Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Articles First? (Part 5 of 6)

Two More Reasons for Publishing Articles First

How do you know you have an idea that interests enough people for a book? A few years ago a publisher turned down my book called When Someone You Love Has Alzheimer's. They didn't think the market was big enough. I contacted another publisher and I pointed out a number of statistics, such as that doctors diagnose five million people each year with Alzheimer's; however, my point was I wanted to reach the friends and family members, not those with Alzheimer's. That expanded my potential audience four or five times. The second publisher bought it and a third publisher asked me to write a gift book for 2011 release, When Someone You Love No Longer Remembers.

That leads me to an important reason for articles first. We can assure ourselves we have an audience for the topics about which we choose to write. If magazine editors buy the articles and if readers respond positively, we know we’re moving in the right direction.

Further, once we start publishing in an area, we link our names with specialized topics and that makes us experts. For example, I wrote five articles about getting, working with, and firing literary agents. Two different compilers of books for writers asked me to write an article on agents. The Christian Writers’ Guild hired me to write a 2,500-word study about agents for one of their on-line courses. Another publisher hired me to write a booklet on the topic. I received invitations to speak at conferences and they frequently asked me to speak about agents. Those same conferences provided opportunities to pitch book ideas to editors.

Why did they ask me to write or speak? Was I the most knowledgeable person around? No, but the editors knew I had published several articles on that topic. In their thinking, that made me an expert.

Become an expert in your field. You can do that by publishing articles on your specialized topic.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Articles First? (Part 4 of 6)

Three Reasons for Writing Articles First

"Few people want to apprentice in this business," one editor said. "They want to jump on the bestseller list. A number of the successful writers in this business began by writing and editing magazines."

With that as background, here are reasons to start with articles before we try books.

1. Once we’ve had short pieces published, we have writing credits. We’ve entered professional status. Prior publishing impresses book editors and implies that we we're ready for the next step.

2. If we focus first on short pieces, the books we finally write will probably be superior to anything we could have written in our earlier days. Perhaps it helps if we think of a book as a series of articles tied together by a common theme.

During my first years of writing, I wrote articles and after they were published, I revised them to fit as chapters in a book. (That’s also good stewardship of time.)

3. Articles take less time to write and we get feedback faster. It's easier to handle a rejected article on which I spent three weeks than a book that took me two years to complete.

A willingness to start at the beginning and learn marks the true professional.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Articles First? (Part 3 of 6)

When do you jump from articles to books? I don’t know the answer, but here are my ideas.

1. You need to establish your expertise in one area. Once you’ve published 10 short stories about romance or espionage or you produce a dozen nonfiction articles on marriage or saving money, you’re probably ready. You are then an expert on the topic, even if you don’t feel like one.

(My career seems to deviate from my advice, but I started by writing on the topic of marriage and published at least 20 articles. I felt I had nothing more to say so I moved on to spiritual growth. After that I became a ghostwriter and for at least a decade I wrote only books for others. I write in a variety of genres, and I’m an anomaly in publishing. It’s easier to stay in one genre.)

2. For magazine articles, you have to do nothing; for books, you have to do everything. That is, you must promote your books. The more connections you have and the more experience you have in publishing, the easier it is to promote.

3. You must convince book editors that you know your area and that you have connections to promote your books. As you publish articles, you’re learning the craft; as you associate with other writers, you widen your circle of influence. Speaking engagements are excellent. Consider joining Toastmasters or a professional speakers group.

4. Thus, I suggest you find one area that intrigues you and write/sell more articles on the topic. (If you sell only first rights, you can always make those articles chapters of a book with little editing.)

Learn the craft and learn how publishing works before you try to get a book published.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Articles First? (Part 2 of 6)

Publishing articles will help you gain credibility in the marketplace. You also show that you have learned the skills required for a magazine piece. That moves you from amateur to professional.

You have already proven that

• You can write to a specific word length.

• You can deliver the article on the deadline.

• You can handle rewriting the article if requested.

• You're committed to writing and you want to grow.

Like many professionals, I started with articles and wrote my first one 18 times before I sent it out. Fourteen of those times the piece went through my editing group, the Scribe Tribe. Within a month after sending the first article, I received a check. As I continued to write, sell articles, and received a few rejections, I also began to understand how publishing works.

It still amazes me that want-to-be-successful writers get an idea for a book, write the entire manuscript, and haven’t learned the craft. Often they don't even know what professionally written manuscripts look like.

Writers want editors to consider them professionals.
Professional writers prove their commitment by their knowledge of the craft.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Articles First? (Part 1 of 6)

"Is it necessary to write articles first?" I often hear that question at writers conferences. Necessary isn't the word I'd use; I'd say it's wise to begin a writing career with writing articles (or short stories). No matter how well we write, none of us comes into publishing fully equipped. We need to master techniques and learn skills. Too many writers want to start with a book and become famous. They don't have enough experience to know how badly they write. That is, they haven't proven themselves.

I’ve discussed this with a number of book editors and a few agents. Without exception, they urge writers to learn the craft and usually add, "The best way to learn is to start with shorter pieces."

The first question an acquisitions book editor often asks a prospective new writer is this: "What have you published?"

If you answer, "Nothing," you've already given your material a negative impression. You can overcome it, of course, but it's better to be able to say, "I've published 12 print articles and had 10 stories in ezines."

Start by writing short pieces is good advice.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Questions about Beginnings (Part 9 of 9)

Last words on first words.

One way to learn to write good beginnings is to see how the professionals do it. Although some do it better than others, I learned a great deal about beginnings by reading only first paragraphs of half a dozen books every day for a week.

Why not try my method? As you read, ask yourself these questions:

• What makes the opening strong?

• Does this paragraph fulfill the three purposes?

• Why does this opening hold my attention? (Or why doesn't it?)

• How could I have made the beginning stronger?

Wise writers willingly learn from the best.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Questions about Beginnings (Part 8 of 9)

Don't ruin your beginnings.

A few years ago, I read more than one hundred entries for Christmas Miracles, a compilation book. The major flaw in at least a third of them was that they told us the ending before they told us the story.

• "The worst Christmas of my life became the best Christmas ever."

• "I want to tell you about the Christmas where I became aware of my self-centered attitude."

• "I didn't want to put my last five dollars in the Christmas offering but I did and God rewarded me on Christmas Day."

You might be curious enough to read on, but you know the outcome, so why bother?

Good beginnings grab us, take our hands, and lead us to a satisfying ending. The story is even better when we (as readers) don't see the ending until near the end. That's called suspense.

Start with a problem. Unfold it by making us care while the protagonist goes through the struggle. When it appears that the person will lose her job, his wife will leave him, or the bank will foreclose, we bring in the event that changes everything.

In the old westerns, the heroes are fighting outlaws and are down to their last four bullets. They're ready to die (never surrender), but just then, one of them yells, "What's that?" It's the distant blaring of the cavalry trumpet coming to their rescue.

That ending is too clich├ęd to use today, but the principle still works. Hold the miracle or the turning point until the last possible moment.

Good writing presents a problem and withholds the solution until the last moment.