From Bestseller to Human Rights by 2048

April 29, 2010

The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.

–Eleanor Roosevelt

The right book will change the world. Kirk Boyd’s new bestseller, 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together, is such a book.

Kirk, a client, is a visionary as tireless as he is idealistic. Last week, he did talks at Bay Area bookstores. He sold enough copies for the book to reach number two on the San Francisco Chronicle bestseller list the week of publication.

Part of the credit for the book’s success goes to his publisher, Berrett-Koehler, which is unique in its dedication to its books, its authors, and its mission: “Creating a World That Works for All.”

Out of the suffering of World War II came the commitment to prevent another catastrophe by creating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Eleanor Roosevelt lead the effort to create it, and all countries signed it in 1948, but it was unenforceable.

The 2048 Project, based at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law, is an international movement to create an International Bill of Rights that will be enforceable in every court everywhere. The project’s goal is for the bill to become law by the 100th anniversary of the Universal Declaration.

Kirk, executive director of the project, will be giving talks around the country and abroad about it. Everyone who wants to can help write the bill can visit the project’s website, All proceeds from the book will go to support the project.

Kirk will be speaking at the San Francisco Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference, Saturday and Sunday, November 13th and 14th, at the Financial Center Hilton. Dan Millman, author of million-copy selling classic, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, will be a keynoter.

There are harder ways to get to heaven, but Kirk’s  dedication to his cause will guarantee his posthumous destination. His life will embody the words of the prophet who said: “All the way to heaven is heaven.”

I hope that the beauty of your dreams justifies devoting your life to them. Think big. Plant yourself in the biggest pot you can; spring is here.

The 30-Year Overnight Sensation

April 27, 2010

You will never have to worry about a steady income.

–an unwittingly prophetic message I received in a fortune cookie that’s as accurate for  writers as it is for literary agents

Last weekend, Elizabeth and I spoke at the Central Valley Writers’ Conference in Oakhurst. Selden Edwards, a 67-year-old retired schoolmaster, told the remarkable story of how his literary first novel, The Little Book, went from nowhere to the New York Times bestseller list.

The book is a  time-travel story set in San Francisco in 1988 and Vienna  in 1897. What’s remarkable about it is that Selden worked on it for more than thirty years, the longest period of time I’ve ever heard someone working on a novel. Blessed with a steady income, Selden keep rewriting it and submitting it, but couldn’t get an agent or publisher interested. He couldn’t even get feedback on the novel.

But then, luck and four linked relationships led to bestsellerdom. Through publicist Milt Kahn, a friend in Santa Barbara with whom Selden plays basketball, he found out about freelance editor and publishing veteran Patrick Lo Brutto. Selden said the manuscript was 80% done when it got to Lo Brutto. Pat and Selden worked on it for a year, and by the end of it, Selden said it was 90%.

Pat is a scout for the Trident Media Group, a literary agency in New York. He suggested that Selden send the manuscript to Scott Miller at Trident. Less than a week later, Miller called saying that he had to represent the book. Scott submitted it to senior editor Ben Sevier at Dutton, and four days later, received an offer in the “high six figures.”

Ben and Selwen worked on the manuscript for six more months to get it to 100%. With a significant promotional commitment from Dutton, The Little Book went on to become a New York Times bestseller. The second book, in what will be a trilogy, is in the works.

Selden’s story is proof that if you keep learning from your mistakes, find the help you need, and persevere, you will succeed. One thing’s for sure: It won’t take you as long as it took him. So keep at it and keep in mind the words of the sage who said: “The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

The Drop-dead Rejection Letter

April 26, 2010

Snoopy in Charles Schulz’s Peanuts cartoon strip received the toughest rejection slips I’ve ever seen. In one of them, he’s reading a letter that says:

            “Dear Contributor:

            Many thanks for submitting your story to our magazine. You are the worst writer we’ve ever seen. Leave us alone. Drop Dead. Get lost.”

            Snoopy leans against his dog house and says: “Probably a form rejection slip.”

Elizabeth and I are kinder in our rejection letter, and following up on my previous blog about rejection, I thought you might be interested in seeing it.  Since rejections are inevitable, we try to make the letter as painless and inspiring as we can. As far as we know, it’s unique and we receive compliments on it. If you’re ever tempted to submit to our agency, at least you’ll know what our response may be.

Dear Writer:

Many thanks for contacting us about your work. We’re very sorry that we have to decline what you have been kind enough to offer, because we can’t help you achieve the success you want.

