Best Selling LDS Genres

Which genres sell best in the LDS market?
1. Historical

2. Romance

3. Suspense

Although sometimes 1 and 2 switch positions.

The link to Chris Bigelow's sales numbers for Zarahemla titles (found in Tuesday's comment trail) doesn't seem to be working. Try this.


Book Signings

How does an author set up a book signing?

Generally, the author doesn't set up the signing, the publisher does. As an author, you tell your publisher which stores you're willing to travel to and if you're traveling, the areas you're willing to stop to do signings in. Then the publisher contacts the bookstores and tries to set something up. Some stores love author signings, others refuse to do them.

If, however, you have a relationship with a particular bookstore—know the manager, employees, or buy enough books that they know who you are and greet you by name when you walk in the door—then just ask them if they'd be willing to do a signing and what they need from the publisher (usually free returns, posters, etc.) and from you (varies). Then let your publisher call them and work out the details.

And before anyone says, "I'm willing to do whatever it takes, but my publisher just won't work with me on the book signings," read this and this and this.


How Much Should an Author Spend to Promote Their Book?

Do you think it's a good idea for an author to send copies of his/her book out to reviewers (in addition to those that the publisher may contact) to help create a buzz about the book? How much should an author spend to promote his/her book?

An author should definitely be willing to invest in the promotion of his/her book. Whether that investment is put into review copies, a launch party, postcards or whatever depends on what the publisher is doing. Coordinate your efforts—know what they are doing and let them know what you are doing—so that you work together, not against each other.

If writing is a career for you, or you want it to be, you need to look at this as a business investment. If you were opening a burger shop, you'd expect to invest in that. Your books are your burgers. Expect to invest in them.

How much you invest depends on what you can afford, whether it's your first book or tenth, what your publisher is doing, and if you get/how big your advance is. I can't tell you how much to spend, but this is what I would do if it were my first book in the LDS market.

If I got an advance, I'd take my family out to dinner then spend the rest of that advance on marketing the book. If I didn't get an advance, I'd look at what I could personally afford and make a marketing plan/budget. I'd be willing to spend up to 75% of the royalties I could reasonably expect to earn. For example, if my royalty was $1 per book and my publisher was doing an initial print run of 2,000, I'd probably spend between $500 and $1,000 on marketing. If the book sold through in the first 6 months, I'd increase my budget. If the marketing is done well, I'll earn this back in royalties.

This is what I'd do:
  • I'd buy the two books mentioned in this post and study them. I'd also surf the Internet to see what other authors are doing. Then I'd choosing at least a dozen ideas that appealed to me and that would bring me the best return on my investment

  • Two websites (URL my name and URL title of my book); they wouldn't be fancy, but they'd look professional and have newsletter sign-ups and online sales capabilities (or a link to Amazon). There are several inexpensive and/or free hosting sites, templates, and shopping carts out there. You can do this for under $100.

  • Business cards, postcards and bookmarks—whatever my publisher didn't supply. My goal would be to personally give out 500 business cards and 500 bookmarks in the first 30 days after release. I'd also mail the postcards to everyone I know.

  • Internet campaign/promo with prizes (copies of my book)—Use something like Constant Contact to send out regular newsletters, promos, contest announcements, etc.

  • Get my book listed on Amazon.com

  • Set up speaking engagements for my target audience and give away at least one free book per event

  • Give comp copies of my book to anyone who contributed to it in any way whatsoever; two comp copies to family and friends who you mentioned in the Acknowledgments (one for them to keep, one for them to give away). Also give each of them a handful of bookmarks and ask them to give those to their friends. Their excitement will help spread the word.
If this were my second or third book, I'd estimate what I'd earn in advances and royalties (based on sales of book one) and spend 1/3 to 1/2 of that on marketing. I'm still investing most of my earnings back into the business of being an author. Hopefully, I would also be able to upgrade some of my equipment and pay for expenses involved in writing future books.

By the time my fourth book came out, I'd start keeping most of the book earnings as income. I'd have a good idea of what types of promotions worked best for me, gave me the largest return for my investment, and concentrate on those promos, spending about 10% of my advance/expected royalties on marketing (min. $500), over and above what my publisher was doing.


LDS Horror

Can you define an LDS horror novel?

No. But I'll know it when I see it...

Seriously, LDS horror—as in demons, vampires, zombies, monsters, and such—is an oxymoron of sorts. Like LDS fantasy, horror presents some unique issues for LDS publishers. As a people, we don't really believe in those things. That doesn't mean we don't read horror or fantasy, but many LDS readers become seriously uncomfortable when those fictional elements are combined in a story with LDS theology and practice. Personally, I'd have a problem with the Laurel class president spending her nights slaying vampires, or a priest becoming a werewolf on occasion, although I have no problem with those things happening in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or the Twilight series.

Another issue is that in many horror stories (and movies), evil wins. It can't be stopped. It can't be beaten. This is contrary to what the gospel teaches. I don't like that message in non-LDS books and movies, I certainly wouldn't tolerate it in an LDS setting.

Has it been done? Has someone successfully combined horror and LDS elements? Sort of. On a national level, Orson Scott Card wrote Lost Boys which is about ghosts and an LDS family. Also, Unseen Odds by Shirley Bahlmann has some spooky stuff from LDS history, but I'm not sure I'd call that horror. (Readers, help me out here. I'm not a huge reader of horror, so I might be missing something.)

