Polishing a Manuscript: When to Give it a Rest

November 25, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wI’ve gotten several versions of this question in the past couple of months. This one came from an author at a recent conference: “How long is too long to spend perfecting my novel? My first page and first three chapters, especially? It seems like every time I show them to someone new, I get more suggestions for changes and improvements. At what point should I stop asking for input?”

Great question! Several of them, in fact. Your question actually raises several different issues to consider when polishing a manuscript.

1. You’ve spent too long perfecting a manuscript when you’re not doing anything else to move your writing career forward. I’ve met many writers who have spent years working on a single manuscript, and they generally fall into one of two camps– either they’ve spent those years staring exclusively at that one project, writing and rewriting it and picking it apart and patching it back together, or they’ve spent those years revisiting their idea/novel in between improving their craft by taking classes, attending conferences, writing additional books, soliciting trustworthy feedback, and reading widely.

If you’re not doing any of these things between rewrites, you’re going to hit a plateau pretty quickly in terms of how much you can actually improve with no resources except your own judgment. So if you’ve already re-worked a manuscript a few times and aren’t currently involved in any of these methods of improving your craft, you’re probably at a stopping point in the polishing process. Go ahead and send it out or take it to some conferences and see what the response is.

2. Solicit feedback wisely. You are entirely right when you observe that “every time [you] show [your pages] to someone new, [you] get more suggestions for changes and improvements.” Every person who reads your pages is going to bring a unique combination of education, taste, and experience to the manuscript, and so every set of suggestions is also going to be unique. If you tried to apply every piece of feedback you received from every beta reader, you’d either go crazy or die of old age rewriting your book. So what’s the solution?

  • Choose your beta readers sparingly. Don’t hand out copies of your sample chapters to every classmate in your writing class, don’t post your opening page on your blog and ask the Internet at large for feedback; choose a small set of folks to read your work so that the responses you get are manageable in quantity.
  • Choose your beta readers wisely. Even if your best friend is a fabulous person, her opinion isn’t going to be super valuable if she doesn’t know much about writing, or if she doesn’t usually read in your genre. When choosing your beta readers, look for people who are GOOD writers– ideally, people who are better writers than you are, so you can learn from them. Look for people who regularly read the genre you’re writing– they’re your target audience. And look for people you can trust– you want to know your beta readers well enough to know that they’re not going to plagiarize you or try to sell you expensive editing services you may not need.
  • Look for themes in feedback. Once you start getting suggestions from your beta readers, you’ll still run into conflicting opinions and suggestions and, for some of these, you’ll just have to use your own instincts to decide whether or not to apply them, but if there are legitimate problems/weaknesses with your manuscript, you’ll probably have more than one reader point them out, so give extra consideration to any suggestions you hear from more than one source.

3. A book is never “done.” There is no magic point at which an author discovers the precise combination of nouns and commas and exactly-right adjectives that mean a book is “done.” Even if you get a manuscript to a place where you are really happy with it, I guarantee that if you come back to it in six months there will be things you want to change, sentences you want to rewrite, lines you want to delete. By virtue of simply being alive and interacting with the world on a daily basis, our views and our experiences change, and those changes shape our creative output. The articles you’ll read, the conversations you’ll have, and the places you’ll go in the next week will contribute to your bringing a slightly different viewpoint to your manuscript at the end of the week, and that difference will probably cause you to want to make a change or two.

Does this mean that the original version of the manuscript was “wrong,” or that the new version is superior? Not necessarily. Apart from the typos we catch when we come back to a manuscript after taking a break, many of the changes we make to a manuscript after we’ve already put in our time plotting and writing and polishing it are based on our own shifting perspective and preferences at the time, and don’t hugely affect the story or the quality of the writing. So, if you know you’ve done your part to improve your craft, applied the feedback of some trusted critics, and made some thoughtful rewrites, it’s time to move on– start working on a proposal, get that manuscript out the door to some agents or editors, start writing on the next one– there may be some more rewrites in your manuscript’s future, but let them be prompted by some thoughtful input from an interested editor, or a vast improvement in your novel-writing skills wrought by drafting three more manuscripts. Don’t let ten years go by attempting to create that mythical “perfect” novel.

What about you? What’s the longest you’ve ever worked on perfecting a manuscript? How did you decide how much tweaking was “enough?”

Posted in The Writing Craft | 3 Comments »

ASK THE AGENT: How can I make radio interviews effective?

