Why Writers Won the Election in a Landslide

“Neither the Democrats nor the Republicans are offering voters the kind of change that they seem so desperately to want…. They long for leaders with a clear and compelling vision of a better America and a road map for getting there.

“Neither party is…offering a bold, coherent plan…to reinvigorate the can-do spirit of America in a way that makes people believe that they are working together toward grand and constructive goals. Great challenges demand great leaders. Marian Anderson once said, ‘Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it….’

“Real leadership will have to come from…outside of Washington….America’s can-do spirit can be revived, and with it a brighter vision of a fairer, more inclusive, and more humane society….The loudest message from Tuesday’s election is that the people themselves need to do much more.”

–Bob Herbert, the New York Times, 11/4/10

Writers won a mandate for change in the election. Filling the vacuum for leadership by writing for change is the greatest opportunity you will ever have. Whether you’re writing prose or poetry, short or long, for love or money; whether you’re being the light or reflecting that of others, you can use your passion and vision to make a difference.  

As a writer, you have four opportunities to be creative:

  • how you write: expressing your ideas in a fresh, exciting way
  • how you conceptualize your work: creating titles and subject lines that convince readers to read what follows them
  • how you build a community of believers: building a constituency for your ideas and forging a community of allies to widen the ripples you create in the information stream
  • how you communicate with your communities: using as many media as you can, as tirelessly as you can, and integrating your efforts for maximum impact

As the saying goes, problems are opportunities in work clothes. They force us to make better lives for ourselves, the other residents of the global village, and the planet. We believe writers may be our best hope for the future. If writers, individually and collectively, don’t fill the leadership vacuum, who will?

Elizabeth and I started the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference to help writers learn about craft, community, and communication. If you want to use your passion for writing and change to help lead America into the future, please join us this weekend.

 The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

The 6 Keys to Becoming a Successful Author

There’s a cartoon showing two scarecrows standing in a field and one is saying to the other:

“English lit. How about you?”

Becoming a successful author requires you to change your thinking from artist to merchant, from being a writer with something to say into an author with something to sell. More than eighty percent of the books that are published fail. Majoring in English lit and using the keys to write salable books described in my previous post won’t be enough to ensure their success. You need these six keys to unlock the door to publishing success:

1. Clarity: Understand the options you have for getting your book published. Learn how publishing works so you can choose the right option for you now, based on your visibility, your idea, and your ability to write about it and promote your book

2. Flexibility: Balance writing for free and writing for fees. But focus on writing what will enable you to reach your financial goals.

3. Community: Use events, personal contacts, and social media to create communities of fans and people to help you.

4. Visibility: Use as many media as you can to build your platform, to become as visible as you can be, online and off.  

5. Promotability: Have a promotion plan that shows a publisher how you will use your platform to make your book as successful as you both want it to be. When the competition for consumers’ time and money continues to grow, how effectively you leverage your visibility will determine your sales.

6. Durability: Take the long view as well as the short view about your career. Have a strong enough belief in your books and yourself to be gracefully relentless about achieving your goals.

            Welcome to the publishing world of accelerating change and new opportunities! Your future is in your hands and at your fingertips. May you make the most of it!        

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America) / blog: sfwriters.info/blog

7 Keys to Writing That Sells

Sometimes you have to destroy your business in order to save it.

–James Surowiecki, The New Yorker

Adair Lara wrote a delightful little book called You Know You’re a Writer When…

Here are three of her insights. You know you’re a writer when

  • You’ll never forgive your parents for your happy childhood.
  • You wonder which is a funnier word for a mineral, ”feldspar” or “potash.”
  • There are three empy cereal bowls next to your computer—one for each meal.

To survive, Netflix is going to have to give up DVDs, the more profitable part of their business. Clicks are destroying bricks. When the music and movie businesses went to downloads, clicks destroyed Tower Records and Blockbusters. Downloads are the key to Netflix’s growth. Will ebooks will have the same effect on chain bookstores? Stay tuned.

Newsweek reported that next year, there will be seven billion people on the planet and five billion cell phones, a staggering statistic. People are giving up laptops for smart phones. In three years, smart phones will outsell PCs.

You know you’re a writer when you write. It’s that simple. But if you still harbor the hope that you can sit in front of your computer, turn out good books, and earn a living, abandon it. You need to reinvent yourself. Consumers will have a PC in their pockets with voice recognition, instant translation, and the ability to download all media whenever and wherever they want them. There is now wifi service on top of Mt. Everest!

