Friday, May 28, 2010

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 3 of 3)

"If I could just find the right publisher/editor/agent."

In 1997, I taught at the Greater Colorado Christian Writers Conference. One man had a lengthy manuscript and asked me to look at it. I thought he had a few good ideas but nothing particularly original. It wasn't different from anything I'd read many times.

I told him but he didn't listen.

"If I could just find the right editor, I know my book will sell." Those were his final words.

Afterward I walked toward the dining room and a woman came up to me and said she saw me looking at the man's manuscript. Before I could comment, she said, "He comes every year with the same book. He hasn't changed a word. He's convinced that if he keeps trying he'll find the right publisher."

Since then I've met several others like him. Their attitude says they don't want to grow, don't want to work hard to improve the manuscript, and they're satisfied with what they've written. They're usually the ones who cry about publishing being a closed group and "common people like me" can't get inside. It doesn't seem to occur to them that good writing opens many doors.

To find the right publisher become the right writer.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 2 of 3)

"God gave this to me so I know you'll publish it." I've heard variations on that one, but they all say something like this:

• "God gave it to me."

• "God dictated every word."

• "God awakened me in the middle of the night and said, 'Write!' "

My wife has heard all the stories. For several years, she was the acquisitions editor of a devotional magazine. Even though she received a number of such manuscripts, she never found one worthy of publishing.

Here's my suggestion: If God gives you a message to write, don't tell an editor; let an editor tell you. Early in my writing career, I wrote an article called "Grace Builders," and I honestly felt God had given the article to me. I changed exactly one word after my first draft.

I sent it to a publisher and it was accepted. After that, 16 other magazines reprinted it. This is the first time I've ever said God gave me a message and I can do so now because the results provide strong evidence for my claim. (I didn't tell that to the publisher when I sent the article.)

When I hear people declare they have received divine inspiration, I believe it's a defensive statement. It's as if the person says, "God gave it to me and you can't argue with God or reject God." God's words can stand scrutiny.

One editor told me she responds this way: "God may have told you to write it, but God didn't say I would publish it. When I prayed today, God told me to reject your manuscript."

If God inspires your writing, others will know because it will inspire them when they read it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Statements I Hate to Hear from Writers (Part 1 of 3)

"I know there are mistakes, but an editor can fix it. That's what editors do, isn't it?" While I was doing a Q & A on a radio station, a caller said those words.

Yes, that is what editors do—after they accept a manuscript. They expect well written, grammatically correct submissions. Their job is to improve a good manuscript and make it into an excellent one. As a professional, I'd be ashamed to send anything to an editor that was less than my best work.

"I want to write good," one woman said at a writers conference. (She should have said well.) "But if I spent all my time learning to spell and write better English, I wouldn't get any good writing done."

"I wouldn't hire a carpenter who didn't know how to use a hammer," I replied. "Good writers know their craft—that's their box of tools. If you don't know sentence structure, learn before you submit."

She shrugged and walked away.

Professional writers take pride in presenting quality manuscripts;
those who don't care remain amateurs.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

About Rejections (Part 9 of 9)

Rather than moaning about rejections, I wanted to offer a few suggestions to beat the odds.

1. Make sure your writing deserves publication. This is an on-the-job training field. You grow as you write and publish more. Join an editing group. Pay a professional critique service to read and assess your material. Some material just isn’t publishable no matter how hard you choose to work at it.

2. Resist the temptation to ask editors for a critique. Most editors don’t have time. If you interrupt their work, they’re likely to remember you—and turn down anything you send. Don’t call editors and demand to know why they rejected your manuscript. (Yes, a few writers do such things, but some drivers text while they're in traffic.)

3. Be patient. Persist. Those who succeed in the writing business are those who keep at it for years, despite rejections and setbacks. Keep writing—and keep trying to improve. Read books about writing. Attend writers’ conferences. I know stories of people who went four years or longer before getting an acceptance. But in the meantime, they learned.

4. If an editor rejects the material but says positive or encouraging things, send that editor something else. If he/she says the piece came close, consider rewriting it and sending in the rewrite.

Rejections are part of the business of writing, but they're only part of the business.

Friday, May 14, 2010

About Rejections (Part 8 of 9)

"Badly written manuscripts don’t sell." I said that once at a writers’ conference. Someone pointed out a popular-but-dreadfully written book. In that case, I agreed, but the truth is, an editor liked the writing. That doesn’t excuse anyone for sending in less than the best.

Most agents accept less than 1 percent of submissions. Editors tell me that they toss back at least ninety manuscripts for every one they buy.

