall on the page and see all the updates from the sessions. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing more of the information we gleaned from the sessions and the experience in general. If you have a question you’d like us to answer, leave it in the comments.

Are you planning to go to any conferences this year? What investments are you making in your writing career?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Girls With Pens in the Big Apple

Marcy and Lisa are heading to New York City for the annual Writer’s Digest Conference this weekend. We’re off on another whirlwind adventure – and you’re welcome to tag along. As we have access to a wifi hotspot, we’ll post photos and video blog about our weekend in the Big Apple.

We’ll give you the inside scoop into one of the largest writers conferences in North America – but here’s the catch. You won’t find those updates here. We’ll be microblogging on Facebook so make sure you head on over to the GWP Facebook page for all updates.

If you’re on Twitter, Porter Anderson will be tweeting behind the scenes all weekend (so we’ve heard) and you can follow the action with the hashtag #wdc12

Lisa’s on deck on Monday here at GWP with a summary post.

Happy Writing!

4 Facts Writer’s Conference Faculty Wish Attendees Knew

This past weekend, Lisa and I served as faculty at Write! Canada, Canada’s largest and best writer’s conference for writers who are Christian. Coming out, I thought you might benefit from a peek at the top 4 facts writer’s conference faculty wish attendees knew.

Canadian writer's conference(1) We can tell from a 15 minute appointment who is going to succeed and who is going to fail.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not. It’s that obvious.

So what are some of the factors signaling success in a person’s future?

  • a willingness to learn and work hard
  • questions showing an understanding of what I said
  • the ability to tell me what you need my help with (or the acknowledgment you’re just starting out and aren’t even sure what your first step should be)
  • evidence you did your research ahead of time (if you booked an appointment with me randomly, that’s not a good sign)

What makes these so important?

Hard work and teachability trump talent every day.

Asking questions (or taking notes) shows that you’re listening, digesting, and are likely to apply what you’ve learned later.

If you know what you need my help with, you know your weaknesses. Recognizing them is the first step in fixing them.

Researching my background and areas of expertise wasn’t difficult. It was all posted on the wall right above the appointment sign-up sheet. If you signed up with me randomly, it’s a warning sign you’ll also query agents and editors randomly.

We hope that the ones we see potential in will contact us later, even if only to tell us how things are going. I felt invested in some of the people I met this weekend, and even if I never hear from them again, I’ll be here, behind the scenes, rooting for them to succeed.

(2) There’s nothing in it for us. We don’t even get paid to be there.

Although we get a small amount for any critiques we do before the conference, it’s not enough to cover the time we spend on the critiques, let alone our time at the conference. And we don’t get paid to come to the conference (in fact, we pay to come–albeit with a discount). We also don’t have our lodging or travel expenses paid for. Monetarily, this weekend was a loss for me.

The point to take away from this is that we’ve got nothing to gain from the advice we give you. The one and only goal of our advice is to help you succeed. Take what we say seriously. We’re there because we’re experienced professionals.

(3) Our days are longer than yours.

Faculty members put in 14 hour days. On Friday alone, Lisa and I put in 17 hours, including teaching a class, an impromptu workshop, almost 4 hours of one-on-one appointments with attendees, a working lunch, a working supper, informal meetings . . . you get the picture. And unlike attendees, we can’t just take off for an hour to rest.

We were happy to do it. We hope to do it again. But it’s exhausting to always be “on.”

So what? (Yup, I could hear you asking that.)

If at any point it felt like we were brushing you off, ignoring you, belittling you, or didn’t want to talk to you, the truth is we were just tired. And since we’re human, exhaustion affects us negatively. Know that we were trying our best, and don’t take it personally.

(4) We find it overwhelming (and flattering) that everyone knows who we are.

I’m really not cool enough to be that well known. In fact, I’m geeky and clumsy and boring more often than I care to admit. (If you don’t believe me, just ask my family.)

At Write! Canada, people I’d never met knew me by sight. Few happenings in my life have been as humbling.

To all the Girls With Pens readers we met this weekend at Write! Canada—thank you. Thank you for introducing yourselves to us. Thank you for telling us how much you’re enjoying this blog.

You have no idea how much we enjoyed hearing from you and meeting you. At a time when we were wondering if this blog is worth it, if it’s doing any good, you proved to us that it is.

Now it’s your turn. What do you wish writer’s conference faculty would remember about attendees? What have you sometimes wished you could say to a faculty member?

