Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#9)

9. We study the markets. (Part 2)

If you don't study the markets, you lower your chances of selling anything because you don't know what publishers want. If you send in something that's outdated or no longer of interest, you frustrate editors. Do it often enough and you create a negative reputation among editors (and they do talk with each other).

As you study what's out there, you can ask yourself, "To what does that lead?" You can learn to anticipate what the public will read next. For example, I suggested for years that books for retiring baby boomers would be a big thing. So far I haven't seen many books on the topic, but they're definitely on the way.

Studying the markets is more than selling; it's staying abreast about what goes on in the world. We figure out the felt-needs of people, sometimes before they're aware.

We study the markets because we're professionals.
Professionals are always on the learning curve.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Secrets from Professional Authors (#8)

8. We study the markets.

One way to define success is that we sell what we write. Professionals don't rely solely on agents, but they know what's going on in the world around them. They're aware of writing trends. The best professionals spot trends before they become trends.

In 1989, I wrote a book for caregivers of loved ones who suffered from Alzheimer's. I wrote two other books for caregivers. They didn't do well because I was too far ahead of the loop. In 2004, I did another series of caregiving books with only slightly better results. The trend had begun and I lectured often on caregiving.

In 2009, I started a series of gift books for caregivers and they've done quite well. I continued to write in that field, but it's no longer my focus because there are already so many people out speaking and teaching.

That's what I mean by studying the markets. I co-wrote Don Piper's 90 Minutes in Heaven and it stayed five years on the New York Times' best-seller list. Since then, other books have come out about heaven. In the fall of 2010, two books, both about a child who went to heaven, appeared.

In the summer of 2010, I released my book When a Man You Love Was Abused. So far as I know, it was the first book on the topic aimed at the Christian market by a royalty-paying publisher. The book has done well and I know of several other books on the topic that have gotten a thumbs up because of my book's success.

By contrast, memoirs and autobiographies aren't doing well, unless the subject is a celebrity, and some of them haven't shown strong results, such as Kitty Kelley's bio of Oprah.


Awareness of the market doesn't guarantee sales,
but it does increase your chances of selling.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#7)

7. We write what we know and what we yearn to know.

Each of us leads a unique life. We are products of our past experiences and no one has a background exactly like ours. Draw from that background. Reflect on what you already know and write it either as fiction, autobiography, how-to, or any other genre you like. Use your already accumulated knowledge and wisdom (and we all have more than we think we do).

But don't stop with what you know. Move into what you'd like to know. Research by reading and asking questions, and learn about topics that grab your interest. For instance, in 1990 and 1995 I co-wrote two books about Antarctica, even though I never went there until 2003. I read widely because of the two books, the first of which was published by a company that specializes in true adventure, and they called it With Byrd at the Bottom of the World. It's the story of Norman Vaughan who was then the last surviving member of Richard Byrd's historic flight over the South Pole. (He went on a ship, disembarked on the icy continent, and a team of men with dog sleds went 400 miles inland. Norman was in charge of the dogs.)

I didn't know much about Antarctica, but I read widely and felt as if I had been there long before I boarded a ship. That's one of the marks of a professional—we're curious people. We want to know more. We don't settle for surface information.

Good writers write what they know; 
good writers explore new areas to increase their knowledge.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#6)

6. We mimic the best.

I can't say this enough: Imitate the writers you admire. Would-be basketball heroes copy the moves of the players they admire.

For example, when I was 15 years old I first read William Saroyan's The Human Comedy. I didn't know much about writing, but I knew I wanted to write and that I wanted to write with his warmth. Saroyan's writing gave me permission to express my heart on paper. That's one kind of imitation.

The other is to copy their words. When you read something that makes you pause and say, "I wish I had written that," copy the words. File them. Read them occasionally. As you copy and ponder the prose, you're absorbing their style.

Don't just copy best-selling writers. I can think of several top-grossing writers. It's not their mastery of the craft that makes them sell, but it's their plots or the material they cover.

I started with two writers I like, and neither of them was in my field. That didn't matter and may have been a positive factor. I couldn't steal or copy their prose, but I could learn syntax and phrasing that equaled theirs.

I find superior writers; 
I imitate them so that I can become better than they are.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#5)

5. We Grow Professionally.

Learn—and keep learning—the craft. We strive to become the best writers we’re capable of becoming.

Growing professionally means an unrelenting search for excellence. We're never satisfied. We smile when we've constructed a good paragraph and say to ourselves, I'll continue to improve.

Here's something else we can do for ourselves: Connect with other writers, those who will help us push ourselves. We don't want to connect just to get someone to stay at us until we finish an article or book. I urge writers to covenant with another to push you to make your manuscript the best writing you can do at this stage of your development.

Professionals are never pleased with their writing 
because they know they can improve.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#4)

4. We Read. A Lot. Often. Constantly.

As serious writers, we read, and we do so in a variety of areas, always seeking to know more about writing and about our world. We read in our genre, but we also read outside our field.

Too often I meet want-to-be writers who don't read—people who don't like to read—and yet they feel they must write. That doesn't make sense to me. Someone said it's like hating horses while raising herds of them, and lecturing around the country on how to love your horse. It's not only hypocritical; it won't work.

Professional writers don't like to read---they're compulsive and must read. They snatch minutes whenever possible to fill their eyes and minds with words and new thoughts.

Words are our tools and we examine their meanings. We feel them and we learn to distinguish between when to use small or littletinyminiscule, or minute. We read and pick up nuances of meaning, marvel at the expressive efforts of others, or groan at the lack of skill in our own manuscripts.

We absorb techniques and ideas when we read, mostly unconsciously. We find ourselves absorbed and challenged by writers who are better than we are. And there are always writers who are superior.

We read for pleasure but even then we read to learn and to grow. Every article or book we read becomes a teacher. As we read, we ask questions. Why did she start the story there? What does that word mean? Why did he use the subjunctive mood?


Professional writers are compulsive readers.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Secrets from Professional Writers (#3)

3. We Rewrite.

The best writing is rewriting. That means not being easily satisfied and sensing we can make our prose better.

To rewrite means to change our writing so that it becomes sharper and more coherent. That's what moves writers into the professional level.

When we rewrite we rethink what we've written. We admit that some words feel exactly right and we leave them. We delete sentences that don't flow or we add words for clarity.

I say it this way: I write subjectively; I edit objectively. That means that on my first draft I let words flow without censoring or interrupting. Once I finish I go back and objectively correct what I've written.

Effective rewriting is a skill we learn gradually
by going through the process hundreds of times.