Will there ever be an LDS Stephen King or Dean Koontz? Highly likely.

Will their books be published by LDS publishers? I don't know. We'll have to wait and see. I just know that I won't be taking that risk anytime soon.


To Prologue or Not to Prologue

There seems to be some disagreement about the use of prologues. What qualifies as a prologue? If a first chapter covers an event that happens a few months before the next scene, is it a prologue or a first chapter?

Prologues go in and out of fashion. Some publishers like them, others hate them. Some might call their prologues Chapter One, but they're still a prologue.

Currently, prologues are out of favor. But this is my opinion: A good prologue that is well written adds to the story. The main purpose of a prologue is to give us needed backstory, but to allow it to happen in real time instead of the dreaded info dump. Prologues work best in fantasy, where we need to know something about the main character or the villian, but the main action of the story doesn't start until the main character comes of age. Or sometimes a thriller, where the bad guy does something to set the story in motion, but the effects of his acts aren't felt until months or years later.

Here's an article on prologues that explains it pretty well.

None of this info really helps you decide whether to call your prologue a prologue or to call it chapter one. If you're really concerned about it, go look at some books in your genre from the publisher you're submitting to. Do any of those books have prologues? If so, you're fine using one. If not, call it chapter one.


LDS Fiction Blog

Two things. This is a long post. Sorry. (Not really, but that's the polite thing to say.) If this first topic bores you, scroll down to the next topic which talks about how perspective readers are NOT finding your book.

LDS Fiction Blog
You may recall that I mentioned I was starting a companion blog to this one featuring newly released LDS fiction, appropriately titled LDS Fiction. I bit off a little more than I could chew on that one, so I got someone to help me. She has created info posts for all of the 2007 Whitney finalists (and done an excellent job). Please go take a look and comment on and rate the ones that you have read.

My associate may or may not get to all of the non-finalist 2007 titles. I told her she didn't have to do those, but she said if she got bored or had scads of extra time that she'd work on them. Those posts will be backdated to 2007. I'll try to remember to make a note of it here when/if she adds more 2007 titles.

2008 titles will be posted as they are released. I know you'll all want to rush over and put that blog on your RSS feed reader so that you'll know the moment a new title is posted. (But you can finish reading this post before you do that.) (Oh, and thank you to all who have already let me know of new releases for 2008. Keep those e-mails coming. It may take a bit of time to catch up, but we will get January's 2008 titles posted before too long.)

One last comment on this topic. It generally takes about 30 minutes per book post to size the cover and find good promo copy and links. (Sometimes longer...see topic below.) Because she is basically donating her time, I have allowed my associate to put some affiliate links in the sidebar and within the posts themselves. If you feel inclined to support this effort, and would normally purchase these books via online sources, please consider placing your order through her affiliate links.

Finding Your Book
In the process of finding adequate images, promo copy and links for the LDS Fiction blog, my associate and I found some shocking deficits in marketing. Well, they would be shocking, if they weren't so prevalent.

Ideally, someone looking for you or your book should be able to find one or both within three mouse clicks. The research has been done and if you don't show up in those first three clicks, many people will stop looking. Some books took us much longer than 30 minutes and many more than three clicks to find what we needed. For some books, we were unable to find all the info and links needed.

In the individual book posts we wanted to put a nice large image of the book cover and to link it and the book title to an online store. We also wanted to link the author's name to their website or blog. Then we wanted to include information about the book that would make it easy for a customer to find the book at/special order the book from their local bookstore or library. This info would include Publisher Name, ISBN #, Publication Date and Genre Category. We also wanted to include size information and let you know if it was part of a series. Ideally, we should be able to Google the book title and/or author name and have all this info at our fingertips within minutes.

Uhhhnnn. (That's the sound of the wrong answer buzzer.)

This is what we found instead:

Problem: Some book images were difficult to find, or were too small. We had to make them bigger, which is why some of the images are a little blurry.

Solution: You publisher should have a big image (approx. 400 x whatever pixels) somewhere on their website. If they don't, YOU should have one (or link to one) on your website or blog. This is very easy to do using free hosting sites such as Photobucket.

Problem: Online shoppers like to get all their books at one location to save on time and shipping. The best online stores to use would be 1) Amazon, and 2) Deseret Book and/or Seagull. Some books were not on any of these sites.

Solution: You may not be able to control whether or not Deseret Book, Seagull or other online stores put your book on their website, but you can certainly get your book on Amazon for a minimal amount of effort. (Here or Here.) Your publisher should automatically list your book there, but if they don't, YOU CAN. Go do it now. (And please, include an image of the book cover!)

Problem: Some authors do not have a website or blog or any place to go if a reader wants to find out more about you.

Solution: With all the free hosting options out there, this is inexcusable. If you have a computer, you can have a web presence. (Even if you don't have a personal computer, most libraries will let you use theirs.) At the very least, sign up for a free blog site, such as this one or this one and create one post per published title and one post with your author bio. Be sure to include images of your book covers and yourself. (If you don't know how to do this, ask your teenager or a neighbor's teenager to do it for you.)

Problem: Some authors with a website/blog, don't effectively promote their books.