We are eager to find new books and writers, and we love to get excited about them. But the only way we can make a living is by selling books to big and midsize publishers, and selling books by new writers is becoming more difficult. Now is the best time ever to be a writer, but finding new writers is the hardest part of our job, and it’s getting harder.

Like the rest of the arts, publishing is a very subjective business. Even though we have written or coauthored fourteen books, most of which have been successful, we still get rejected. And although we have sold books to more than 100 imprints and publishers, our clients’ work is still rejected. Nor do all of the books that we sell succeed.

Like editors, we receive thousands of submissions a year and reject more than ninety percent of them. This prevents us from commenting on submissions and forces us to use a form letter. But take heart! Rejecting manuscripts that become bestsellers is a publishing tradition.

So assume we’re wrong. Persevere until your books reach the goals you set for them. We usually can’t suggest a publisher or agent who might be interested in a writer’s work, but your writing community, directories, the Web, and the Association of Authors’ Representatives will lead you to the agent you need. Persistence rewards talent. We can’t make a living saying no, but as author Joe Girard says: “Every no gets you closer to yes.”

Many thanks for giving us the opportunity to represent you. We wish you the best of luck with your writing career. The information on our site may explain why you’re receiving this letter. Persevere!

Yours for Good Books That Sell (Especially When They’re Yours!),

Michael Larsen                                      Elizabeth Pomada

The letter is always a work in progress, so if you can think of a way to make it more helpful, please let me know.

End Rejections and Obstacles Immediately

April 20, 2010

Where you stand depends on where you sit.

              –Miles’s Law

It’s been said that you have about the same chance of winning the lottery whether or not you buy a ticket.

I received an email from a writer who I’m sure believes that you have about as much chance of getting a book published whether or not you write it. He is so discouraged by the process that he’s going to stop writing. I wrote to him, and here are my thoughts on his predicament:

As a writer whose work has been rejected often and an agent whose submissions to editors have been rejected thousands of times, I empathize with you. Want to stop getting rejections? Don’t submit anything. That and self-publishing are the only ways to do it. Otherwise, accept the inevitable. The New Yorker rejected a story by Saul Bellow after he won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Publishing is a business that guesses wrong most of the time. More than 80% of the books that are published lose money, and agents and publishers reject bestsellers. Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 has that title because it was published by the 22nd publisher to see it.

Publishers want to publish books with pride and passion. They love literary books as much as they need commercial books, and bestseller lists include both kinds of books.

I’m sorry you haven’t been able to connect with an agent or editor. Their jobs depend on them finding new writers and helping them succeed, and it’s the best part of their job. But they accept less than one percent of the submissions they see.

You’re angry because they send form letters. But  agents and editors receive thousands of submissions a year, so they can’t take the time to write personalized letters.

Your query letter may be part of the problem. Agent Katharine Sands says: “The writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself.” This is why you need readers who can assure you that every word is right, and your that letter has the impact you want it to have.

Your proposal or manuscript may also be the reason why you haven’t sold your book.

How many competitive books have you read to establish criteria for your book?

What books did you use as models for your book?

How closely does your work meet the standards they set?

How many drafts did you do?

How many qualified readers gave you feedback on your work as you were writing it and after you finished it?

Agents and editors can tell instantly whether someone can write and knows how to start a proposal or manuscript, and because they’re swamped, they must decide as quickly as they can whether to keep reading.

Are they infallible? No.

Do they make mistakes? You betcha.

At the San Francisco Writer’s Conference, bestselling thriller writer Steve Berry said that his first five novels were rejected eighty-five times. Five of Sue Grafton’s first seven novels were never published. After Danielle Steel’s first novel was published, she wrote five more that were never published.

Although technology can accelerate success in the arts, writing is the easiest of the arts to enter. All you have to do is sit down and start putting black on white. It’s also the easiest in which to succeed. You may feel better about your problems if you talk to actors, artists and dancers about the challenges they face.

You have to have faith in your work and yourself and keep writing. You’ll become a better writer with every book. Sure, you’ll go through periods of doubt, but if you persevere and have readers to critique and encourage you, you will work your way through the doubt.

Want to eliminate all of the obstacles in your life immediately? Eliminate your goals. No goals, no obstacles. The challenges you face are commitment tests. The larger your literary and financial goals, the greater the obstacles you will have to overcome to reach them. And the sweeter your success will be when you do.

Ray Bradbury once said that when you’re starting out, you have to learn to accept rejection. When you succeed, you have to learn to reject acceptance. I hope you’ll have that problem as soon as possible.

