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Friday, June 29, 2012

Agent Consult Experience - #WETCon12

I try never to be negative—there’s just so many ways to be positive instead. So I have chosen to relate the positive side of this experience that took place this last weekend at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference.

During my original selection process, I had maneuvered through each conference agent’s web site, special interests (business, in my case), access to major publishers (works with major publishing houses, as well as regional publishers that handle niche markets), special notes (looks for projects that present familiar subjects freshly or less-known subjects presented commercially) & ("This agency focuses on adult nonfiction, stresses strong editorial development and refinement before submitting to publishers, and brainstorms ideas with authors.") There was more to the process than the mentions above, but these several stood out above the others. There was also the mention that the agency had sold 35 titles last year alone.

I selected this agent for my consult and responded to the Writers’ League and the deal was set.

I wanted to be as fresh as possible so I had waited until two days ahead of the conference start to do my in-depth research on the selected agent’s web site and supported product. I gathered as much data from the information available and set off to dig in and be as prepared as possible.

I copied the titles from Business, Memoir and Humor and then conducted research on the authors and the title’s plus the author’s position on both the Amazon and Barnes & Noble sales sites.

In total, I probably spent close to twelve hours reading and lining up notes to study before my consultation. I was prepared.

I studied my pitch and had it down as perfect as I considered necessary—I was positive I was ready for the meeting.

After the conference start, I made sure I attended at least one session that the selected agent sat on the presenting panel. This allowed me to gat that extra-positive feel that I at least had so idea of what to expect when I entered the consult room.

Twenty minutes prior to our meeting, I took the elevator to the seventeenth floor, all the while keeping my eyes on the elevator door—never once looking at the seventeen floor drop that loomed behind me should I somehow encounter a gust of wind that would send me through the glass and tumbling down.

Departing the elevator, I took my seat on murder’s row and awaited my turn. Low and behold, the pitcher preceding me failed to show and I was almost immediately shown into the consult for our ten minute hurrah.

I introduced myself and rolled my pitch as perfectly as I had ever practiced.

Miss Agent responded with one question—almost immediately also: “Where are you working?”

My response, being as upfront as possible: “I’m retired.”

She, again almost immediately, started in on the reasons why she couldn’t take on a business project authored by someone who wasn’t currently working in industry. Her explanation went on for some six or seven minutes. I knew there was not to be an author-agent meeting of the minds—while I was born dumb, I have been getting better ever since.

I’m positive that she never commented once on the quality of my pitch, nor did she ever offer any advice about a different approach. I ask several questions trying to probe her advice on what I had gleamed from other agents and the possibility of different approaches. I’m positive that she had nothing positive to say about the other agents’ advice.

I’m pretty sure that this was my chance to do some talking about my project. I am fairly sure that I spoke no more than a total of one and a half to two minutes out of my allotted ten.

I thanked her for her time, said good bye and departed the room.

I am positive that I am not going to waste much more time in the agent search.

Considering the recurring theme that resounded over and over during the conference, I am positive that I am going to look considerably harder at self-publishing and eBook opportunities.

I am positive that I can do a better job of representing myself than any near sited agent cut off from the reality of the business world and the people within it.

I’m positive.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

There’s a Moose in the Guard Shack—he’s gonna kill me!

There’s a Moose in the Guard Shack—he’s gonna kill me!

Did you ever run across the Pillsbury Dough-boy hitch hiking Alaska? Whadda you do when an artillery round lands right beside your G__ D___ tent? What actions can a pair of novice military dads take to not screw up the world of competitive youth soccer on West Point? Have the bad guys infiltrated your inner circle? Just what would you do if a Moose walked into your Guard Shack?

These pressing questions and more business management dilemmas are discussed and recommendations put forth during our travel and tangents on the way to Jack’s House in this nonfiction  business management project detailing real people, real events and real answers and guidance to these and many more situations facing managers and supervisors in their everyday life in the fast lane.

The true life anecdotes detail typical troubles and problems that employees get into, out of  and the situations these problems create. Always stressful, but often humorous to look back on, the troubles can stretch across a wide range of industries when using just the slightest bit of imagination, you will recognize employees and situations familiar to many business endeavors.

Give it a read and improve your organization’s leadership today.

