• May 30, 2008

    From my Death Bed…

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    Okay, so maybe I’m not exactly on my death bed… but I caught this really lousy flu that has kept me in bed with a sore throat, aches, and a fever the last few days. Thought I’d emerge from my Robitusson-induced haze and answer a handful of questions from people.

    Janet wrote to ask, "With the advent of e-book readers, how will this affect authors and the money they are paid? Will there be a bunch of ripple effects from all the electronic gadgets?"

    Amazon’s Kindle and Sony’s e-reader are developing fans, and they are certainly beginning to sell some units. If you’re not aware, Kindle is a book-shaped reader with a great, easy-to-read screen that receives book text via cel phone technology. You can purchase a book from Amazon and they’ll send it to your Kindle wherever you are (using the same technology as text messaging) for ten bucks. A Kindle can hold about 200 titles before the memory is full. Last week Amazon cut the price from $399 to $349 — still too high, but moving in the right direction. I like the product a lot, though I think it’s a bit too plasticky. The Sony e-reader doesn’t have nearly as nice of a reading screen, but costs a hundred bucks less and you can send Word document to it — so many New York editors have been given them, in order to read manuscripts without having to lug around a bag full of heavy books. I’ve thought about getting one just so I could be reading the manuscripts of the authors I represent before they are sent into the publishers.

    There are a lot of things to like about the future of these products, though neither are perfect. (The Kindle doesn’t do graphics; neither is doing textbooks yet.) Amazon reported yesterday that they now have 125,000 books available to send to your Kindle, and [get ready to

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  • May 15, 2008

    A Fresh Look

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    Well, I’m now 50. Older and wiser (hopefully). Please let me offer one short rumination…

    Recently I made some comments about Mike Hyatt, the Thomas Nelson decisions, and the direction of CBA. That caused a couple people to write and ask me, "Why are you down on CBA?"

    My response: "I’m not. Not at all." But their questions got me to thinking some things…

    First, I love Christian books. My life has been changed by books I’ve read — I can point to some titles (The Ragamuffin Gospel, In the Name of Jesus, etc) and say with all honesty, "My life was never the same after having read that book." It’s the ministry a book can have in the life of a person that keeps me excited about words. When I read, I learn, and that changes me. And I’m one of those ignorant types who needs to learn a lot, since I’ve got a lot of changing to do.

    Second, I love CBA and the things associated with it — authors, publishers, booksellers. Honest. I’ve been part of CBA for more than 20 years. I feel as though I know it inside and out — both its strengths and its weaknesses. I will sometimes poke fun at the stupid stuff (Armor of God pajamas and Standing on the Promises Insoles, for example), but let’s face it — those things are funny. Still, I don’t want anyone reading this blog and coming away from it thinking that I’m not supportive of great Christian books. I always want to remember the people I work with are trying to change the world for good.

    Third, this is the Golden Age of Christian publishing. There have never been so many good books, done with such quality, and at such an affordable price. Some day we will all look back on this time as an incredibly rich season of Christian writing.

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  • May 11, 2008

    And the winner is…

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    So today is my birthday — I hit the big Five-Oh, and I’m celebrating by holding my nose and pouring over all the really bad poetry that faithful readers have sent to my 2008 Bad Poetry Contest. My friends took me to J.K. O’Donnel’s Irish Pub for some inspiration, so let me offer some quick thoughts…

    -Most of you really suck at this. I mean, really. You’re great sports for taking part, of course, but you need to know that poetry is not in your future. Trust me on this.

    -A few rose above the badness and actually had nice rhymes and good images. You were immediately disqualified. (My son Colin sent in a 28-liner that actually rhymed and offered the image of "this violent reek in my nose hair." Sorry, son, but to craft truly BAD poetry you’d have skipped the rhyme and focused more on the cat poo.)