If anything can stop you from becoming a writer, let it. If nothing can stop you, do it and you’ll make it.

Comments and questions welcome.

Selling by Telling: Speaking from the Heart

April 15, 2010

Jerry Seinfeld once said that people are more afraid of public speaking than they are of dying. This means that at a funeral, you’d be better off in the coffin than giving the eulogy.

Speaking, like writing, is exposing yourself in public, so  fear is natural. But readers want to connect with authors in person, so speaking can accelerate sales and the development of your career.

If speaking about writing, your work, your subject, or yourself makes sense for your book, consider these suggestions:

Giving talks will help you

* promote and build an audience for your book and other talks

* get feedback on your ideas, your humor, the impact of your stories, and the difference you make in listener’s lives

* build

–sales of your books, products and services

–word of mouth

–online buzz

–relationships with your listeners

–your email list, if you ask for addresses

–a collection of videos for fans, agents, editors, the media, book buyers, and people who book talks

The challenge is making your listeners share your passion for your book. Look at a talk as having three parts: an introduction, the body of the talk and a conclusion. Or as someone once said: Tell’em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, then tell ‘em what you told ‘em.

As with your book, don’t think about what you’re selling, think about what people are buying. What’s the best way to present the essence of your book so it serves and excites your listeners? Appealing to the head is easier than appealing to the heart. People understand the value of ideas. The heart part is harder. 

The most effective talks inform, enlighten, entertain and inspire. They

* provide valuable information

* present a vision or perspective based on that information

* hold listeners spellbound

* inspire audiences to act, if only to buy what you offer

* continue to improve as speakers learn from responses to them and find ways to make them more effective

Unless you can read a section of your book that will have a strong affect on audiences, the impact of reading isn’t clear to me. Usually, the Q & A session that follows readings is more interesting. But reading is a standard part of book-signings for novelists and memoirists, and if it will help sell your book, do it.

Use handouts. They add lasting value to your talks and can include your contact information, events, products and services, and order information. The organization that  invites you to speak may print them for you.

Want the best intro? Write it yourself. Also write your outro, what you’d like to have said after you speak about book sales, upcoming events, your blog and website.

Most of what you communicate isn’t the words; it’s you. It’s everything else that audiences experience: your clothes, movement, gestures, voice and passion.

To minimize the fear of speaking:

* Attend talks, watch them on YouTube and television, listen to them on iTunes and CDs. Use the best as models.

* Write and revise your talk until it’s as strong as you can make it. Use stories and humor. Credit the work of others.

* Practice your talk as often as you can.  

* Audition your talk. Ask people to make suggestions, and grade the content and impact on a scale of one to ten.

* If you’re planning to read your talk, underline the syllables you will stress. Professionals memorize talks. They look at the parts of them as modules that they can shift and eliminate, depending on the length and subject of the talk.

* Attend a talk at places where you’ll speak, if you can.

The better you know your talk and the more often you give it, the more confidence and less fear you will experience. The kicker: the fear of speaking is a good thing if you use it to energize your talk.

Business, professional and nonprofit organizations need speakers. As soon as you feel ready to speak, begin doing it. You’re an amateur until someone asks you how much you charge.

At the end of your talk, ask your audience to tell you if they know of any organizations that would like you to speak. If you’re speaking before publication, they may welcome you back when your book comes out.

What are the joys of speaking?

* Audiences laughing at your jokes and being moved by your stories

* Listeners telling you how much they enjoyed your talk

* Changing people’s lives

* Getting paid to give voice to your passion

* Creating a community of fans and customers

* Being asked to come back

* Getting referrals for talks

If corporations, associations and nonprofit organizations will pay you to speak, you may be able to make more income from giving talks and selling books after them than you can in royalties.

To develop your speaking skills, join Toastmasters, If you want to become a professional speaker, join the National Speakers Association,

The pen is mightier than the sword, but the tongue may be more lucrative than either.  

Comments, questions and humor welcome.

Wribrid or Toast—Which are You?

April 13, 2010

There’s a New Yorker cartoon showing an editor sitting across a desk from a man who looks like Charles Dickens, and the editor is saying: “Make up your mind, Mr. Dickens. Was it the best of times or the worst? It could scarely have been both.”

As I wrote in my first post, now’s the best time ever to be a writer. But if you’re a new writer who wants a major commitment from a large publisher, it’s the most challenging time ever. One way to make yourself attractive to big houses is to reinvent yourself as a wribrid.

