Friday, July 29, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 12 of 12)

Here’s more on the topic of rejections.

Newer writers take all rejections personally as if the editors and agents dislike them. It’s a business decision.

I suggest that you try at least 10 publishers (or agents) before you give up. Some of my friends say 25, but you get the idea. If you still can’t sell your manuscript, put it away for six months and then look at it. If you’re growing and improving, you’ll probably spot the major reasons for getting turned down. (Or one of your writing friends may advise you.)

Finally, if you’re serious about writing, be patient and persistent. Those who succeed keep at it for years despite rejections.

Remind yourself that all writers (good and bad) have their work rejected. Like it or not, it’s part of being a professional.

A simple statement but true: What one editor hates, another loves. Don’t accept editors’ words as infallible. They’re not always good critics. Their comments are often hastily written (if they write anything) and without much thought.

Finally, never call or write editors to argue the merits of a rejected piece. Instead, use your energy to send the manuscript to other publishers.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 11 of 12)

New Writers Don’t Understand Rejection.
Receiving nonacceptance responses comes with learning how to be a professional, published writer.

Editors and agents rarely give reasons for saying no to manuscripts. (And that’s another aspect of the learning curve—your figuring out why.) Here are general reasons for not having your manuscript accepted:
  • Wrong publisher or wrong topic. They send a novel to an agent who represents only nonfiction writers. Or they write a political piece for an ezine that only wants personal experiences.
  • Wrong slant or treatment. They may correctly send a manuscript on the right issue or theme, but take the wrong approach. For example, they might make a case for euthanasia for a publisher who takes the opposite perspective.
  • Wrong approach. That usually means their piece isn’t distinctive enough. The material reads like 35 other such submissions. Today’s editors want a distinctive slant to everyday problems.
  • Poor writing. Poor grammar, unclear thinking, an illogical presentation. That makes a strong argument for working with other writers.
  • Unprofessional looking. Publishers have standards for all manuscripts they receive. And they’re easy enough to learn and are usually published on their website.
  • The publisher recently did something on that topic or assigned it to a professional writer. 

Friday, July 22, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 10 of 12)

What other mistakes do writers make?
16. They expect immediate success. They don’t prepare for rejection. How few realize they have to build a writing career by starting at the bottom and slowly learning the craft and the business. So many things they don’t know about publishing can only be learned by experience. They need to learn the rules and then know how and when to override them.

The best writers develop their own style and sometimes call that finding their voices. It takes years for that to happen.

Being devastated by rejection is probably the biggest problem and the most difficult to overcome.

Napoleon Hill said it this way: “When defeat comes, accept it as a signal that your plans are not sound. Rebuild those plans and set sail once more toward your coveted goal.”

My favorite quotation comes from Barbara Kingsolver. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don't consider it rejected. Consider that you've addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

I’ll write more about rejection in my next blog entry.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 9 of 12)

Here are more mistakes authors make.

15. They Don’t Grow Spiritually. I’m not just throwing in religious jargon, and I think this applies to everyone—Christian or agnostic.

For me, it means focusing not only on my writing, but on helping others. I can’t quantify my statement, but I’m convinced that the more we give and share with others, the more we grow. One woman who wrote two best sellers (and was never able to publish again) once said to me, “I’m not going to train my competition.”

“I helped train you, didn’t I? I hoped you’d pass on what you’ve learned.” (Maybe that’s why she never published anything else.)

It means we offer ourselves to others and give what we can.

I believe there is a rule of the universe (as a Christian I’d say God) that the more we give to others, the more we receive. I’ve made a living as a fulltime writer for more than 30 years. I’m convinced a major reason is that I continue to grow and share what I have.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 8 of 12)

Here are more mistakes authors make.

14. They Don’t Grow. Most authors will deny that, but when I read what they’ve written I don’t see much difference from book to book. If we’re growing, our writing quality keeps up with us.

We need to learn and keep on learning. Make it your goal to be the best you can. I don’t expect to be the most celebrated writer of my time; I do expect to be the most celebrated Cec Murphey I can be.

Growing professionally means an unrelenting search for excellence—an uncompromising attempt to improve—a compulsion to be the best you can be. (Quite redundant, but it’s so you can grasp how important I consider the unrelenting search for excellence.)

Here are a few suggestions to help you improve.
  • Join or form an editing group. Editing groups edit, which is why I use the term. Pay attention to the suggestions from others and surprise yourself with how much you can learn. I stayed with my editing group, the Scribe Tribe, for nine years. Even though most of them knew less about publishing than I did, I still learned from them.
  • Covenant with at least one other writer that will push you—not to finish a book or article, and not to get it sold, but to make each piece the best writing you can do at this stage of your development.
  • Pray every day for God to help you improve. If you’re not a serious writer you’ll stop praying. If you are, it will become a part of each day. And even if you don’t believe in prayer, call it self-talk because what we say to,ourselves and continue to say to ourselves helps us fulfill those words.
I don’t ever expect to feel fully pleased with my writing.
I know I can get better.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 7 of 12)

Here are a few more mistakes authors make.

13. Writers don’t constantly study the markets. They tend to listen to what others tell them without trying to verify for themselves.

With permission, I’m reprinting “Top 10 Myths Marketing Executives Believe” from Rob Eagar’s blog, “Monday Morning Marketing Tip.” Most of this applies to authors.

The business world is full of myths, untested theories, fads, and outdated ideas. Below are 10 common marketing misconceptions. If you believe any of these myths, they could hold back the sales growth of your company:

1. Myth: Heavy buyers are more important for sales growth than light buyers.
Truth: The best way to grow sales is to attract more light buyers.

