Publishing Success


Recently Harvest House acquisitions editor Nick Harrison concluded a blog post with the following:

In my workshops I often mention that success for a writer is only about 60% writing ability. The other 40% is knowing the market, meeting editors and agents at conferences, and generally keeping up with what’s going on in the publishing world. Writers who do that will have an advantage over more talented writers who don’t or won’t do that.

In this article, Nick also says that a writer needs to tailor his writing to the particular needs of the publisher with whom he is seeking publication. Zondervan, for instance, he says, does well with suspense while Bethany and Harvest House do well with romance and Marcher Lord Press specializes in speculative.

Interesting observation. I know editors often say what they are looking for, but I don’t know that I had zeroed in on the idea of exclusivity before.

So I wonder, is it a wise decision to put all the eggs in one basket? Is it ideal to be In-and-Out specializing in burgers, fries, and milk shakes, or is it better to be KFC and start branching out past your niche?

For writers, is it better to seek publication with a house that specializes or one that diversifies? For some do. I thought of Thomas Nelson, a house that includes a wide variety of fiction. And WaterBrook, one of the publishers not afraid of speculative fiction (and doing quite well with at least some of their authors).

Earlier today I read author friend Mike Duran’s post about his path to publication. I found these lines refreshingly honest [note to Mike: you see? More than one person finds what you write refreshing 😉 ]:

Even after I’ve signed a two-book contract, I am still in the dark as to how I actually got here.

Part hard work. Part luck. Part divine guidance. I dunno.

I tend to think Mike falls into the paradigm that Nick Harrison described. He is a good writer, so he’s 60 percent there. He’s begun attending writers’ conferences and has been involved in the writing business for a number of years as an editor at Midnight Diner, as a guest blogger at Novel Journey, and any number of other activities. Plus he writes the kind of speculative fiction that Strang (his publisher) seems to prefer and the market currently favors (a darker, urban kind of supernatural fantasy—though I may be wrong about characterizing Mike’s work in those terms since I haven’t actually read his book yet).

But here’s the thing. As the Dilbert cartoon I posted a couple days ago says, marketing is part guess work.

Nick Harrison suggests that a writer might be talented enough to study trends and figure out what readers will want in three years. But that’s a guess. No writer will know if another 9/11 will hit before their book goes to press or if another economic event will change the climate of the publishing industry or another technological advance or … or … or …

So I’m not buying it. We writers don’t know enough, I don’t think. We can’t know enough.

I’ve seen some writers publish (with great elation since they’ve been working for years to perfect their writing) only to have disappointing sales and no additional contract. Initially when they got The Call, it looked as if they’d crossed the magic line and had “made it.”

But I think the line keeps moving. At least if “the line” refers to the same way the rest of our culture measures success.

I think God measures success differently. Sometimes He brings the kind of success the world hankers after as a residual of the real kind of success. Sometimes not.

Gideon experienced both. In spite of—or maybe because of—insurmountable odds, he lead a handful of fighters to a stunning victory against Israel’s oppressors. But the real victory came when he believed God and obeyed His call to go, to par down his army, and to employ tactics that can only be called strange.

The point was, no one, least of all Gideon, could miss the fact that God gave him the victory. It really wasn’t possible any other way.

Maybe, just maybe, God wants to do more impossible things today if we’re willing to give Him that first victory—our trust, our obedience.

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Published in: on October 25, 2010 at 6:00 pm  Comments (3)  
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Fantasy Friday – Speculative Faith


Some of you who have been visiting here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction for a while know about the team blog Speculative Faith—a site set up by Stuart Stockton to discuss speculative fiction from the perspective of our Christian faith.

A number of writers participated. For a time Karen Hancock wrote regularly. Bryan Davis did a short series. We had interviews with editors like Nick Harrison (Harvest House) and with writers like Robert Liparulo. We did reviews and had lengthy discussions about books and movies alike. In short, it was a wonderful success.

But gradually, one writer after the other began to pull back. We were a loose organization and no one filled those gaps or took the lead to insure that each day had content.

I was the last of the regulars, and then my computer crashed. When I was back up and running, I had so many things to catch up on, and Spec Faith was low on the priority list. Then the spam set in. When our core group still wanting to see Spec Faith work took a look at the site, the clean-up alone seemed daunting.

In the end, we agreed to start afresh at WordPress. This time Stephen Burnett took the lead and began transferring posts and designing the new site. We began posting a couple weeks ago, with Stephen doing most of the writing. The next step was to secure regular writers, but we also wanted to include a good selection of guests.

I’m happy to report that the schedule is coming together. I’ll once again be writing on Mondays. Stuart will post on Tuesdays. New to the team is Rachel Starr Thomson, writing on Wednesdays (though she may share the slot—this detail is still being worked out). Then Steven will post on Thursdays. Fridays are the designated Guest Blogger Days.

We have invitations (and some acceptances) out to a number of writers. It should be an exciting lineup. All this to say, you are hereby invited to stop on over at Speculative Faith (affectionately known as Spec Faith 😉 ) and join in the discussions. We also are on Facebook and Twitter, so we’d love to have you follow us or friend us on those sites as well.

The Fire in Fiction


Fire in Fiction coverIt’s HERE! Came on Monday, actually. I ordered this book when I first heard about it from Writer’s Digest, but when Jessica Dotta published an interview over at Novel Journey with agent guru and expert writing instructor, Donald Maass, I was more excited than ever to get his newest book, The Fire in Fiction: Passion, purpose, and techniques to make your novel great.

I know some people think there is a problem with that subtitle. I mean, come on, they say, techniques to make your novel great? As if you can create a masterpiece by using a paint-by-the-numbers kit.

Well, that’s the beauty of Mr. Maass’s books, at least the other two I’m familiar with—Writing the Breakout Novel and Writing the Breakout Novel Workbook. He is not trying to give a formula but an analysis. He’s looking at what has made other novels “breakout” or have an impact (his working definition of “great”).

The point is, he identifies what elements great novels have, gives some practice tools, and lets writers go from there.

Nick Harrison:Jim Bell debateThis instruction book is light on “rules.” From a glance at the table of contents, I can tell you shouldn’t expect a discussion on point of view or verb tense or passive voice. If I were to categorize the main emphasis, I’d say it’s on characters.

This would make Nick Harrison very happy, while Jim Bell will be grinding his teeth. 😀 This picture was taken during a 2008 Mount Hermon workshop in which Nick and Jim “debated” the importance of character over story. According to Nick, no one cares about all the fast-action events in a story unless they first care about a character.

According to Jim Bell, no one can know a character unless they see them in action in the midst of a story.

Truth to both, clearly, but Mr. Maass spends the first fifty pages of his writing instruction about characters, so I think that provides us with a clue as to his position on the question.

Since I read to find out what happened next, I never thought I would agree with this character first approach. But I’ve read too many stories of late in which I just didn’t care … until I got to know what drove the character forward. Then, if I’m engaged with the character, I’m engaged in the story.

I read one book some years ago in which the character I followed for four hundred or so pages dies in the end. I have not picked up another book by that author since. I invested in that character and had no clue he would die. And I had no other rooting interest. I didn’t want to just have it all stop.

I’ve read other books that start with bad guys or with guys who die. I hate those books. I don’t want to attach to a bad guy. I don’t want to root for someone who’s out of the story after page twenty.

Characters matter, and they have to be done right. I’m convinced of that, but I’m still not sure if I understand how to do “right.”

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