November 24, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I recently had an author ask me about radio interviews. He’s working with a publishing house that has a great relationship with a couple of radio networks, and tends to push its authors to do a lot of talk radio. He wrote to ask me, “What advice would you offer a speaker who is suddenly being asked to do a bunch of radio interviews?”

I’ve got six principles to suggest…

First, learn to tell your stories briefly. Radio is fast-moving, and they aren’t going to let you tell a five-minute story. Listeners want stories, but they want them quick and to-the-point. So practice beforehand, and have several stories that illustrate your points to share with listeners.

Second, no matter what the host asks, tell your stories. Look, if you’ve done a book on “saving money to pay for your child’s college education,” you pretty much know what the host is going to ask. With every interview, the hosts are going to ask questions about two things: YOU and YOUR BOOK. So a lot of media trainers will give you this advice: Ignore the question and tell your story.

Third, don’t expect the host to have read your book. Either you or your publisher will have sent the host a series of seven to ten questions to ask in the interview. Some will just go down the list of questions. Others will take it and make it their own. But always remember this bit of advice: There are two kinds of hosts – those who haven’t read your book, and those who don’t know how to read. None of them will have actually read your book.

Fourth, be friendly, even if the host is a jerk. Some hosts like to spend all the time talking about themselves. Some want to be shock-jocks and challenge you. I once had a terrible experience with a very popular radio talk show host who wanted to keep arguing about Hillary Clinton, even though my book had almost nothing to do with her. If you watch a lot of Fox or MSNBC, you’ll find a lot of yelling… but that doesn’t work well on radio. People simply turn it off. If you want them to remember your book, be winsome.

Fifth, understand that most interviews are either 5 to 8 minutes, 11 to 15 minutes, or 24 to 30 minutes long. Find out which type of interview they’re scheduling, so that you can prepare. The short interviews just want a couple bang-up stories and ordering information. The medium sized interviews want some personal info added in. And the longer interviews want you to interact with the hosts.

Sixth, if you can set up your own radio blitz, by all means do so. You can start between 6 and 7 AM on the east coast, set up an interview every 15 to 30 minutes, and move west, where drive time ends between 9 and 10 Pacific time. That gives you a block of 6 to 7 hours you can fill, back to back. And you can do it again on the drive-home, starting at 4 PM on the east coast and going until 6:30 or 7 PM on the west coast. I once did that for three days straight, and got nearly a hundred short interviews for my book. (A radio booker charged me $600 to set this up.) It takes stamina (and a strong voice), but gets the word out fast and heavy.

If you’ve done a lot of radio interviews, what advice would you suggest to authors?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 4 Comments »

What is Truly Passionate? A Defense of Inspirational Romance (a guest blog)

November 21, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

5_025Guest blog by Anita Higman

When a man kisses a woman—and the two care about each other in an amorous way—well, we’re most likely guaranteed some sweet magic. Maybe even some bolts of lightning. And we women never tire of experiencing or watching or reading about those dreamy moments when a man and woman feel those first stirrings of attraction, affection, and then love. However, in many of today’s modern novels, the romantic scenes go far behind an ardent kiss.

So, what sets the inspirational romance apart from the others when it comes to those scenes of passion? First of all, writers and readers of inspirational romances are not saying that these fiery feelings aren’t being played out in their own marital beds. However, they are saying they don’t want to be peeping toms in someone else’s boudoir. They have discernment for what is meant to be enjoyed and a healthy respect for what is meant to be private.

These same readers know their minds and hearts—they are more satisfied when the hero and heroine struggle toward real love, rather than merely give in to temporary passion. Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece, Jane Eyre, is one of the most wildly passionate love stories ever written, and yet we never read about anything more intimate than a kiss.

Also, like in the novel, Jane Eyre, the story encourages readers to consider the whole of a person—which includes the soul rather than just mere flesh. This novel reminds us that we are not only in great need of human affection and love, but that we also desire to be connected to something greater than ourselves—the One true source of all of that love.

On the other hand, if a story revolves around a hero and heroine who are consumed by nothing more than lust and erotic behaviors, well, let’s just say, these kinds of mental images aren’t going raise the reader to any lofty ideals. Truly, lovers of inspirational fiction want to go beyond the mere desires of the body. They want to know there is purpose to their existence and meaning to life. They want to be roused to the passions of goodness and decency and honor. And if a hero and heroine experience temptations and transgressions—and humans are riddled with it—then they also want light and hope and redemption.

Those same readers know that the most romantic hero—one who is truly swoon-worthy—is the one who can set his own desires aside and think of the good of his beloved. That is the measure of a real man. Those are the qualities of a truly attractive and desirable hero.