Solution: Put the covers of your book or a big link to them on the first page of your website or in the sidebar of your blog. Link the cover image to a more detailed page about your book or to a place where readers can buy the book online. Create a page or post for each of your titles. Include all the information a customer might need or want. (Like what is included for each title on the LDS Fiction blog; this is the minimum.)

Problem: Some publishers have lousy or no Search feature on their websites, making it difficult for a customer to find YOUR book. Some publishers have the title of your book and/or your name wrong on their site. And some BIG online bookstores have the title and/or author name wrong. (Honestly.)

Solution: THROW A FIT AND MAKE THEM FIX THIS RIGHT AWAY! They probably will blow you off about the Search feature but they ought to at least have your name and title correct. And they have the power to make the bookstores fix it on their sites. I mean, how do they expect to sell the book if people search for the correct title and it comes up with nothing?

Problem: Can't find you in a Google search. Many customers looking for an author or title will use Google or another search engine to find them. They should be able to find your book and your website or blog within the first three Google pages. (Some authors do not even come up in the first 10 Google pages. Most people are not as tenacious as I am and will not search past the first 3 pages.)

Solution: Regularly Google your name and the titles of your books. Make sure you come up in those first three pages. Ideally, when googling your name or the title of your book, the first search page should show (in any order) your personal website/blog, Amazon and other online stores, your publisher, and people blogging about you and your book. If none of this info shows up on page one, do some serious research on website optimization and get those links in the first three Search pages.

Assignment for today: Open a new browser window and Google yourself (use your name exactly as it is printed on the front of your book, then try it again leaving out middle initial or names). Google the title of your book (first the exact title, next a few keywords from the title). How long did it take to find you? Now ask yourself, if you were a reader looking for a book someone had mentioned to them, would you have looked that hard?

After you try this experiment, come back and let us know in the comments section how many clicks it took to get to your book. If it took three clicks or less, you're welcome to brag. If it took more than three clicks, you've got some work to do. (And you can post your comment anonymously if you want.)


Straight or Not?

Do you think romance novels need to include mystery, suspense, or other elements to be successful in today's LDS market or can a straight romance sell?

I personally prefer loads of a little mystery or suspense mixed in with my romance. But there are plenty of straight romance stories out there, with little or no mystery or suspense in them, and they seem to be doing fine.

Readers—what are your preferences? Do you want the straight stuff or a little sumthin' sumthin'. Give us some specific titles of straight romance and/or romance hybrids that you really like. (Identify which category you'd put them in.)

P.S. This would be a really great time to leave a comment.


Author Branding and Platforms

So many publicity/marketing sites talk about the importance of branding yourself and having a platform. First, can you define brands and platforms, and second, are they important to you and your colleagues in making a decision as to who will get a contract and who won't? Are brands and platforms significant in the LDS marketplace?
Branding yourself as an author means that you have created a body of work in a coherent style, theme and/or genre. It needs to be easily recognizable and easy to summarize. People who buy your books understand what they're going to get. Your brand begins with the first book you publish. If it's a romance, you're branded a romance writer; if historical, that's your brand. If you want to build your brand, you will stick to that genre.

This is particularly important for a national market. If you write outside your perceived brand, it can sometimes cause problems. (John Grisham's Christmas book upset many readers; Anne McCaffery's romances were counterproductive to her sci-fi/fantasy brand.) To get around this, many very famous, well-branded authors will use a different pen name when they write in a new genre. (Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb; Stephen King/Richard Bachman/John Swithen; Robert Jordan/Regan O'Neal/Jackson O'Reily.)

There aren't a lot of LDS writers with a strong brand, simply because there aren't many with a large, coherent body of work. Anita Stansfield is branded—like her books or hate them, you know what you're going to get. Jack Weyland is another, as is Rachel Nunes. However, if any of these authors started writing in a different style or genre, they'd have to recreate their brand.

Now, that said, you don't have to stay pigeon-holed in the first genre you start writing in. Many authors successfully write in a variety of genres, with or without a pen name. However, you, your agent, publicist, publisher need to work together to make a genre change thoughtfully—to minimize reader disappointment and to incorporate the new genre into your evolving brand.

There are actually two uses of the word "platform" as it applies to writing. The first refers to your message, your credentials. This applies more to non-fiction than to fiction. Think of it like a political platform. Maybe a therapist writes frequently about depression—that's their platform.

The other use of the word "platform" refers to the machinery behind marketing your book(s). What methods do you use to get the word out about your book? This would include a website, maybe a blog, publishing related articles for periodicals, a newsletter, public appearances, your agent/editor or publicist.

Are branding and a platform necessary in the LDS market? Well, they happen automatically, whether you're aware of them or not, so I say, use them consciously to promote your writing career.

Does a brand and platform determine who gets a contract and who doesn't? Not directly. Good writing determines a contract. But on the other hand, good writing with a unique story line or style, brings with it the seeds of branding. Also, all things being equal, in a pinch the author who has a good marketing plan (platform) may be published ahead of the author who has not given it any thought.

However, branding and platform are not where you put your energy—at least not in the beginning. Your first concern is to WRITE A GOOD STORY. After that is done, then start thinking about branding and platform.