Wribrid rhymes with hybrid and sounds like it should be sliced and wrapped in cellophane. But it’s really the new model for writers. We live in the age of hybrids, the transition between gas and other forms of energy, between analog and digital, between the world and the Web.

Put writer and hybrid together and you have wribrid. Author Lee Foster rightly predicted that “This will be the golden age of the content creator.” But to succeed, you have to be a wribrid. You have to strike the right balance between

* Being online and off

* Writing for free and fees

* Writing short work and books

* Developing your ability to write for and promote in as many media as you can

* Writing, selling, test-marketing and promoting your work

* Doing work that generates income and building your visibility and communities to help you

* Receiving help and reciprocating

* Making a living and making a life

* Being a writer and, if you can get paid to speak, a speaker

I’m looking for someone to write a book about finding the best balance in life between form and content. Content is what you love to do; form is what you have to do. The goal: maximize content, minimize form.

If you love to write, your goal is to spend as great a percentage of your time writing as you can, and as small a percentage as possible doing everything else. There’s a tension between maximizing your writing time and all the other things you have to do to build your career. So you to keep fine-tuning the most productive ways to use your time to achieve your short- and long-term goals.

If this was easy, everyone would be doing it. You have what it takes but no time to waste. So if you don’t have comments or questions, resume your quest now.

Learning to Kiss Change on the Lips

April 9, 2010

We owe a lot to Thomas Edison. Were it not for him, we’d all be watching television by candlelight.

–Comedian Milton Berle

A high-tech innovation can transform two guys in a garage into billionaires. The irony is that the big companies they build can’t innovate. No matter how profitable they are or how smart and creative their employees are.

Fear, size, jealousy, competition, how companies work, and the creative destruction of existing products and services help explain why innovation is hard for technocracies. So they buy innovation instead.

Thanks to techno-auteur Steve Jobs, Apple is an exception.  It’s driven by the vision of one demanding, relentless, irreplaceable man. Google understands the need to innovate or die, but its string of innovations have less impact and alienate companies whose territories they invade. Both companies also buy new technologies.

Technology used to advance in stages. There would be an innovation in trains, planes, and automobiles, and then they would remain at that level until the next innovation came along.

Today, we’re living on the vertical slope of technology trying to thrive during a time of accelerating change. The torrent of high-tech innovations is transforming publishing just as it’s transforming other media. But the larger any business, organization, or institution is, the harder it is to adapt.

In the eighties, writers were early adopters of computers. It took far longer for publishers to computerize. They had to create systems that were capable of both running a large business and carrying out the unique, complicated tasks involved in publishing every book. Publishers also had to integrate their systems so they could function together, a huge challenge that took years to accomplish and continues as technology evolves.

Paul Otellini, the CEO of Intel observed that: “It’s a lot easier to change when you can than when you have to.” As a multimedia, multinational conglomerate of one, you can innovate by changing what you write about to whatever

* most excites you

* is most salable

* you can most effectively connect with your readers about

You can change directions faster than publishers can, and you have more ways than ever to test-market your work to make sure you’re on the right track.

You have to balance building your visibility and credibility on subjects that you enjoy writing about and promoting with the need to be ready to take advantage of the next big thing.

You also have to balance change with stability, a growing challenge on the fun, scary, bewildering, exhilarating, accelerating ride during history’s most exciting century.

If you hang on tight, you can experience the thrills and spills as they happen and perhaps make a living writing about them.

Changes and innovations threaten the status quo, but they can also be an opportunity for

* changing how you work

* finding new ways to reach readers

* generating new sources of income

The future of writers who best communicate the perils and promise of life on Spaceship Earth is assured. I hope you’ll be one of them.

The Building Blocks for a Writing Career

April 6, 2010

Anne Lamott begins a chapter of her wonderful book Bird by Bird like this:

There’s an old New Yorker cartoon of two men sitting on a couch at a busy cocktail party, having a quiet talk. One man has a beard and looks like a writer. The other seems like a normal person. The writer type is saying to the other: “We’re still pretty far apart. I’m looking for a six-figure advance, and they’re refusing to read the manuscript.”

If you find yourself pretty far apart from publishers, perhaps you need to consider using the following seventeen building blocks to construct your career as a successful author:

1. Read: Ernie Gaines, author of the Oprah book club selection, A Lesson Before Dying, believes that you can only write as well as you read. So read what you love to read and write what you love to read. Reading will enable you to establish criteria for your books.