As an inspirational romance author, you might wonder how I write those romantic scenes so they will be passionate without being salacious. When do I stop the kiss before it gets too hot for the page? Well, I’ve had a general rule that has always worked for me. If I can give my novel to my daughter or offer it as suggested reading to a friend’s grandmother to read without worry that I will offend, and if I feel I have truly entertained as well as inspired the reader, then I have succeeded in finding the right balance. Then I have searched for and found what is admirable—what is good and lovely and beautiful. And yes, what is truly passionate.

____________

Best-selling and award-winning author, Anita Higman, has forty books published. She’s been a Barnes & Noble “Author of the Month” for Houston and has a BA in the combined fields of speech communication, psychology, and art. Anita loves good movies, exotic teas, and brunch with her friends.

Please check out Anita’s latest novel on Amazon, A Question of Destiny. And drop by her website at www.anitahigman.com.

Posted in CBA, Religion | 0 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Change Your Author Brand

November 20, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

Last week, we had some great discussion on author brand and how to get started with creating one. The driving idea behind the post was to think about who you are, your likes, interests, hobbies, experiences, etc. and to turn that into a brand. We will eventually talk about HOW to turn that into a brand, but in the meantime I want to address an issue that was raised by fellow literary agent…I don’t know if she wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Agent Example.

Agent Example said that she has suddenly realized she is being thought of as the “Picture Book Agent”…which really really really isn’t what you want if you’re hoping to make money at this any time soon. It’s like a career death sentence. Especially if you work in CBA.

How does this happen?! How do you end up with an author brand that you don’t want?

Remember, you give yourself a brand. You don’t sit back and wait for brand to happen. In Agent Example’s case, she probably wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been about her brand, and before she knew it, she was the picture book agent. Here’s how this works:

1. When you are a person of interest, the very group that is interested in you will look for ways to differentiate you from others like you. So when there’s a panel of agents on stage, authors in the audience are looking for ways to label each one so that they can process things, tell others about the agents, and determine whether or not said agents are worth their time.

The same is true with authors. When there are a gazillion romance novelists to love and follow, readers of that genre look for reasons to attach themselves to specific ones. If a novelist does not give them a reason to attach to HER specifically, then readers will attach themselves to others. Or, they’ll attach to a book. And like I said last week, books are fleeting. A reader who loves your book could easily move on to a different favorite author once that series is over. But a reader who loves YOU will stick with you for every book you release.

2. When you don’t provide that label for them, they will fill in the blank themselves. And that is scary, because…

3. When they fill in this blank, it will always point to what stands out the most to them. In Agent Example’s case, they latched on to the fact that she is open to considering picture books (few agents working in CBA are). This is a characteristic of her as an agent makes her unique. Plus, it’s a piece of information that is valuable to her clients and audience. So it was a clear choice.

4. When your brand is chosen for youchances are it’s not what you want to be known for. It will be something super specific to the point of driving potential followers away (like in Agent Example’s case), or it will be purely superficial. Like, “oh, that’s the author who wears hats” or “that’s the super young agent.”

Superficial brands are helpful to a point…they can get you noticed in a crowd, and they can help people remember who you are. But if they aren’t paired with something of substance, then you will never evolve past that one physical trait that defines you.

So what do you DO when you find yourself with an author brand that you don’t want?

There is a reason that people have given you whatever brand they’ve given you. They didn’t just make it up! They created your brand from what you offered them.

So, the best way to change the way people think about you is to stop promoting that very thing that you don’t want to be known for.

In Agent Example’s case, she should limit how much she talks about picture books. It may be tough! And it may feel like she is keeping a secret, but since that is what people are gleaning from her talks and from her panels and since it’s not what she wants them coming away with, then it needs to be downplayed.

Following this, she should FILL that picture book void with whatever it is she does want to be known for. Then, she needs to infuse this new thing in everything she does and says.

For example:

Let’s say she served in the military and wants a military agent brand. Whenever she talks or blogs, she needs to pull examples from her military service. She needs to talk about how she runs her business the way she would lead a squadron or how she is organized like a soldier. I realize these may seem silly! But I can’t tell you how clear and great of a picture this kind of brand would paint. She’d become the military agent. And frankly, I think that is a kick-butt brand.

I hope this is making sense! What questions do you have? Have you found yourself with a brand you don’t want? What is it, and what would you like it to be?