Just sending to more publishers isn’t the answer. Even if fifty-three editors see the same badly written piece, the answer will be the same. Instead, if you have sent out a piece at least a dozen times and everyone rejects it, assume that you need to re-work the material before you send it again. At least get a professional to evaluate it.

Today we also have to admit that some people are published because they can sell. If they would put a fourth of the effort into writing that they do into selling, they could develop into excellent writers. They use their sales figures as proof that they're good writers.

Some poor writers sell many books. That doesn't make them good writers. It means they are inferior writers who know how to sell inferior books.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

About Rejections (Part 7 of 9)

I want to point out the most serious reason for rejection: The writing is bad. Sometimes it's worse than bad. Editor Len Goss once said to me, "Most of the manuscripts I read are barely above stream of consciousness."

Many beginning writers submit material long before the manuscript is ready. (I know, I did the same thing.) It's the best they can do, and it looks all right to them, so they take a chance. They also glut the delivery system and interfere with editors and agents who prefer to devote their attention to reading polished, better-quality work.

I can't tell anyone when a manuscript is ready, but I can offer suggestions. Here's my first and most important one: Have your work professionally edited—at least until you get established. It will cost you money, but it's an investment in your dream. Go to a professional editor and not to an English teacher—unless you only want your grammar checked. Writing for publication sometimes violates strict rules. (And I'm a former English teacher.)

After the editing comes back, compare it with your original. Ask yourself why the editor changed your prose. A good editor makes your writing better; a wise writer appreciates the help.

Here's another tip: Never stop learning. I have two friends who were successful in the 1970s romance market. Today neither can get anything published. Neither kept improving. They sold books but they stopped growing.

Keep trying to find ways to improve. Read about writing. Take courses if you can; read blogs and books on writing. Analyze what you read. Ask yourself why one writer speaks to you and another one bores you.

One warning. You can find dozens of blogs and ezines on writing. In all candor, many of them are the work of not-very-good writers. Before you accept suggestions from a blog or ask a professional editor to tackle your material, look at the person's credentials.

A few months ago a woman emailed me that she didn't like the way I wrote and she was willing to become my editor. I try to stay open to someone helping me; however, she misspelled one word, had one run-on sentence of 43 words, and boasted that she had published five articles in an ezine. (Oh, yes, she was also the editor of that ezine.)

I didn't doubt her sincerity, but I wouldn't have trusted her editing.

Get professional help—that is, get PROFESSIONAL help.

Friday, May 7, 2010

About Rejections (Part 6 of 9)

I want to point out obvious reasons why editors and agents reject manuscripts. If your rejection fits into the previous blogs, you know the primary causes. Below are four additional reasons for non-acceptances.

1. The manuscript goes to the wrong publisher. Smart writers don’t make that mistake. They know who handles which type of material. That also applies to sending manuscripts to agents for representation. Go to their Web sites and see whom they represent. Look at their guidelines and they'll state what they don't want. Trust them that they know what they want to represent and will reject what they don't handle.

2. It’s the wrong topic. Presbyterians Today doesn’t want personal-experience-testimonial articles. Sending them one is an excellent way to increase your number of rejections. Why would you send an article on divorce to Marriage Partnership? Some agents handle only fiction; others only nonfiction. One publisher loves speculative fiction and the other wants romance. Wise writers find out those things before they send off a manuscript.

3. It’s the wrong slant (or treatment). Focus on the Family might like an article on abortion—but not if you try to present a pro-abortion stance.

4. The manuscript doesn’t look professional. When editors get manuscripts that are single-spaced, filled with spelling errors, or written in 10-point Algerian or 14-point italics, they know they’re dealing with an amateur. The thinking is that if those individuals can’t present a professional looking manuscript, how could they write good material?

Professionals don't say to editors, "I know you don't publish this kind of material, but. . . ." Professionals know (or learn) where to send their material.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

About Rejections (Part 5 of 9)

If we assume we've written well, are openly transparent, and have an excellent piece, we still face rejection. The first book I wrote for Don Piper, 90 Minutes in Heaven, has now sold five million copies in English and been translated into 40 languages. It stayed on the New York Times' best seller list for more than three years.

Five or six publishers turned it down before Vicki Crumpton at Revell/Baker was insightful enough to see the potential.

My point: Rejections happen. Every publisher has turned down projects that someone else bought and the book became a best seller. If you're a serious writer, you'll be rejected. I wrote that a few blogs ago but I wanted to hit it again.

Years ago I met a writer named Al, who had written a fast-paced dramatic story about the Israel-Palestinian struggles. Twelve publishers turned him down. Al quit writing, because he couldn't handle the rejections.

Here's one thing you can say after you get a rejection: "I did my best."

Here's another thing you can say: "Next time I'll receive an acceptance."