    -Why is it that limericks make us smile? And why is it that nobody can really take a limerick seriously? I mean, Shakespeare never wrote limericks, did he? ("Forsooth and anon from Nantucket…")

    -When will bad poets realize that rhyming couplets get really annoying after the first two lines? Egad. Once I got by the lines like "Happy Birthday Chipperoo, You are really full of poo," I wanted to smack the author with a stick. (Take note, Paulette Harris: "Happy birthday to you, woo woo woo" is not actually a "poem" it’s more like a "bad idea.")

    -While I’m at it, when will poets realize that most haiku is awful? I mean, the faux depth is laughable. Just creating the dumbest haiku imaginable will probably put you into the Poetry Hall of Fame.

    -I’d like to point out that Kelly Klepfer offered us a rap. A RAP! Kelly will be mistaken for a rapper the day after PEOPLE Magazine names me to their list of "50 Sexiest Men." White

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  • May 7, 2008

    The 2008 Bad Poetry Contest is still going on…

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    Don’t wait until the last minute — now’s your chance to show off that lack of talent!

    Give us your wretched rhymes, your lousy limericks, your hurtin’ haiku. Every year at this time I celebrate my birthday by hosting the Bad Poetry Contest. We’ve got some absolute stinkers this year — poems about monkeys in cages, acrostics about casseroles,  and "fearsome fanged sparrows from the cliffs of Aldu-Hazziz." In other words, these are bad. Terrible. Rotten to the core. Just the way we like ’em. We even had one woman reveal that the love of her life looked her in the eye and told her, "They look like big blue bowling balls." (Um… it should be noted she THOUGHT the guy was talking to her about her eyes.) And to top it off, two of my students took time away from their end-of-the-semster studies to rhyme "final" with "vinyl." Does my heart proud to know I’m discipling two young up-and-coming bad poets.

    Last year’s winner was "Blind Puppy on a Freeway," which offered this inspiring chorus:

    Love, love, love, love

    Love, love, love

    Love.

    I don’t know. Whenever I read those words (sniff), there’s just something (sniff) that touches me (snort) RIGHT HERE (honk!). [For the sake of potential children reading this blog, we won’t be showing pictures.]

    Anyway, here’s your chance. Rage. Emote. Show us your deepfulness. Greatness awaits. (So does a copy of Does God Speak Through Cats, which is this year’s Grand Prize Selected Especially For You.) My 50th Birthday is Sunday, when I hope to be picking a winner, assuming I can still read and I’m not overcome by the fumes.

    Poem away!

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  • May 3, 2008

    The 2008 Bad Poetry Contest Starts Today

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    No doubt you’ve been waiting all year for me to host my annual BAD POETRY CONTEST at MacGregor Literary. Next week is my birthday (a big one — I hit the big Five-Oh), and I always try to celebrate by inviting all the bad poetry my friends can muster. Just go to the bottom of this blog, hit "comments," and post some lousy piece of doggerel as your way of joining in the celebration. That’s right – You can be published! Right now! On my blog! Aren’t you just wetting your pants in anticipation?

    It can be a crappy couplet, a crummy bit of free verse, a lousy limerick (let’s stay away from rhyming with the city of "Nantucket"), or any other ditty you create that shows what a sensitive and thoughtful artist you are, when you don’t happen to be worrying about your lack of a book contract or whining about the bad job of marketing your publisher is doing for you.

    Warning: This is not a "birthday blog." So don’t feel you have to write a poem about birthdays. It’s just your chance to share your true deepfulness and reflectiveosity. You’re an artist — go art.

    For those not in the know, this contest grows from my belief that every poet has the same message, which can be subtly summed up this way: "LOOK AT ME! I AM SENSITIVE AND REFLECTIVE AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME! SO I’LL SHOW THEM HOW DEEP I AM BY WRITING POETRY!" (Feel free to edit that statement if you’re truly deep and meaningful.) I want you to know that I’m here for you poets — in fact, I was once accused of being sensitive, and have occasionally been forced to reflect on something, until I could grow up and get over it. Therefore, I’ve set aside the next few days just for you. Write! Create! Sit and contemplate your navel! Do…um…whatever it is

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  • April 27, 2008

    Mike Hyatt goes for broke…

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    What a week for Mike Hyatt, the Prez at Thomas Nelson Publishers. Early last week he announced that TN would pull out of ICRS (the big CBA book show) in Orlando this July. Then he announced that TN would also pull out of BEA (the big ABA book show for the general market). A day later, he let people know that TN was cutting 10% of its workforce. And in his blog the next day, he dropped his biggest bombshell: that TN was releasing too many under-performing books, and they planned to "eliminate a significant portion of our workload" by significantly cutting their list.