Posted in Career, Marketing and Platforms | 1 Comment »

ASK THE AGENT: How can I make a book signing successful?

November 19, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I just had an author friend write to say, “I’ve been asked to do a book signing party at our local bookstore. It seems like most booksignings I’ve been part of were a disaster. Do you have any tips for making a book signing successful?”

Anyone who has spent time in this industry has been to a dud of a book signing party. The author shows up, sits at a table by herself, and fidgets while a couple people wander by, ignoring her. Eventually an older woman hesitantly approaches, looking furtively around, and asks, “Hey… can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?”

Nothing is as deflating to an author as throwing a party and having nobody show up. The fact is, if you want to do a book signing, the first rule is simple: Don’t rely on the bookseller to get people there. They might send out a flyer, or put it on the company website… or they might now. (I remember one A-level author who showed up with me for a book signing only to find the staff hadn’t been told, there was no signage, and her boxes of books were actually locked in the manager’s office, and he was away on vacation. True story.) So, like in everything else in marketing, don’t rely on someone else to do the work – YOU do it, and have a plan for succeeding. Some tips…

1. Invite people. Again, don’t sit and wait for people to show up. Go out and invite them. Make it a party. Tell your family they need to show up. Personally invite all your friends – call them, send them notes, check back with them and get some commitments to be there. Focus on inviting some groups, since groups of people will make it feel like more of an event. (So invite your co-workers, your neighbors, the people at church, the people at the gym or the civic groups you belong to.)

2. Call people. Remind them. Bug them. Get them to commit to showing up. Events like this are successful if people show up. If they don’t show up, you don’t have a party; you have an empty room.

3. Make it a party. In other words, don’t just have people show up to see you, especially if it’s near your home town. Those folks can see you anytime. Have a theme. Make some noise. Do a reading. Dress up. Ask the bookstore’s event person for suggestions – if you get the bookstore staff involved, they’re more apt to act supportive of the event.

4. Bring stuff to give away. You want to SELL books, but you can give away swag. Bookmarks. Pens. Buttons. I’ve known people who have had drawings for bigger prizes.

5. Talk to everyone who comes. As an author, you’re most likely an introvert – but at a book signing, you’re going to pretend you’re an extrovert. So walk up to everybody who shows up, smile, thank them for coming, ask their name. If you need to, have a couple questions in mind to ask people. Be able to talk about your book without sounding like you’re desperate to sell some copies. And by all means, let the bookstore staff hear you say, “If you like this, you should check out these other books while you’re in the store.” Let’s face it, the bookstore isn’t doing this to be nice to you – they’re doing it to bring in potential book-buyers.

6. Have a handler there to manage the line, if there is one, and to chat up people while they’re waiting to get you to sign a book. A friendly and attractive person who can smile and chat up people at a busy booksigning is a real help to you.

7. Contact your local TV and radio people. Get in touch with the local arts and entertainment reporter of the paper. Tell them it’s a “local girl makes good” story, and invite them to be there. Make sure to build in time for an interview, before or after the signing.

8. Have someone taking pictures. You can use them on your website later. Make sure to get one with the bookstore staff.

9. If there’s a crowd, read from the book and take questions. If you’ve invited the local book groups or the local writing groups, they’ll want to hear you read a bit, and they’ll want to ask about your writing techniques. In a setting like that, read three or four passages from your book, for maybe 20 minutes, then answer questions for 20 to 30.

10. Have candy for everyone. If possible, serve coffee or wine, since food and drink loosen people up and make it feel like more of a party and less of a sales pitch.

11. Again, talk about how great the bookstore is. Mention friend’s books that are in the store. Or, if you’re not doing this at a bookstore (let’s say you’re doing this at a country club or a community center or a restaurant), then make sure to invite people to do something there, or buy something, or be involved in some way. In other words, try to get the venue and its staff on your side.

12. Get there early. No matter how well you plan, the arrangements won’t be right.

13. Dress nice – the rule of thumb is to dress one level above where your audience is. (So if they’re in jeans, you’re in business casual. If they’re in business casual, you’re in something a bit more formal.)

14. Show your personality. Your book reveals who you are, so readers want to see you. If you’re funny, show some humor. If you’re dark, offer them a bit of mystery. But don’t just show up thinking you can sign books, shake hands, and walk away. People who are coming want to either support you (if they know you) or get to know you (if they’re simply fans of your work). So they all want to see the real you.

 

What other tips would you offer to someone doing a book signing?