2. Myth: Clever advertising is the best advertising.
Truth: Effective ads always show a brand’s distinctive assets. Cleverness is a bonus.

3. Myth: Social media marketing trumps email marketing.
Truth: Email is 40X better at acquiring customers than all social media combined.

4. Myth: TV advertising is dead and too expensive.
Truth: TV still draws the widest audience and ads only cost around $.02 per person.

5. Myth: Social media is great because it’s free.
Truth: Facebook users must pay money to reach 80% of their own audience.

6. Myth: Cross-selling to current customers is the fastest way to grow revenue.
Truth: Cross-selling is hard because customer loyalty is lower than marketers think.

7. Myth: Giving away free content will cannibalize sales.
Truth: Offering free content is a low-cost effective way to gain new customers.

8. Myth: It costs 5X more to acquire new customers than selling to existing customers.
Truth: Focusing on customer retention over acquisition will destroy a brand’s growth.

9. Myth: Heavy buyers spread more word-of-mouth than light buyers.
Truth: More of word-of-mouth comes from enthusiastic new buyers, not old buyers.

10. Myth: Wildfire Marketing only works with authors.
Truth: Wildfire Marketing currently consults with $100+ million corporations, large non-profits, major publishing houses, and top-tier authors to help grow their revenue.

—See more at: 

Friday, July 8, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 6 of 12)

Here are more mistakes authors make.
12. They refuse to learn from the best. Go outside your chosen field and read anything that grabs you. I write primarily nonfiction, but I read as many novels as I do anything else. I’ve never written for teens, but I like many YA novels.

As you read widely, take note of writers whose style or word usage grabs you. Imitate the writers you admire.

A quarter century ago I discovered Dean Koontz and tried to read everything he wrote. (I no longer read him because I think the quality of his work has diminished.) Back then with Koontz and other authors, whenever I read sentences that struck me as excellent, I copied them in a file.

Then I’d rewrite their sentences, using their style, and change it to make it sound like Cec Murphey. I learned so much from other writers that way.

Along with that, I began asking, “Why does this writer speak to me?” Some authors get rave reviews and I read them and can’t understand the reason. Part of it may be preference or taste.

But another reason is that I try to be sensitive to the style, voice, and tone and respond positively to those who speak to me. Too many read for information or entertainment (certainly not wrong), but they pay no attention to the craft.

A film from 2000, Finding Forrester, illustrates the value of what I’ve written above. A gifted young black student, Jamal (played by Rob Brown), meets the reclusive Pulitzer Prize winner, Forrester (Sean Connery).

Forrester gives Jamal some of his own articles to rewrite and then he is to go on to make the manuscript his own work. Imitating can be a learning tool. This doesn’t mean plagiarize.

The young man’s experience of starting with the master and moving into his own words was a powerful experience for him and, in the film, he becomes an excellent writer.

Why not try it?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 5 of 12)

Continuing with Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

Here are a few more mistakes that writers make, even published authors.

11. They don’t read enough. Words are our tools, and we need constantly to improve our ability to handle them. Especially fiction writers trouble me because they tend to read only books within their own genre. That’s why so many novels have the same sound.

My advice: Read as widely and as much as you can. When I was still in graduate school I promised myself that I would read at least one book a week for the rest of my life. One week I may not read much but will go through two or three books the next week.

Here’s a wonderful tip I received from Carmen Leal at least a dozen years ago: I take note of the best-seller lists. FYI, the New York Times weekly list shows books by categories such as fiction and nonfiction. The USA Today lists 50 best-selling books and tracks by sales.

I read both lists each week, mark those I think will be of interest and order them from my county library. My rule is that if I’m still reading after page 40, I buy the book from a bookstore or online.

Not only have I discovered many new writers (new to me), but I’ve been enriched by reading in many fields.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Questions from Readers, Mistakes (Part 4 of 12)

Continuing with Mistakes Beginning Writers Make

8. They Accept Writer’s Block. Writer's block is a temporary or chronic inability to put words on paper. It’s an aggressive reaction—a loud shout from your unconscious—calling your attention to the fact that something isn’t right.

(I rarely refer to my own books, but this time I’d urge you to read Writer to Writer in which I deal with this topic.)

Briefly, what I call writer’s resistance happens when you’re afraid of failure, of success or criticism, or when you’re under stress, don’t know how to write something, or your inner wisdom is saying, “This isn’t for you.”

When you try to write against your own values, deep within, you know it’s not right for you to do. So why wouldn’t there be an inner resistance?

Instead, I remind authors that creative discipline grows out of enjoying what you’re writing. You need to like yourself and be able to enjoy opening your inner being for others to see who you are.

9. Their work is stilted, or they try to sound like “real writers.” Use contractions whenever you can. That’s how we talk/write today. (Did you notice I used that’s?)

Some would-be-writers seem to think they impress by using esoteric words. You might impress others that you have a vast vocabulary, but why would they care to read words they don’t know?

I keep hearing the advice to use strong verbs and powerful metaphors. My advice: If that’s the way you talk and think, okay. But most of us don’t. I like small words because I know that even the most uneducated can understand. It’s not condescending (I’d usually say it’s not dumbing down), but it’s communicating with commonly understood words.

10. They don’t understand verb tenses. Pick your tense and stay with it. We do most writing in the simple past tense. And if you want to mention something that happened before that simple past tense, we use the past perfect.

Example: Before Evan came, I had insisted that all the children leave. That is, I got rid of the kids before the arrival of Evan.