What are the qualities you and your books will need to succeed in an increasingly mobile world?

The 7 Keys to Salable Writing

The two keys to becoming a successful author are developing your skills as a writer and an author. They involve two different but overlapping abilities. Both skills sets are essential to your future. The seven keys to making yourself an salable writer are

1. Credibility: Be knowledgeable enough about your subject and kind of book so you can write and speak about it. Make learning a lifelong quest.

2. Clarity: Find books and authors you can use as models for your books and career. Use what excites you to create a clear vision of your literary and financial goals, including when and how to achieve them. The only criterion for your goals: they motivate you to do everything you can to get where you want to go. Change your goals when you wish.

3. Quality: Produce work that you can promote with pride and passion. You’ll be too close to your work to tell when it’s ready, so build a community of readers who can.

4. Productivity: Be a contentpreneur who keeps generating ideas and content that you can customize to meet the needs of the marketplace.

5. Scalability: Be able to communicate your ideas and the content of your books on any scale: a tweet, a pitch, a blog, a website, articles, talks, workshops, videos, media appearances, audio books, and a series of related books that sell each other. There’s growing interest in short work because it’s faster to read.

6. Mobility: Write books that are salable in other forms, media, and countries for audio, video, films, television, merchandising products, computer games, and

usable on all available platforms, including computers, smart phones, and e-readers. Follow your work if it means moving elsewhere.

7. Creativity: Develop your ability to be creative in how you write and promote your work. As more authors deluge the marketplace, creativity will become more important as a way to distinguish yourself from them.

The next post will tell you about the six keys to becoming a successful author.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton/Financial, www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

Query Letters 2: Avoiding “The Oops Factor”

I have written two novels: One is fiction, one is nonfiction.

–the beginning of a query letter we once received

            Agents only read queries far enough to make a decision. They know that if someone can’t write a letter, they can’t write a book. One query letter we didn’t have to finish reading began: “Not that I compare myself with Shakespeare’s Hamlet…” Avoiding these common mistakes will help you:

Typos, spelling our names wrong, poor grammar and word choice such as fiction novel, which is redundant

Proofread your letter online and in hard copy, and have at least one other knowledgeable reader do it as well. You will avoid having to look at the letter after you sent it and saying “Oops!”

  •  Impersonal salutations: Dear Sir, Gentlemen, To Whom It May Concern. Use the agent’s name.
  •  A list of agents you’re emailing. Use individual letters. 
  • Handwritten letters. In the age of computers? 
  • Sending work we don’t handle. Only contact agents who handle what you write.
  • Writing to both of us. Send to only one person at an agency. Whoever it is will pass it on, if necessary.
  • Long paragraphs. Aim for three or four paragraphs on the page. 
  • Asking about a smorgasbord of unrelated books or kinds of writing. Only ask about your best, most salable book. 

Agents would rather receive unique submissions, but you can speed up the query process by  sending a one-page query letter to as many agents as you wish simultaneously online or off.  Write the letter that would excite youyou’re your readers about your book, and if you have a salable book, agents and editors will be glad to see your work.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)

8 Reasons to Go to the San Francisco Writing for Change Conference

If you want to write with pride, passion, and purpose, here are eight ways the Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference can help you:

1. Be inspired. You’ll hear inspiring keynotes from million-copy sellling authors. Dan Millman and John Robbins will tell you about their experiences as authors and what it takes to succeed.

2. Team up for success. At the last Change Conference, Cami Walker brought the manuscript for a book about giving 29 gifts in 29 days to help heal herself. She met her agent, Rita Rosenkranz, and her editor, Katie McHugh of Da Capo Press, and 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life spent several weeks on the New York Times extended bestseller list. Cami, Katie, and Rita will discuss how they did it at this year’s conference.

3. Learn from top-notch professionals. Authors, editors, and agents from both coasts will discuss writing, marketing, publishing, harnessing the power of the Web, and a wide range of books about change from the personal to the planetary. You’ll have the opportunity to network with them and pitch your book. You can see the program and the speakers, and register for the conference at www.sfwritingforchange.org.