Here are a few links that talk about branding and platform in more depth:

The Basics of Author Branding

Are Books Bound by Their Brand?
Your Personal Brand

How to Build a Writing Platform
The Truth about Author Platforms
Build an Author's Platform


One-on-One Manuscript Evaluations by Editors

I read your post on pitch sessions today. At the same conference, attendees will have the opportunity to have a manuscript evaluated by an editor or an agent. I assume (which may be incorrect) that the editor or agent will read the manuscripts prior to the conference and then will meet one-on-one with the author of each manuscript. If that's the case, can you give me some tips for meeting with someone who has already read, or at least read a portion of, my manuscript? How can I be best prepared?

Oh, you lucky woman! This is a rare opportunity, so you'll want to make the most of it.

Prepare the same way as you would for the regular pitch session, but if you sent the mss ahead of time, you won't need the regular submission packet. If it was not already included in what you submitted to the editor, I would bring a printed chapter by chapter outline—2 to 3 sentences covering the action of each chapter (and yes, give away the ending)—just in case the editor didn't have time to read the entire mss. I might also type up some marketing ideas to give to the editor, if they ask for it. And bring paper and pen to take notes.

Otherwise, just be prepared to answer questions about your story and to listen to all suggestions with an open mind and a closed mouth. (Do not argue with the editor about changes they suggest. You can decide later whether or not you will make them, but keep negative thoughts and comments to yourself.)


Prize Winner Reminders


A reminder to the prize winners of the December 2007 Comment Contest—you have until January 31st to send me your mailing address or you forfeit your prize.

Forfeited prizes will be given to another randomly selected winner.

Those who have already e-mailed their mailing address, thank you.


Preparing for Pitch Sessions

At the upcoming LDStorymakers conference, there are opportunities for pitch sessions with a few LDS publishers as well as an agent. I have signed up to meet with one of the LDS publishers. Can you give me some guidelines as to how an ideal pitch session would go? What should I bring? Other than the obvious questions about my manuscripts meeting the needs of their publishing house, what other questions would be good to ask?

You should not be asking if your manuscript meets the needs of their publishing house. You should already know that because you will have done your research. Instead, you will come prepared to explain to the editor why your manuscript does indeed meet their needs. Examples of "arguments" to develop are: they publish in this area, but there's a gap/need; your book is similar to XXX (something they've already published, hopefully a good selling title), but different in the following aspects...; the demand for this genre/topic is high because..., etc.

You can't just BS the publisher because they will know right away if you know what you're talking about or not. You have to have solid reasons why they would want your book.

Some editors will totally control the pitch session. You'll walk in, introduce yourself, and they'll start firing off questions. Other editors will say something like, "Tell me about your book..." You need to be prepared for either approach.

Try to anticipate what an editor might ask. Some things they'll want to know are the title and a brief description, word count, genre, target audience. They may also ask you to talk about your character's motivation, what their greatest challenge is, why they are moved to act or change, if there is a "moral" to the story. They may also want to know what your marketing plans are—how you see the book promoted, what you're planning to do to promote it yourself. They may also ask for information about yourself—where you're from, what you do for a living other than writing, information on past publishing credentials, hobbies, etc.

Bring a submission packet, just in case they ask for it. Some will. Others will give you a card and ask you to mail or e-mail it to them after the conference. Submission packet should include everything they ask for in a regular submission (see their website)—plus the first chapter (or more, if they ask for it). I'd also include a hand written thank you card. Put it all in a large manilla envelope.

Do not insist they take this packet. Some editors will have traveled to the conference by plane and have limited room to take the packets back with them. Ask them if they'd like you to give it to them now or if they'd prefer you mail it to them.

There may or may not be time during the pitch for you to ask questions. If there is, you'll want to ask first if you may submit to them. Ask if there are certain genres or topics they prefer, or if they're looking to expand into a new area—because you're ready to start a new project and would love to write something in their current area of interest.

A few other tips:
  • Be friendly and personable. Remember, you're talking to a person, not a position.
  • Dress business casual. Clean, neat, professional.
  • Brush your teeth before you go in. Do not chew gum or suck on candies—not even if you have a sore throat because then they'll be worried that you're breathing germs all over them.
  • Do not bring gifts or bribes.
  • Remember—you are pitching A book, not a whole slew of books. One. You can, however, mention that you have ideas for continuing the story into a series (if you do) and an extremely brief description of the series. Example: "I have had a few ideas for developing this into a series. In book two, the characters could have an adventure in New York; in book three, they'll go to Paris; the story could possibly continue on after that if you were interested..."
  • Do not whine about rejections or mistreatment by other publishers in the past.

Hmmm, what else? If you've done a successful pitch session, share your experience in the comments section.

Here's a link to another post about pitching. And here's a link to a pitch contest we had last year.

Dumb Books for Children

Why do some [books] become "classics" while others which are just as good or maybe better never even heard of, or in some cases never even published?
Classics become so because:
  • they impress an editor/publisher as something that will appeal to a lot of people
  • they actually get published
  • they are marketed or promoted in a way that catches the attention of key people—like book sellers, reviewers, librarians, teachers, Oprah—who then recommend the book to others
  • people start reading the book and then tell all their friends and neighbors about it
  • the book speaks to universal themes in a way that touches a wide variety of people,
  • as word spreads about the book and people read it, the majority of those readers respond positively
A book must meet all of these criteria or it won't become a classic.