Pitch disclaimer: Absolutely no Vampires, Zombies or Werewolves were harmed during the gathering of material nor the flushing out of the prose during the workup of this project.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Got a Tough Leadership situation? Take the Pontiac model to heart!

As a leader; do you think you have it tough?

Take a minute and consider those in the military who contend with as much as a 33% turnover in personnel every year – year in and year out. How would you like to train or operate in an environment that has that repetitious change? With the standard enlistment and normal personnel rotation, they survive with a turnover rate that would drive a civilian operation batty.

Under those conditions, what is it that makes their situation tolerable and yours not under the same set of circumstances or those of a lesser degree?

I call the answer to this situation: the Pontiac model – GTO.

That’s right, GTO; for those who are acronym challenged: that’s guidance, training and organization.

The military works from the standpoint of situational guidance.

How can this work might ask? Leadership, or management depending on your viewpoint, issues mission oriented orders that realistically stand as guidance. This guidance is then put into practice up and down the chain of command gaining more and more detail the further down the chain the orders travel.

There is absolutely no room for micro management here. The leaders relay guidance and then get out of the way and allow subordinates to operate. A certain level of authority is passed along with this guidance—it has to be. This authority insures ownership and allows the subordinates to make decisions on the spot and refer up the chain only that that needs to be referred.

They operate this way because they have trained to do so. From the basic training structure, right through the advanced individual training courses, post basic and then into the unit training environment; while doing their job, they are always training. Training, then more training, and when that’s finished; they train some more. Yes, and it’s all accomplished while doing their job. Again—there is absolutely no room for micro management here. They train and then get out of the way and allow subordinates to operate.

The next logical question is: how can they afford to train constantly? Well, the answer is in the way they are organized. Isn’t it great how Pontiac, even though there aren’t many left on the road, gave us an acronym that just perfectly fits this model?

Organization is where the capability to accomplish this state of constant training is derived from. They know and understand the organization; everybody up and down the chain understands the organization. Everybody knows their job and how doing, or not doing their job, fits in with the overall unit’s accomplishment of its mission.

The intangible here is the camaraderie that is built up by the cohesiveness these units operate under. This is extremely difficult to duplicate in the civilian environment—next to impossible one might think. Well, not necessarily so.

Consider the times and how close an organization becomes once they have been through a few reductions in force, or layoffs? There’s an internal bonding that takes place. It develops after they have breathed that sigh of relief and subsequently achieved a frame of mind that allows them to think about work and not about those that are no longer around. They have to go through this process; it’s natural. The quicker leadership gets them through the process, the better. They bond, they pull closer, they are more open to others that they might not have been open to before and the entire organization benefits from the experience.

This time is the perfect time to organize better for the coming future. Some organizations will not make it and that’s OK. Most that don’t make it will tend to be the weaker of those that existed prior to the business downturn. A certain culling always takes place during a downturn; a sorta thinning of the herd so to speak and comes a redistribution of assets and opportunities. It’s to be expected. The challenge is leadership!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Hot preparation for Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference #WLTCon12

Every day lately I have been preparing for this weekend’s Writers’ League of Texas Agents Conference (#WLTCon12)—no small feat, I’m here to tell you.

This will be my third visit to the conference and each time I attend, I seem to learn more and more about what I need to be doing to get an agent and get one of my books published. As yet, I haven’t wrung the bell at the end of the race, but I believe I get closer and closer each time.

Besides the knowledge I take away from the conference, I meet some real interesting peoples and a few characters here and there. The sessions are very informative and hearing advice from other authors and those much sought after agents is interesting at the least. Now, if I can just turn that into an agent selecting me to work with, I will have met the second goal of this quest.

The primary goal being the writing of the book (now 2). I never imagined I had that in me to begin with. Although I had spent a great deal of time writing letters, procedures, regulations and the such my entire career; I never had to put anything into story format.

Oh, I have been a storyteller all along. The primary difference here being that I likely had somewhat of a captive and interested audience and could tailor the depth and length of each story to match the situation. As a great deal of my stories are of a military nature, the translation factor often comes into play during a monolog and this not-be-the-case when writing for a more general audience.

I do keep looking online for other activity under the conference #hastag but as yet have seen very little.