Marcy

Why You Should Enter Writing Contests

Writing contests offer a variety of benefits ranging from credibility to experience and feedback. There are many different kinds of contests, and there are a number of scams out there so it’s important to recognize a good contest from a bad one.

blue prize ribbonFees
There’s this misnomer that any contest that charges a fee is a scam. Many very credible contests charge entry fees to generate prize money. Most contests I’ve entered charge between $12 and $25 per entry per category, and the grand prize is always mentioned up front. A quick Google search of the contest should give you a good snapshot of its credibility. If someone’s been burned or been happy with a contest, they’ve probably blogged, facebooked or tweeted about it.

Credibility
Some contests generate more credibility for your writing than others. National contests that use credible judges with blind judging are best. What makes a judge qualified? Some examples would be editors, literary agents, authors or writers published by royalty publishers, magazines or newspapers, writing teachers, etc.

Another word about credibility…
When Marcy and I were at Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference this past April, we had the opportunity to present our work to editors and agents. One agent commented that based on the first paragraph in our query, she knew she couldn’t sell our novel because of the time period alone. Normally she wouldn’t have even bothered to read the sample work we’d sent in, but based on the contests we’d won, she decided to read our sample chapters. Our contest wins were a tipping point that gave our writing credibility and got our writing in front of an agent.

Feedback
The very best contests are the ones that will send you the judge’s comments. Regardless of whether you win or not, to receive comments from an editor, agent or published author on how to help you polish your work is invaluable. True critiques can cost hundreds of dollars depending on who you have look at your work. I’ve received great feedback from judges (often more than one judge) for the cost of $25. There are contests I enter and don’t care if I win because I’m only interested in the feedback (I’m ecstatic when I do win). We’re all about free and saving money here at Girls With Pens.

Networking
Another great aspect of contests is having an in with other entrants or even judges after the contest. Some judges are willing to let you use their comments in queries and other promotional work (ask permission first – this is simple professional courtesy). The golden opportunity comes when they offer to read your work again, or help you sell it once the changes have been made. How much is that worth? It never hurts to ask. I first met Marcy as a result of entering the same contest – and look where we are now!

Discipline
Contests are great for teaching you to write for a deadline and for rules. If the contest states that the work must be under 1500 words, anyone over 1500 words won’t even get read. If you’re late entering the contest, too bad so sad. You’re outta luck! Writers seem to be a great bunch of procrastinators aren’t we? Writing for contests taught me a lot about time management, self-discipline, writing under pressure, and writing to a theme.

A word of caution
The one thing that’s important to remember about contests is that the judging can be subjective. The judges may have been given a list of criteria to evaluate a work on, but at the end of the day the difference between first and second place is personal opinion. I entered a piece in one contest and won first prize. I entered the same piece in another contest and didn’t even get shortlisted. Don’t take it personally. If you struggle with handling rejection, check out my post on surviving a critique.

Here are three credible contests that will offer many great benefits. A quick glance through the Christian Writer’s Market Guide will offer many choices, or even Google.  Caveat Emptor.

Writer’s Digest

Canadian Christian Writing Awards

God Uses Ink Novice Writers Contest

What are some of your contest experiences?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Building Author Platform

Platform is a measurable ‘public audience’ that will buy your book. With social media and the Internet, everyone can have a platform for free and for fiction authors, having a platform is like icing on the cake. It could be the difference between an agent signing you, or the person they just spoke with.

We’ve found that writers aren’t interested in the business end of their writing careers – but that’s like Martin Luther King, Jr. saying, “I want to end slavery in America” and not doing anything to let people know about the injustice, or understand why they need to stop it. People need to know what you’re about and why they should care about what you have to say. We had the opportunity while at Mount Hermon Writer’s Conference this week to chat with website guru Thomas Umstattd from Austin, Texas. Check out his blog Author Tech Tips. He has some great tips for authors.

Martin Luther King Jr. speaking to crowdAuthors no longer need a radio show, television program, public profile or speaking ministry to have a platform. Social media has become an equalizer among those looking to share a message, be seen or heard. Here are some key things that every author should be doing in order to be seen and heard in this busy world.

Blog
Blogging gives you an instant voice and visibility. According to Umstattd, WordPress is the best blogging platform because it’s set up to help google find you better than other platforms. The difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org is the difference between renting an apartment and owning a house.