I have a sister-in-law who has written several children's books and has yet to get any published, and they're good. I've read some of them, and they're a lot better than a lot of the junk I've seen in libraries and bookstores. It makes no sense, really. How do such dumb books manage to get published and other really good ones don't?
I've asked myself that question many times. The answer is: the publisher thinks they can sell it. Period. Either the author has name recognition, or there's a marketing hook, or it fills a niche the publisher is looking for. It also comes down to timing.

Let's say a publisher is looking for a St. Patrick's day picture book. They look through the submissions on that topic and pick the one they think will sell the most copies. Maybe they've got a good mss by a new writer and a not as good but still okay mss by an established author who routinely sells hundreds of thousands of copies of each title. Financially speaking, the better bet is the established author. Hopefully then, the next publisher the new author submits to will not have any other St. Pat's mss in their slush pile.

Another scenario is, the publisher has looked for six months and finally has a decent St. Pat's manuscript turned in. It's not the best, but library contacts keep telling them they get lots of requests for St. Pat's books in March, and there are only one or two out there. So the publisher crosses his fingers and goes into production on the mss he has. Then, six months later, he gets a phenomenal St. Pat's mss—but he can't publish it because he already has one at the press. And even though the demand is great in March, there is NO demand the rest of the year, so he only needs one St. Pat's title. Regretfully, he passes.

Now. Some publishers refuse to publish mediocre stories and would rather wait for quality. But if they wait too long, they're out of business. Other publishers would choose the better story over the well-known author, but their expenses on the new author's book are going to be twice as much. If they don't find ways to lower their expenses, they won't stay competitive.

Rock and hard place.

I know this is more in reference to novels, but what do you know about publishing children's books?
I don't work with children's books and haven't for some time. However I do know that children's books are more expensive to publish and harder to sell than adult books.

Picture books are very expensive to print because they are full color on every page, or every other page. Good artists are very expensive. Picture books sell based on the quality or cuteness of the illustration.

Chapter books and middle readers cost as much as an adult book to print, even though they have fewer pages. However, you usually can't sell as many of these books as you can adult books because most adults will buy books for themselves, but use the library for their children.

See more on this topic here and here and here.


New Blog to Promote LDS Fiction

As if I don't already have enough to do...

I am really excited about the newly announced Whitney Awards finalists. I have not personally read each of the finalists, but I'm planning to do so as fast as I can. I'm very interested to see if I agree with the Whitney committee on what makes a good book. I look forward to seeing the winners in March.

This effort is really inspirational, in fact, it inspired a new blog:

LDS Fiction

This is an interactive, reader-participation blog that allows you to comment and rate individual books.

Any book that is eligible for the 2008 Whitney Awards can receive a spotlight post on this new blog.

Please help me get started on the 2008 list by sending me book referrals as they are released.

I will continue to post the list of eligible books in the sidebar here as well.

Whitney Finalists Announced

The finalists for the Whitney Awards have been posted. Go take a look.

And speaking of the Whitney Awards, I've updated the sidebar to start the list for 2008. There is also a link to the list from 2007.


Odds & Ends

Thought I'd address a few things that popped up in the comments.

From Vanity Press:
How would you classify iUniverse?
Same as the others, in general. If I decided to go that way, however, I'd probably use lulu.com, because they are upfront about being a print-on-demand service and don't pretend to be a real publisher.

The point was made that there is a way to use these services correctly. Absolutely! But you have to know what you're doing and have realistic expectations. These types of presses are great for, say, people who do lectures and seminars on a small interest topic or who have an online customer base or some other way to drive customers to the sites. For example, someone like Hope Clark, or someone who tours and does lectures on a specific health issue, or a private school who publishes their own curriculum...basically, someone whose information has a limited audience, but who can push people interested in that topic to their website.

just clearing Dr. Phil's name on this one here...
Didn't mean to imply that he put any stock in the $3 million dream. But he did refer to them as a "publisher".

*Industry buzzwords. Does LDS Publisher wish to address them sometime?
Like what?

From Contemporary/Historical Label Researched:
The problem with trying too hard to make a story contemporary is that in just a few years, it falls into the "fuzzy" space.
The life span of your average novel is 2 to 3 years, so most of the time, a contemporary novel will go out of print before it goes out of date.

From Where to Get a Review:
Will Utah papers do an article/review if you aren't a Utah resident?
Depends on the book and the publisher. Talk to your publisher about it.

For a local paper, do you contact the editor and ask for someone to do an article/interview or write one and submit it yourself?
Find out who writes the book review columns. Find out if the paper has guidelines for what to send. (Some do, on their website.) Send them a copy of the book and press release that has enough information that they could write the column directly from that. Some papers will use your release verbatim, with their byline. Others will cut and paste as they want. (If you really want them to love you, send them the info in both hard copy and on a CD in Word and as a text file.


Vanity Press

The other day I knocked off work early, went home and watched a Dr. Phil re-run. The story was about a mother and daughter feuding over publishing rights to a book. The mother claimed that the daughter took her real-life story and was planning to publish it as if it were her own, and was refusing to share the expected $3 million royalty. The daughter said that her publisher was initially very excited about the book and thought it would be a best-seller, but had now declined to publish the book due to the conflict with the mother. The publisher had a rep in the audience and got to put in her two-cents worth—along the lines of, yes, we would have published it, but not with this battle going on concerning ownership of the rights.