    Wow. That is one lousy week.

    Or maybe it turns out to be a great week — who knows? It’s got to be tough to face all these problems, and even tougher to blog about them. Mr. Hyatt keeps a blog (michaelhyatt.blogs.com), in which he reveals some of his thinking. It can be an interesting read, and kudos to the guy for being willing to share some of his thinking. He’s got to be the highest-ranking person in all of publishing to offer thoughts in that format, and he took some hits for doing so — some people posted very personal attacks on the guy.

    Um… Look, let me get this out right at the start: Mike and I are acquaintances, not friends. He is always very pleasant to me, but we’re not hanging out together in Nashville or going to get a drink with one another at CBA. I don’t feel sorry for him — when he signed on to be the Boss, he had to know he’d face some tough decisions. You figure they pay him the big bucks to make these types of tough decisions. But I gained a huge measure of respect for the way he handled this. I was a publisher once (though not in a position of authority

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  • April 21, 2008

    On Conferences and Ideas

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    I just got back from the best writing conference I’ve ever attended — the Calvin Conference on Faith and Writing. It took place at Calvin College in Grand Rapids, and featured bestselling authors such as Haven Kimmel, Kathleen Norris, Yann Martel, Phyllis Tickle, Rob Bell, Francine Rivers, and T. Davis Bunn. Pulitzer Prize winners Michael Chabon and Edward P. Jones spoke, as did Pulitzer nominee Robert Finch, and National Book Award winner Katherine Paterson. And (probably due to a clerical error) me.

    There were fascinating presentations, all done by smart people with really big titles. Mary Louise Bringle spoke on "From Despair to Healing: Theological Insights from Fiction," and others did things like "Graphalogia" and "Writing as Catechesis" and "How I Learned to Draw God." Meanwhile, I did my usual "the right way to sharpen a pencil." I also gave people tips on saving money by using toilet paper instead of kleenex. In case there were charismatics in the audience, I pretended to speak in tongues and heal somebody.

    Anyway, they do this every other year at Calvin. One of the reasons I like it so much is because of the quality of writer they get. Haven Kimmel is one of my heroes, so the fact that we got a chance to sit down and yack was special. (Her most recent book, She Got Up Off the Couch, is about her mother, who rose from poor roots to become an English professor. So when I got to sit and have a conversation with her mom, I was thrilled. And charmed.) Davis Bunn proved once again to be the nicest Southern Gentleman still living. Phyllis Tickle is always nice to me, though I have no idea why. So is the poet Luci Shaw, even though I’m never smart enough to figure out what she’s saying. Being able to chat up very smart people is always nice, though they generally just stand

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  • April 8, 2008

    As the Page Turns

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    Lots going on in publishing these days…

    First, Borders may or may not be in trouble. It would seem incredible that the nation’s second largest bookseller, in the midst of a growth phase with smaller "boutique" bookstores going up in malls, would suddenly be facing a financial crisis. But they say it’s caused by the tightening credit rules, debt, and the cost of money. They had to refinance a huge debt load at a very high rate — never a good sign for a business. And rumor has it Barnes & Noble is sniffing around, hoping to try and snap them up on the cheap. Nobody in publishing wants that to happen. Competition is always good for business, and B&N would have very little competition in the brick-and-mortar book business if they were to purchase Borders.