WordPress.com is free and comes with lots of great SEO tools. (See our post about writing SEO content.) However, you have to pay extra for everything. It’s like owning an apartment. You don’t have to cut the grass or fix the faucet, but you need permission to paint or do any updates.

WordPress.org is also free and comes with lots of great SEO tools, but it’s more like owning a house. You can customize your site any way like, update and add-on to the basic template, but you are responsible for maintenance. Setting up a WordPress.org site is tricky. You need a host, to buy a url, etc. You wouldn’t buy a house without a lawyer unless you really knew what you were doing – same here.

Facebook and Twitter
Do your friends/followers know you are a writer? Are you talking about your writing? Do you have a business/fan page on Facebook? The fastest growing segment of users on Facebook is people 45+ and the average user is spending almost an hour a day there. Who is your audience? Typically teens don’t Twitter. You have to interact with others and join conversations.

Be Remarkable
No one cares what you had for dinner. Find something unique that people are interested in. If you already have a blog, take a look at what your most Watching A Bird Not The Whole Skypopular posts are. What are people interested in? With social media, the more you narrow your audience, the more people will follow you. It seems counter-intuitive, but people who go bird watching are looking for specific birds, not just any bird. Same principle. Don’t blog about the same thing everyone else is talking about, find something unique to talk about.

Provide added value
Laura Christianson runs a business called Blogging Bistro and has a 1 to 10 ratio. She provides 9 free information, tips, and insider-know-how posts for every 1 post where she’s trying to sell something. Statistically, I heard people are 40-50% more likely to buy your product if they follow you on Facebook. You need to build a brand and buyer confidence. Thomas Umstadtt says every author should give away the first chapter of their book on their website – even Amazon does that. It’s a world of free.

It’s the difference between the guy with the sandwich board on the sidewalk (just putting his message out there), and the free sample booth at Costco (giving away something of value). Which product/business are you more likely to remember and search out later?

What are you doing to build your platform?

Lisa

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Results from Mount Hermon and Revelations

We came to Mount Hermon with three simple goals: to learn, grow, and connect. With a manuscript representing months of hard work, we took the immensely difficult step of presenting that work to two fiction intensive groups, two agents, two editors, and three best-selling published authors.

And the results are in.

James Scott Bell (best-selling CBA author): “This is good. This story is too big for the CBA. Take it to the ABA.”

Janet Grant (literary agent): “I liked this story very much, but it would be hard to convince readers to buy a book about Amazons and Scythians. So while I appreciate your writing–which is very good–I don’t see a market for this book.”

Steve Laube (literary agent): “Very creative but almost too creative…You have a unique setting but it may be too far out of the norm for today’s market…Also the first scene in the bedroom is a little titillating–maybe too much for the traditional Christian reader…And then you reveal he’s also a cannibal. I wanted to stop reading at that point…The writing is fine, but is applied to a challenging storyline. Hope that helps (excerpted).”

Vicki Crumpton (executive editor – Revell/Baker): “Love the story, but we don’t publish historical fiction unless it’s biblical or 18th century. Do you have anything else I can read?”

Julie Gwinn (marketing manager – B&H): “I loved it. I see a market for this as a YA novel.”

Brandilyn Collins (best-selling CBA author): “Excellent story. Excellent writers. But you will face significant challenges, maybe insurmountable challenges, to publishing this novel in the CBA.”

Randy Ingermanson (award-winning CBA author): “I loved it. I would read it. But you’re in no-man’s land–you’re not in the CBA, but you’re not quite in the ABA. You’re closer to the ABA. Stay in touch. You don’t need to remind me who you are (ie. we met at Mount Hermon). I’ll remember you.”

The Look

At writer’s conferences, every meal has people asking you what you’re writing. So, gluttons for punishment, we sat at Steve Laube’s table, after we’d received his note of rejection. We didn’t want to change his mind, we’re not that obnoxious (not publicly anyway). We were just curious. All we said was, “We wrote the Amazon story.” Apparently our story, while rejected, stood out in his memory–clearly. The look on his face was one we’d come to recognize.

“Oh, you’re the ones.”

Our story has made us unforgettable among those who read it. So, mission accomplished…

Dejected Meeting

After receiving our notes of rejection (which we’re not strangers to after all this time, but they still stung), we happened to meet Janet Grant directly after leaving James Scott Bell. She took one look at our name tags and said (again), “You’re the ones.”