This is all very sad, but not my point.

My point is: the "publisher" was Publish America.

And everyone, including Dr. Phil, was talking about them like they were a REAL PUBLISHER!

I was shocked!

Publish America is not a real publisher. They are a vanity press. They do very little editing, no marketing, they print on demand (which isn't all bad, but...), their books are overpriced, bookstores won't stock them, and if you ever, ever try to use them as a credential with a real publisher, they will laugh you out of their office!

Two other companies that frequently show up as credentials in queries I receive are Author House (at least they admit they're a vanity press) and BookSurge (owned by Amazon).These are not real publishers either. Do not use them as credentials when approaching a real publisher unless you've sold over 2,000 copies of your book. 9And in that case, don't mention that you "published" through these companies, just say that you self-published and your book sold X number of copies. This will tell the publisher that 1) you wrote well enough to sell to more than your circle of family and friends, and 2) that you know how to market yourself and your book.)

I know how hard it is to have a good novel and receive rejection after rejection. Companies like this play on that heartache, promise you the moon, but they do not deliver. Stay away from them. Like the plague. Like a very bad plague with a 99.9% mortality rate.

Once again, I want to remind everyone of a wonderful site, Preditors and Editors. If you've found a publisher via the Internet (rather than a legit Writer's Guide), do your research before signing up with them.


Contemporary/Historical Label Researched

In response to this post, Tristi asked:
I don't see how 1974 isn't considered historical. Isn't the Vietnam era historical? Isn't anything that happened in the past considered historical? If not, this blows my current WIP out the window -- it's Vietnam era and I've been calling it historical. Silly me.
Rather than replying in the comments section, I'm talking about this here because Tristi brings up a good point. What do you call your novel? You need to be clear about this because that classification will determine where you submit the novel for publication. So.

Remember the fuzzy line I mentioned? A story about the Vietnam Era is right in the middle of that fuzz. It happened less than 50 years ago, yet there is definitely a historical aspect to it.

So how do you decide what to label it? Research!

Research is not hard, especially if you use the Internet. I found an answer in less than 10 minutes, and I suspect Tristi already knows what that answer is because she writes historical fiction and therefore, is no stranger to research. But for writers who have never done this type of research before, the idea of it can be daunting. I hate it when I have to do something new and I don't even have a clue of where to begin. So, because I am so kind (and also because I'm procrastinating getting started at work today), here's what I did.

First, I know that Tristi's previous novels have a large medium dollop of romance in them, so I'm looking for historical romances set in the Vietnam War.

I went to Amazon.com and looked up vietnam romance. I also went to ask.com* and typed in historical romance vietnam. I did some clicking around in both places and came up with two important clues.

#1: Tree of Smoke, by Denis Johnson, is an espionage thriller set in the Vietnam War. It was published September, 2007. It won the fiction category in the National Book Awards. Amazon classifies it as Thriller; Genre Fiction: War; Genre Fiction: Historical. This is a good hint that the Vietnam War era is considered historical.

#2: At historicalromancewriters.com, browsing by time period, I found the Vietnam War era listed. Good sign. It lists two books in that time period—one by Danielle Steele and one by Lindsay McKenna. I don't know who Lindsay McKenna is, but everyone has heard of Danielle Steele. If her romance set during the Vietnam War can be classified as a "historical romance" then we're on the right track.

You could do more research if you wanted to, but based on this, I think it's safe to call a novel set during the Vietnam War a historical novel—especially if the war is an intrinsic part of the storyline and not just a fluffy backdrop.

*In some situations, Ask.com is a better search engine than Google.


Where to Get a Review

No doubt you have addressed this subject before, but I'm a relatively new reader. My question is about getting your book reviewed (my publisher is sending out very few review copies). So how should an author go about obtaining reviews? What sources would you recommend? Which reviewers would you recommend on a national level?

Your marketing/review plan depends on the type of book you've written (see "genre specific" below). Some reviewers won't accept books directly from the author. You're going to have to do some research and customize your own list of reviewers, but here are some areas to consider.

National reviewers: New York Times (if your book is selling well enough), Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Midwest Book Review (they have a list of links to online reviewers), Library Journal, Foreword Magazine (reviews smaller, independent publishers). Also, go talk to your local librarian. He/she may have some ideas.

Genre specific: Reviewers often specialize in specific genres or age groups. Go find a few best-selling paperback books in the genre you're writing and look at their blurbs. Any professional reviewers listed would be ones to consider.

Local/regional/niche: Newspaper and magazines—your city and any big city within 100 miles. Try to get them to do a feature story on you as a local author as well as a review. Look for genre magazines that do reviews. If you're LDS, you want to get it reviewed on Meridian Magazine and in the major Utah papers.

Misc. Bloggers: There are a zillion bloggers out there who do book reviews. Find some that you like, that are getting good traffic (you can usually judge traffic by the number of comments they're getting). Other bloggers to consider are: friends, family, fellow writers.

Readers, any other suggestions? Give us links if you have them.


December, 1963

Reading pitch critiques over at the BookEnds Agency blog, Jessica voiced concern about a story set in 1974. "It’s not a time period that’s considered historical and not one I’m sure would be of interest to [the YA] age group."

My MS is also set in the recent past, because to me that's just when the story takes place. Perhaps I'm just waxing nostalgic.