4. Start a movement. Kirk Boyd met Jeevan Sivasubramanian, Executive Managing Editor at Berrett-Koehler, at the 2007 Change Conference. They’ll talk about how they made Kirk’s book, 2048: Humanity’s Agreement to Live Together, a San Francisco Chronicle bestseller for four weeks, and how Kirk is using his book to build a movement to create an enforceable agreement of human rights around the world.

5. See how pros do it. Mitch Horowitz, the Editor-in-Chief of Tarcher/Penguin, will wear two hats. He’ll give advice and listen to pitches as an acquiring editor. He’ll also do a session with his agent, Laurie Ann Fox, and his editor at Random House, Ryan Doherty, as the author of Occult America: White House Seances, Ouija Circles, Masons, and the Secret Mystic History of Our Nation. Occult America just received the 2010 PEN Oakdland/Josephine Miles Award for Literary Excellence.

6. Use your articles to sell your book. Tim Reiterman of the Associated Press, author of Raven: The Untold Story of the Rev. Jim Jones and His People will discuss how to write articles and use them to sell your book.

7. Go viral. Documentary filmmaker Vanessa Workman will show how you can use YouTube by making videos, book trailers, and documentaries to spread the word.

8. Enjoy the city. You can stay at the eco-friendly Hilton Financial, which is on the edge of Chinatown and North Beach, at the special conference rate of $119, so you can browse at the nearby landmark City Lights Bookstore and relax in North Beach’s coffee houses. You’ll also have the chance to spend time in San Francisco, America’s second largest writing and publishing center, one of the most beautiful, progressive, creative, literary, and inspiring cities in the world.

Another Opportunity! On Friday, November 12th, our brilliant colleague, Laurie McLean, will be opening the doors of San Francisco Writers University with “All About E-Books,” a comprehensive all-day symposium on the fastest-growing part of the book business. Information is on the website.

The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America).

Query Letters: The Hook, the Book & the Cook

A query letter should be like a skirt: long enough to cover the subject and short enough to keep it interesting.


Agent Katharine Sands believes that the writing you do about your writing is as important as the writing itself. A query is a one-page letter, single-spaced, with a space between three or four indented paragraphs, and without sounding self-serving–it describes the why, what, and who: the hook, the book, and the cook:

  • The hook: whatever will best justify publishing your book

            * (Optional) a selling quote about your book (or a previous book) from someone whose name will give it credibility and/or salability. The quote could also be about you.

            * (Optional) the reason you’re writing the agent:

                        –the name of someone who suggested you contact the agent

                        –the book in which the author thanked the agent for selling that inspired you to write the letter

                        –where you heard the agent speak

                        –where you will hear the agent speak and hope to have the chance to discuss your book

            * Whatever will most excite agents about your book:

                        –the opening paragraph

                        –the most compelling fact or idea about your subject

                        –a statistic about the interest of people or the media in the subject or the number of potential readers

  • The book: the essence of your book:

            * A sentence with the title and the selling handle for the book, up to fifteen words that will convince booksellers to stock it. The models for it: one or two books, movies, or authors. “It’s Harry Potter meets Twilight.”

            * A one-sentence overview of your book, and if appropriate, what it will do for your readers

            * The book’s biggest market(s)

            * Its actual or estimated length

            * The length of your proposal and how many more pages of manuscript you have ready to send

            * (Optional) The names of people who have agreed to give a forward and cover quotes, if they’re impressive

            * (Optional) A link to illustrations, if they’re important

            * (Optional) Include the subjects or titles of the next two books, if you’re proposing a series

            * (Optional) Information about a self-published edition that will help sell it

  • The cook: Why you’re the right person to write the book

            * Your promotion plan: the four or five most effective things you will do to promote your book online and off, with numbers if they’re impressive

            * Your platform: the most important things you have done and are doing to give yourself continuing visibility with potential readers, with numbers if they’re impressive: your online activities, published work with links to it, and media and speaking experience with links to audio and video

            * (Optional) Your credentials; experience in your field; or years of research; prizes, contests, and awards in your field

Include anything else that will convince agents to ask to see your proposal.

A fothcoming post will tell you how to speed up the query process.

 The Third San Francisco Writing for Change Conference: Writing to Make a Difference / November 13-14, Hilton Financial/Chinatown / www.sfwritingforchange.org / Keynoters: Million-copy selling authors Dan Millman (Way of the Peaceful Warrior) and John Robbins (Diet for a New America)