    Actually, I’m not sure the government would allow it. Borders and B&N combined account for 55% of all retail book sales in this country, and surely the government would see that consumer prices would be bound to rise if the two companies merged. However, if you take into account Amazon and other online booksellers, B&N could claim the two chains only amount to about a third of all book sales…so perhaps a permissive federal regulator would allow it to happen. But I hope not. Having two companies creates competition, which is always a good thing.

    Second, HarperCollins made big news with the announcement they were creating a new imprint that would rely on very different business practices than most publishers. Robert Miller, the longtime boss at Hyperion, has moved to HC to head up the new venture. The imprint will offer lower-priced books (word is they’re trying to keep hardcovers at $20), won’t pay advances to authors (instead relying on a profit-sharing plan), won’t buy display space in stores (instead relying on their online marketing efforts), and will sell books outright to retailers (rather

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  • April 2, 2008

    Good Grief — Why Don’t You Update This Thing?

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    Some new information has come out on the bestselling books of 2007, and it’s fascinating stuff…

    First, there were nine novels that sold a million copies last year, according to Publishers Weekly (in fact, all the numbers in this column will be based on the most recent issue of PW): Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, A Thousand Splendid Suns, Playing for Pizza, Double Cross, The Choice, Lean Mean Thirteen, Plum Lovin, Eclipse, and Book of the Dead. I don’t know how many of those you read but I can tell you it was a great year for Janet Evanovich, and that Pizza is one of Grisham’s clunkers. Ugh.

    Second, there were sort-of seven nonfiction hardcover books that sold a million copies last year: The Secret, The Dangerous Book for Boys, Decelptively Delicious, You: Staying Young, I Am America (and so can you), Become a Better You, and, apparently, The Daring Book for Girls. My reason for saying there were "sort of" seven books is because the recorded sales for that last book was exactly one million copies… which would have been an amazing coincidence. (On an honest note, You: On a Diet came in less than 2000 copies short of a million.)

    Third, there were eleven trade paperback titles that hit the magic mark: Eat Pray Love, The Kite Runner, Water for Elephants, The Road, The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, The Pillars of the Earth, Love in the Time of Cholera, 90 Minutes in Heaven, Jeusalem Countdown, Middlesex, and Measure of a Man. And no, I’m not kidding… John Hagee’s Jerusalem really did sell more than a million copies. Unbelievable.

    Fourth, there were sixteen mass market novels that sold a million copies. I won’t list them all by title, but Nora Roberts held places #1 and #3, and James Patterson held #2, 4, 5, and 6.

    Fifth, the only children’s book to pass the million mark was Philip Pullman’s The

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  • March 19, 2008

    Online Writing and Publishing

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    Susan wrote to ask, "What is your opinion of e-publishing as a means to break into traditional publishing?"

    I’ve yet to see this work much. I keep hearing about authors who plan to e-publish their novel one chapter at a time, which is an interesting concept and might be a nice alternative to those writers with a niche readership, but I’m not seeing it translate into regular royalty-paying deals. Stephen King tried selling his novel chapter-by-chapter and it went nowhere. And now publishers are becoming wary of allowing an author to include material in a book that has already been available on a blog or website or e-zine. I still believe the web is a great training ground for authors, but I’m not sure the practice of e-publishing is actually going to get you a traditional publishing deal.

    Laura wants to know, "When an author sends an electronic proposal to an editor at a publishing house through a referral or because of a meeting at a writers’ conference, how long should the author expect to wait for a reply?"

    It varies on the editor, the house, and the season (some seasons are busier than others), but it’s generally fair to say that an author will probably hear within 12 weeks or so. If you’ve been waiting longer than 3 months, it’s fine to check back with the editor, just to see if they’re still considering it. Be patient — publishing is a slow process.

    Lynn writes to say, "I have an article that has been showcased on an online writers’ forum and has proven popular. Now I’d like to find a publication where I could submit my article. Since most magazines have an online edition, would they consider my article already published?"

    You’re asking the question many writers are wondering. The fact is, this topic is still being debated, so I don’t have a definitive answer for you, Lynn. Check

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