Does time period really matter? Does something have to be either contemporary or historical? Would it make sense to try and justify setting this story in 1989, or should I just give all of my characters cell phones and iPods and forget about it?

You're writing for teens. They live in the NOW. They want to imagine themselves as the main character. Do you know any teens who want to imagine themselves as their parents??

The easy sale is going to be something that is clearly historical or clearly contemporary. When you're writing within the past 50 years, the line between the two gets fuzzy. Fuzzy lines means it's going to be hard to sell your story to an agent or publisher, and even harder to sell it to the reader. There are notable exceptions that deal with the recent past, such as The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton about teens in the 50s, first published in 1967, and Stephen King's The Body/Stand by Me set in 1960, published in 1982.

The setting is determined by the story. Ask yourself why you've picked this particular time period. Would/could your story be just as strong if it was happening today? If the answer is yes, hand out the cell phones and make it an easier sale.


Internet Publishing Conflict

When it comes to “publishing” your work on the internet, either though blogging or sites like CTRStories, do you need to let a prospective publisher know that it’s been on the internet? For example, if I blog about my child with dyslexia and later decide to write a book about dyslexia using some of what I’ve written on my blog, will that cause a problem?
Yes, you do need to let the publisher know. Let's say you blog regularly about dyslexia and people come to your blog specifically because of that, then you've already begun to establish yourself as an authority in this area. That is a good thing.

Whether or not it causes a problem depends on how close a match the two pieces of writing are. If what you've posted is word for word what is in your book, you're going to need to take those posts down before you start submitting. You might leave up a small number of posts (ones that have the most positive comments) to show that people respond well to your writing but if you have too much up there, you're diluting the sales potential of the book. It's a fine line—you want enough there to entice people to buy the book, but not so much that they feel they've already read it.

It also depends on the publisher. Some have a policy of no excerpts posted anywhere. Others feel that a few short excerpts are a good thing. Even those who are very strict will probably not have a problem if what you've posted represents just a few pages of a much longer finished work, but they may have you take it down when they offer a contract.

Personally, I would not post anything I was planning to publish in print on the Internet until I had a signed contract with a publisher and their permission to do so.


How to Do Everything Wrong

This is a learning blog. It's important to remember that. What that means is that at some point, I might use YOUR mistake as a teaching tool for others, including yourself. Such is the following.

I am posting the query verbatim because rarely do I get such a shining example of so many things done wrong. Unfortunately, however, I frequently get queries that contain one or more of the mistakes found in this one.

[E-mail query sent simultaneously to 24 different publishers]

Subject: Scipt submission?

To Whom it May Concern:

I am the author of a script for a children's book I am interested in publishing. I would like to know if your respective companies handle this type of work. I will send the script when I am satisfied of a good fit between my book and the publisher.

Never, ever, EVER send an e-mail blast to multiple publishers. If you want to query several publishers at the same time, send them each their own individual e-mail, addressed only to them.

Do your research! Of the 24 "publishers" this e-mail was sent to: 3 are not publishers, 9 do not publish children's books, 2 were for people at the same company, 1 is out of business, 1 does not accept unsolicited manuscripts, 1 does not accept e-mail queries, 5 I've never heard of/websites are "parked". Only 4 out of the 24 would be appropriate places for this author to query.

Subject: Scipt submission? Be very careful before you click send. Proof and reproof. If, by some chance, a mistake like this happens to you, do not bother resending the same e-mail with the word corrected. (The author did.)

To Whom It May Concern. This is part of your research. Find out who the editor is and send an individual e-mail to an individual person.

I am the author of a script for a children's book... A book is called a manuscript. A script is a play or screenplay. What did you write? A book or a play? I am not being picky here; I really don't know. I would guess it's a book mislabeled as a script, but I've guessed that before with queries using similar phraseology and been wrong.

I am interested in publishing. Does this mean you want to us to publish your book or you want us to help you self-publish your book? If the latter, are you querying us for printing services or asking if we would distribute your book after you've printed it? Again, I'm not nit-picking; I really am not sure. I've guessed both ways in various queries and been wrong multiple times.

If you want us to publish your book, say so. If you want us to distribute your book, say so. If you want to self-publish, you should contact a vanity press or a printer, not a publisher.

I would like to know if your respective companies handle this type of work. What type of work? Children's books? Or self-published works? The answer to your question should be covered in your research. You should already know if we handle the type of work you're talking about, whatever it is.

I will send the script when I am satisfied of a good fit between my book and the publisher. No. This is not how it works. Your research should have already satisfied you that we would be a good fit for you and your book—that we accept children's books, that your topic is something we are interested in, that your writing style/technique/theme is something we would consider. You discover this by visiting our website to 1) read our guidelines, and 2) see what we've published previously. Most of the publishers this e-mail was sent to would not be a good fit for this book.

After you are satisfied that the publisher is someone YOU would want to work with, then you send the query and/or manuscript according to the guidelines listed on the publisher's website. The publisher then decides if THEY think you are a good fit for them.

My guess is this e-mail was ignored and immediately deleted upon receipt by most, if not all, of the recipients. If the author was lucky, they may have received back a polite, formulaic rejection but I seriously doubt anyone would take the time to explain why they were rejected.