Also read about authors you admire to learn how they succeeded.

2.  Establish models for your books and your career. Choose those that most inspire you.

3. Understand how publishers and agents work: You want the best editor, publisher, and deal for your books. Having a positive but realistic perspective on the business will help you find the right publisher for you and your book, and an agent if you decide to hire one.

4. Set personal and professional goals: Establish goals that keep you motivated to do all you can to achieve them.

5. Practice nichecraft: You can write any kind of book on any subject. But a faster way to build a career is to come up with an idea for a series of related books that sell each other and that you will be passionate about writing and promoting.

6. Develop your craft as a writer: Make every word count for your readers. Find early readers to help you make sure your work is 100% before submitting it.

7. Build communities: You can’t get your books right or make them succeed by yourself. Get the help you need by helping people and asking them to help you.

8. Develop your craft as a marketer:

 * Build your platform: your continuing visibility, online and off, with the readers for your books.

 * Build the communities you need to succeed.

 * Test-market your work: Maximize the value of your book by proving it will sell before trying to get it published.

9. Promote your work: Whether Random House publishes your books or you do, you will be the person most responsible for promoting them. Regard promotion as an essential part of your mission to spread your message.

10. Be passionate about your books: You want all of the people you meet to be as passionate about your work as you are. You are the well from which they will draw.

11. Make Mistakes: Jame Joyce said that “Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” As long as you learn from your mistakes, you will make fewer of them. Eliminate  failure as an option, and success is inevitable.

12. Staying committed to your writing and your career: No one will know or care as much about your books as you do. So you must be relentless but professional about writing and promoting them, and about building your presence in the industry and in your field.

13. Put your life in the service of your readers: The better you serve them, the more they’ll help you achieve your goals. If you want people to keep buying your books, establish and maintain a relationship with them. You have more ways to do that than ever.

14. Be an authorpreneur: Speaker Sam Horn’s brilliant word which, for me, means:

 * having the entrepreneurial ability to create something out of nothing: an idea; a book that you can sell in more forms, media and countries than ever ; an international 365/24/7 business; and a career

 * coming up with ideas that you can sell in as many forms, media, and countries as possible

 * being responsible for your success

 * being unique by being creative in writing and promoting your books

 * being resourceful in meeting challenges

 * looking at everything you experience and reflexively wondering if there’s a way to use it to enrich your personal or professional life

 * using speed, creativity and flexibility to compensate for size

 * embracing and taking advantage of new information, technology, and opportunities created by accelerating change

15. Have courage: Believe in yourself and the value of your books. You will overcome the obstacles that await you.

16. Take the long view: A writing career isn’t one book but ten or twenty, each better and more profitable than the last. So you have to balance and integrate your short- and long-term goals.

17. Grow yourself: You are the most important factor in your success. You have to challenge yourself to improve physically, mentally, spiritually, and professionally. You have to keep learning if you want to keep earning.

You are Needed Now

Creative, resourceful people keep proving that anything is possible, that we are limited only by our ideas and the time and resources we devote to developing them. The world needs all the information, inspiration, help and entertainment you can provide. Enjoy the journey and best of luck!

A Page a Day, A Book a Year: You Can Do It!

April 1, 2010

Don’t kill your wife. Let our washing machines do the dirty work.

–Sign in a Kentucky appliance story.

Technology has ended the dirty work, the physical drudgery of writing and transformed every writer into a publisher. All you need to get published is a  manuscript.

And a page a day is a book a year. If you only write 250 words a day for 21 days, you will have a new habit.  In a year’s time–taking weekends off–you will have 251 pages.

The next step is to make them worth publishing. Then the question becomes who will publish your book. Your idea, your prose, your platform, your promotion plan will answer that question. But publication is certain. Somebody will publish your book, if only an e-book or print-on-demand publisher that will do it for free.

Strengthening your commitment to writing by doing it every day will enable you to become a published writer. So put the power of a page to work for you today.

I have great faith in you. I believe that you can do it. I know that you can accomplish more than whatever you think you can. But more important is that you believe it, that you have the faith you need in yourself to believe that you and your work will be good enough to achieve your goals.

This doesn’t lessen the challenges of

  • writing as well as you can
  • getting feedback on your work
  • building your visibility with your readers
  • promoting your work and yourself
  • building communities of people to help you

It does mean that if you keep trying. keep growing, and keep learning from your mistakes, you will succeed. So let it be written. So let it be done. Your readers are waiting.