But she continued.

“I’m so glad I ran into you. I loved your story. I couldn’t put it down, it kept me up late reading, and you don’t understand how rare that is, but I’ll never be able to sell it in the CBA. Have you considered the ABA?”

That made our day.

The problem wasn’t the writing, but the same obstacle we’ve continued to butt heads against for our entire fiction writing adventure – we don’t fit. We’re misfits. Even when we tried to obey all the rules of the CBA, we failed. This time, not only did we fail, we did it with such flaming gusto that not only did we miss the market conventions, we jumped all over them with glee. We write stories that no conservative Christian wants to read or buy (so they tell us).  Looking back, we agree that this novel isn’t a good fit for the CBA, but in all honesty, a week ago we really thought we’d hit on a winner. Oops.

The advice was unanimous. We should take our newest work to the ABA.

It all left us feeling . . .

Misunderstood. Misplaced. Mistaken. Second guessing. Underestimated.

That’s when we had two surprise encounters with fellow Canucks that gave us fresh hope. We ate breakfast with author Grace Fox, and she listened to our dilemma and ‘gave us permission’ to write for the general market (ABA). She really is good at “leading women in fearless faith.” Her prayer had both of us in tears. How silly to need permission, but we did for some reason. We needed to know we weren’t traitors or betraying our faith by wanting to write for the general market.

Simon Presland, another fellow Canadian, ran into us and asked how our conference was going. Having just finished a critique group where some called our manuscript (we’re paraphrasing) socially depraved and morally reprehensible, our self-esteem had reached an all-time low. We said we were thinking of going to the general market.

He nodded. “Good for you. The CBA has become a little like incest. These conferences should be places you come to learn, to grow, and to be encouraged. We need Christians writing in the general market, that’s what we’re called to do–go out into the world.”

So…

This has led us to a decision that one moment makes us feel silly and like traitors, and the next minute absolute relief and freedom. We’re going to the ABA. 

What our adventure to publish this story in the general market will bring, we don’t know. We have the names of several recommended literary agents who represent successful authors in both markets, so that’s a start. We’ve made some contacts here who believe in us, and believe in our story. We believe we’re doing the right thing. Stay tuned, and we’ll give you the details of our new adventure.

We may be misfits, square pegs in round holes, but we’re going to stop denying who God’s made us to be and see what happens.

Thoughts?

Marcy & Lisa

42nd Annual Mount Hermon Writing Awards

Each year, the Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference hands out awards. We aren’t sure of all the rules, but from what we could gather, except for the teen category, you needed to be a previous attendee of Mount Hermon and have a published book. Winning writers received awards ranging from $100 to $1000.

So here are the winners for 2011:

Most Promising Teen Writer – Nicole Buzzelli

Poetry Award – Sarah Wood

Most Promising New Writer – Cheri Williams

Pacesetter Award – Randy Ingermanson

The Lauren Beyenhof True Grit Award – Marci Seither

Special Recognition Award – Sally Stuart

Writer of the Year – Sarah Sundin

Our tale of the journey to Mount Hermon will come to a close tomorrow when we publish our final blog from California–the one where we at last tell all about what happened here, what we learned, and what this means for the future.

Vicki Crumpton, Revell/Baker

Editors no longer drive publishing houses–marketing and sales people do. If you want to get your fiction or non-fiction book proposal accepted, you need to think like the decision-makers.

Vicki Crumpton, Executive Editor at Revell/Baker Publishing Group, taught a workshop on Effective Book Proposals at Mount Hermon Christian Writers’ Conference this weekend. We met with her yesterday, and got her permission to share her tips.

According to Vicki, getting noticed isn’t impossible even for a writer who’s not yet famous. Revell/Baker’s ideal proposal combines a well-known author, a great idea, and a motivated target audience. She compares it to the businessman’s triangle of fast, good, and cheap. You need two of the three to sell your book.

Well-Known Author

I know what you’re thinking. No one outside of my friends and family knows who I am. One thing we’ve heard from multiple sources at Mount Hermon is that platform today doesn’t mean the same thing it did two years ago. Nowadays, even us normal people can build a platform if we’re willing to put in some work.

We’ll be writing posts in the coming months on building your social media platform, but years before you ever try to sell a book, you need to be active on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. You also need to be blogging and speaking whenever possible.