Bottom line: No serious publisher would respond in a positive manner to this e-mail because they would immediately know that this author had not done enough research to understand even the basics of how the business side of publishing works. It would require way too much work on the part of the publisher to bring the author up to speed. Also, the attitude of the last sentence would throw up lots of red flags—this author is going to be difficult to work with and will probably fight me every step of the way. Not worth the trouble.


December 2007 Comment Contest Winners

Here are the winners of the December Comment Contest, randomly selected from all of the comments made during the month of December.

Thanks again to our sponsors. Please take a moment to read their bio info here.

Revenge of the Cheerleaders

Janette Rallison

Winner: kpscent

Dead on Arrival

Jeff Savage

Winner: Vickey

My Mom's a Mortician

Patricia Wiles

Winner: Rachelle

Winners, send me your full name and mailing address ASAP.

Click here to learn how you can win a copy of one of our sponsoring books.


January 2008 Sponsors

Please take a moment to learn more about our wonderfully generous sponsors.

Powerful Tips for Powerful Teachers by C.S. Bezas

The “well” has run dry—I feel so burned out. Why won’t they listen to me? Am I getting through at all?

Ever had these thoughts? If so, you’re not alone! Whether you have been called to work with youth, or are a parent, teaching teens can be a most exhilarating, yet demanding commitment. Powerful Tips for Powerful Teachers is a crucial guide to working with today’s dynamic youth. Compelling, yet simple, these tips will help you burst beyond fatigue and frustration, launching you toward powerful moments with today’s young men and women.

C.S. Bezas has drawn together a variety of preparation tools to help you succeed in your efforts to help the teens under your stewardship find their spiritual wings. Covering topics like No Throwaway Kids, Spiritual Bumblebees, Dissension in the Classroom, and The Language of the Spirit, this book is filled with thought-provoking essays and reflective questions. Powerful Tips for Powerful Teachers is sure to keep your “well” fresh and full of the living waters of gospel inspiration.

C.S. Bezas graduated from BYU in communications, with an emphasis in developing training programs. She has conducted trainings and workshops for audiences both large and small on a wide variety of topics and has won recognition for her writings and stage musicals. She also writes regularly for Meridian Magazine and Bella Online.

C.S. Bezas has appeared as a keynote speaker in a variety of locations in the United States and also has performed before audiences on television, stage, and film, most recently appearing as Anne Frank with the Florida Orchestra. She and her husband have four children and relish the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Reasonable Doubt by Marcia Mickelson

A beautiful and promising athlete is dead. The only suspect—her fiancĂ©—has been apprehended. And as a defense attorney, it is Julia’s job to prove that Mick is innocent. But Julia believes he is guilty. No stranger to the crimes that men commit against women, Julia can easily believe that rich, talented, spoiled Mick did indeed kill Avery. Both were basketball stars at the University of Utah, and both were popular; yet everyone—except Mick’s family and Julia’s boss—believes that Mick is the murderer. As the evidence against Mick mounts, Julia stumbles across a secret Avery had kept hidden from everyone, even Mick. Julia realizes that perhaps she may have more than just reasonable doubt to support Mick’s case—if she can face her past and reveal her own secret. Meanwhile, Pablo, Julia’s new co-counsel, becomes convinced that Mick did not murder Avery, but can he convince Julia? Guilty or innocent? With Pablo’s help, Julia may be able to overcome her own fears and uncover the truth about Avery at the same time—if the murderer doesn’t find her first.

Marcia Argueta Mickelson was born in Guatemala but grew up mostly in New Jersey. In high school, she started writing her first novel, which she didn’t finish until ten years later. She followed her sister to BYU where she met her husband, Nolan. Marcia received her degree in American Studies. Upon graduating, she began working for a nonprofit organization in Salt Lake City. She ran a foster care program, which helped place children in foster homes, trained the foster parents, and provided mentoring services for the children.

Marcia is a stay-at-home mom who does some substitute teaching in local elementary schools, spending most of her nights in front of the computer, writing. When she’s not busy with mothering, writing, and primary, she enjoys reading, movies, scrapbooking, and watching BYU football games with her husband.

Staying in Tune by Carmen Rasmusen

After becoming an overnight success on the hit TV show American Idol, Carmen Rasmusen has remained in the public eye. Along with the spotlight came many temptations and worldly pressures associated with the entertainment business. Through it all, she has stuck to her goal of staying true to the Young Women values, including modesty, chastity, and obedience to the Word of Wisdom.

In this book, Carmen shares never-before-published photos and stories, such as her experiences as an American Idol finalist, her opportunities in Nashville as a country music artist, the joy of her temple marriage, and why the gospel will always be her top priority. Staying in Tune is an exciting, behind-the-scenes look at how a young woman has stayed in harmony with the gospel while achieving her dreams.

Carmen Rasmusen has appeared on numerous TV programs, including the Today show and David Letterman. She is an accomplished musician, and she recently completed a three-month concert tour throughout the United States. Her latest CD, Nothin' Like the Summer, was released through Lofton Creek Records in Nashville and is garnering strong reviews.

Throughout all of her experiences, Carmen has stuck to her goal of staying true to the Young Women values, including modesty, chastity, and obedience to the Word of Wisdom. She shares many of these experience in her book Staying in Tune, which is an exciting, behind-the-scenes look at how a young woman has stayed in harmony with the gospel while achieving her dreams.