I am looking forward to Friday and this activity getting kicked off and running with it.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

My favorite Nonfiction Author

Found is probably not the correct word to use. I probably decided the first time I read some of his works or works about him. Near the end of the last account of a portion of his life I came across a quote that has stuck with me and I can’t get it out of my mind—it continues to roam around in there (lots of room available for roaming you realize) and will not exit. It actually woke me up in the middle of the night last night.

Now there’s a couple of what most would classify as fiction writers that I admire for their nonfiction work. The two that come quickest to mind are Mark Twain and Jack London. A great deal of both their work is actually nonfiction disguised as fiction. Nobody reading the works would have believed otherwise.

But, for my money you can not get any better observations of the people and the world they inhabit than those recorded by Theodore Roosevelt. I was taken aback by his phraseology and the real look at those he came into contact with and wrote about.

I offer you these examples (with references):

Roosevelt writing on Leonard Wood, originally his immediate commander in the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders): “This was an army surgeon, Dr. Leonard Wood. He had served in General Miles’ inconceivably harassing campaigns against the Apaches, where he displayed such courage that he won that most coveted of distinctions—the Medal of Honor,…the qualities of entire manliness with entire uprightness and cleanliness of character.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 2)

Two of the young Cherokee recruits came to me with a most kindly letter from one of the ladies who had been teaching in the academy from which they were about to graduate … One was on the Academy football team and the other in the glee club. Both were fine young fellows. The football player now lies buried with the other dead who fell in the fight at San Juan. The singer was brought to death’s door by fever, but recovered and came back to his home.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 13)

“we had abundance of men who were utterly unmoved by any antic a horse might commit.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 19)

“The tone of the officers’ mess was very high. Every one seemed to realize that he had undertaken most serious work. They all earnestly wished for a chance to distinguish themselves, and fully appreciated that they ran the risk not merely of death, but of what was infinitely worse—namely, failure at the crisis to perform duty well; and they strove earnestly so to train themselves, and the men under them, as to minimize the possibility of such disgrace.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 24)

Theodore Roosevelt of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry

“No outsider can appreciate the bitterness of the disappointment. … the hardest and most disagreeable duty was to stay. Credit should go with the performance of duty, and not with what is very often the accident of glory.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 31)

“No man was allowed to drop out to help the wounded. … but war is a grim game” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 51)

Waking the morning of the battle he had waited his entire life for, Roosevelt wrote: “It was a very lovely morning, the sky of cloudless blue, while the level shimmering rays from the just-risen sun brought into fine relief the splendid palms which here and there towered above the lower growth. The lofty and beautiful mountains hemmed in the Santiago plain, making it an amphitheatre for the battle.” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 65)

 Detailing his unsupported charge up the Kettle Hill and toward the San Juan blockhouse, Roosevelt wrote of his crowded hour: “I jumped over the wire fence in front of us and started at the double; but as a matter of fact, the troopers were so excited, what with shooting and being shot, and shouting and cheering, that they did not hear, or did not heed me; and after running about a hundred yards I found I had only five men along with me. Bullets were ripping the grass all around us…” - Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 76)

1st United States Volunteer Cavalry (Rough Riders) Regimental Toast: “The officers; may the war last until each is killed, wounded, or promoted.” Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 69)

Roosevelt writing on Captain William O.(Bucky) O’Neill at Santiago as the regiment was taking Spanish fire: “As O’Neill moved to and fro, his men begged him to lie down, and one of the sergeants said: “Captain, a bullet is sure to hit you.” O’Neill took his cigarette out of his mouth, and blowing out a cloud of smoke laughed and said, “Sergeant, the Spanish bullet isn’t made that will kill me.” … As he turned on his heel a bullet struck him in the mouth and came out the back of his head; so that even before he fell his wild and gallant soul had gone out into the darkness.” Theodore Roosevelt, The Rough Riders, 1899, Barnes & Noble edition, 2004, (p. 69)

In an argument with Congressman James E. Watson, the House republican Whip, President Roosevelt, (semi mobile on crutches) meeting to discuss the strike ramifications should the United Mine Workers walk out in October of 1902 and questioned on the Constitution and the seizing of private property “grabbed Watson by the shoulder and shouted, “The Constitution was made for the people and not the people for the Constitution.”” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 165)