Look for endorsements from people who are famous. You might not think you know anyone, but you might know someone who knows someone. You never know until you ask whether or not this friend of a friend will agree. The worse they can say is no.

A Great Idea

The writer of Ecclesiastes tells us that there’s nothing new under the sun. So where do we get a fresh idea from? How do we recognize one when we see it?

Before you ever start writing, take a look at what’s already been published that’s similar to your book idea. From there, you need to individualize. Ask yourself the following questions. What can I do that’s new? How can I put my own spin on this? How can I bring my personal experience to bare on the topic?

Vicki’s key tip for finding a great idea is to avoid fads. Fads are here today and gone tomorrow. While they’re excellent for a magazine with a short lead time, they don’t work for books because by the time a book comes out two years after you write it, the fad is gone. Publishers look for what she calls “perennial trends.” Even if the market is saturated on one of these topics now, in two years time, they’ll be ready to cover it again. Perennial trends include topics like prayer and personal finance.

Motivated Target Audience

Robert Wolgemuth said, “If a book is for everyone, it’s for no one.” When you’re creating a proposal, you don’t want to tell a publisher that you’re writing for all women. That’s too broad. Are you writing for working women? Moms with toddlers? Women whose husbands have recently retired? 

Refining your target audience will give you a step ahead in a couple of ways. You can now research the size of your audience. The marketing department is going to want to know that there’s a significant enough audience to make a profit. You can also identify groups connected with your audience that will give additional opportunities to market your book.

You can identify key creditials that prove your ability to write for your target audience. Knowing your target audience will also help you address your proposal to the publisher with the greatest ability to reach your audience. By doing this, you not only give your book the best chance of success, but you also show a potential publisher that you’ve done your research.

As you refine your target audience, you also need to be careful that you don’t make it too narrow–for example, targeting 19 year olds.

Today’s Teaser: We hope we have you all curious about how pitching our work went this past couple of days. Here’s your next hint. We now only need to say one sentence in order to be remembered by industry professionals such as James Scott BellRandy Ingermanson, Janet Grant, and Steve Laube.  Stay tuned and recommend our blog to your writing friends!

**We’ve moved! Please join us at our new permanent homes. You can find Marcy at her website and Lisa at her website.

Mount Hermon Critique Day

Day 2 at Mount Hermon means one thing–you find out exactly what’s wrong with what you’ve written. Not only are the pre-conference submissions returned, but the walk in critiques open.

Mount Hermon offers each registrant two free pre-conference submissions. You can either request a manuscript critique by a freelancer or an editorial review by an agent or editor who will then tell you whether or not they want to represent/buy your work. If you submit for an editorial review, you receive a little slip telling you if they’re not interested or if they want to meet with you to learn more. Some lucky folks get a handwritten note. 

If you’ve watched our video, you know that we submitted three copies of our current novel for editorial review.

So what happened? Well, we’re not going to tell you–yet. In part because we’re not quite sure ourselves yet. Before you jump to conclusions (we know how the rumor mill can run), we didn’t get offered a contract. We’re writers after all, and what kind of a story would this be if there was no conflict. You’ll have to stay tuned to find out what all these enigmas mean.

This afternoon, both Lisa and Marcy also took advantage of the walk-in critiques. From 4 pm to 6 pm each afternoon, you can wait in line to have a professional freelancer offer suggestions on your work. James Scott Bell, Randy Ingermanson, Gayle Roper, Joseph Bentz, Mona Hodgson, Karen O’Connor, and Christine Tangvald made up this year’s critique team representing expertise in everything from article writing, novels, childrens and YA, and poetry.

The biggest benefit of this service is that you get a professionals’ first gut reaction to your work. And because they’re there to help, part of their job is to be honest. We’ll admit, it’s a touch intimidating sitting across from them and trying to guess from their facial expressions what they think. They laughed! Does that mean I’m funny? Or really, really ridiculous?

A couple areas that we saw for improvement is that it’d be helpful if the critiquers jotted down their thoughts on the manuscript or made a few notations. It’d also help to have signs in front of each critiquer listing their areas of expertise (and we’re not a fan of the waiting in lines – signing up for a time slot would be preferable in our opinions).

Tune in with us on Day 3 for more blow by blows, another hint about the results of our pitching efforts, some insider advice from Vicki Crumpton, executive editor of Revell/Baker publishing house, and more.