On the Monroe Doctrine and Germany, Roosevelt said (of the big stick policy): “power, and the willingness and readiness to use it” would make Germany understand the Monroe Doctrine fully. - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 184)

Continuing on the Monroe Doctrine, Roosevelt told Sir George Otto Trevelyan, British Diplomat in May 1904: “I had much rather be a real President for three years and a half, than a figurehead for seven years and a half.” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 327)

 White House Portrait

Roosevelt wrote on his discussions with E. H. Harriman, an American Railroad executive: “It tires me to talk to rich men. You expect a man of millions, the head of a great industry, to be a man worth hearing; but as a rule they don’t know anything outside their own businesses.” - Edmund Morris, Theodore Rex, Random House, 2001, (p. 327)

“I know the American people, “ Roosevelt stated in 1910, “They have a way of erecting a triumphal arch, and after the Conquering Hero has passed beneath it he may expect to receive a shower of bricks on his back at any moment.” – Henry Fairchild Osborn, Impressions of Great Naturalists, New York, 1924, Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Candice Millard, The River of Doubt, Anchor Books, New York, 2005, (p. 12)

Gathering of Expedition participants prior to setting off down the River of Doubt

I mentioned to Ms. Millard, the author of the last several observations (one above and the one below), when I got her sign another of her books at the Texas Book Festival this past October that she was going to be the reason for my eventual divorce. During the questions and answer segment of the session where she had discussed her latest project, Destiny of the Republic, she had been asked several questions about her Roosevelt and the River of Doubt book and now I had to get it also. Patsy had warned me earlier that if I bought another Teddy Roosevelt book se was gonna leave. Well, Ms. Millard, if divorce comes about, it was your fault—ya made me do it.

But the most poetic and the phrase that I can’t get out of my mind is this statement written by Roosevelt after the killing of one of the camaradas Paishon by the thief and murderer Julio and  Paishon’s subsequent burial: “Then we left him forever under the great trees beside the lonely river.” – Theodore Roosevelt, “Through the Brazilian Wilderness,” p. 308, (p. 293), Candice Millard, The River of Doubt, Anchor Books, New York, 2005, (p. 12)

This seems so final and forever. Did TR realize that the jungle would reclaim the grave quickly or that nobody would ever stumble upon it in the wilds of Amazon Basin for time immemorial? Very few things in our world are never, ever, or forever any more—this act might just be one.

For whatever reason, this has stuck with me and I can’t get rid of it.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Moral Compass and Purchasing from China

What does your moral compass tell you about purchasing goods and products from China? Just where does your opinion reside on this controversy?

Does you organization have a policy concerning domestic versus foreign procurement? Where do you go for major raw material purchases?

How do you decide when the numbers tell you one thing and your moral compass says something different?

I had just this situation a few years back. Plywood out of the Northwest kept costing more and more. Another supplier, and a US supplier at that, offered me a program supplying product from China. Our initial investigation showed the product to be inferior to US//Canadian product even at huge cost differential.

Further investigation and strong effort from our US supplier resulted in the development of a suitable source in China with a much higher level of quality control—these guys were good. Then came the formaldehyde scare  associated with all plywood. The situation caused some significant delay, but eventually we were satisfied that the formaldehyde emissions were under control and everything seemed to be on the right track. After all, we had written assurance that our US supplier would make good on any shortcomings should the China resource not comply and at the established rates.

Our main concern was that the Chinese were trying to buy the business and the subsequent price would jump to levels comparable to the US//Canadian pricing—this was a major concern.

After all, how could these guys buy logs from the Pacific Northwest, ship them to China—stripping the veneers in route, apply veneers to plywood core in a China manufacturing facility, ship finished containerized product back to west coast, transship containers to Texas, warehouse containers and still have a better price than the US//Canadian suppliers? On top of this, the quality of the end product was higher than that supplied by domestic suppliers; a quandary that defies logic.

Not every product coming from foreign suppliers is substandard. To compete in areas where we (Americans) have lost our footing, we have to get better at controlling our cost and producing a product that meets international competition.

So, you make the call. How would you decide? Take the deal or pass it up?