Posted in Career, Marketing and Platforms | 6 Comments »

Know the Competition: Why You Should Be Reading in Your Genre

November 18, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wA reader sent in this question: “I’ve been told more than once that I need to be reading new releases in my genre (Young Adult), but I have a really hard time justifying spending time on something that doesn’t help my platform or my publishing efforts. Where is the value in reading books similar to mine?”

If you’re a repeat visitor to the MacGregor Literary blog, you know we’re fans of reading around here. I mean, besides the fact that our jobs ultimately depend on people buying books, we have counseled writers time and again to read as a means of learning their craft– to learn how to write dialogue, read someone who does dialogue really well, to develop an ear for voice , read authors with great voice, etc.  Reading to improve in specific areas of your craft is easy in that you can pick up craft insight from any author, regardless of genre, e.g., a thriller writer can glean voice tips by reading literary fiction.

Now, leaving aside the whole “you can always learn from other writers” argument, it’s fair to say that there might be some unpublished writers out there who are writing at the same skill level as a lot of published authors in their genre– folks who don’t really stand to learn a lot about writing by reading their peers’/competitors’ works. And yes, if you don’t have a strong need to improve in a certain area, it can be hard to justify spending your limited time reading authors whose only claim to superiority is that they’ve been published. The key word here, however, is writing– it’s my guess that the people recommending you read in your genre aren’t making the recommendation because they think you need to learn about writing, but because they want you to learn about the current publishing scene for your genre.

Regardless of criticisms that can be leveled at any of the new releases in a specific genre, you can’t argue that the people who are currently being published are doing something right in terms of navigating the market and the interest of publishers. By reading the most recently published titles in your genre, you can discover a lot about the scene you’re attempting to break into and identify some ways you can make your story/proposal a better fit for that scene.

Think about trying to get published in terms of an undercover mission. Like any good heist movie tells us, the key to successfully infiltrating a bank or a technology company or a spy ring is to stake it out– to pay close attention to who is coming and going, what the security measures are, which guards will accept a bribe (note: that’s a metaphor. Do not attempt to bribe an editor.), etc. The more information the rascally-yet-honorable thief has about the target, the greater his chances of success. The same is true for your publishing efforts: the more you know about the kinds of books that are being published in your genre, the types of stories that editors are currently acquiring, the types of approaches that are in vogue, etc., the more productive your efforts are going to be.

If your suspense novel starts with three chapters of backstory/everyday scenes but the majority of new releases in that genre jump into the action on the first page, your manuscript is going to raise a red flag for an editor who is interested in maintaining a certain brand of suspense novel in her imprint. If you’re telling your contemporary young adult story in the third person when the vast majority of contemporary YA is being told in first-person, you run the risk of being perceived as off-trend by the editors acquiring all those first-person stories. You get the idea.

Dos this mean you re-write your entire book just to follow a trend or to make it fit “the mold?” Definitely not; the rule about writing what YOU write best regardless of what’s trending remains true, but at the same time, it’s worth considering whether a tweak such as a new jumping-off place for the action or a revamped approach to your story might make it a more relevant contender in the current publishing environment.  Knowing who else is out there and what their books are like gives you the upper hand when choosing comparative titles in your proposal, helps you get a feel for the taste of individual imprints and publishers, and can help you determine which aspects of your story or your writing you want to play up when pitching to an editor or agent– if you’re leading with the love story when books are selling based on the subplots or settings, you want to restructure your query to highlight the ways you are already “on trend” with your writing.

Though it can seem like an unproductive use of your time, think of it as an investment in your book: reading to know the current publishing scene in your genre can ultimately make your marketing and pitching efforts more productive.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

ASK THE AGENT: How can I become a hybrid author?

November 17, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to ask me, “How do you define a ‘hybrid’ author? (Isn’t it simply an author who is self-publishing but still has books with traditional publishers?) And do agents work with authors who are basically self-publishing?”

I’m frequently asked about the notion of working with “hybrid authors” because I seem to be a bit in the minority– a literary agent who actually encourages his authors to become hybrids. But you see, I used to make my living as a writer, so I understand what it’s like to try and make a living creating words. And the changes in the industry that have taken place means there are new opportunities available to writers that were never available in the past.

Let’s define our terms: A hybrid author is one who is self-publishing AND traditionally publishing. There are plenty of people who insist one method or the other is the “right” way to have a writing career these days – that you either “get an advance and publish your books with a legacy press and ignore the badly-edited self-published crud on Amazon,” OR you “self-publish your title via Amazon and Smashwords, and reject those money-grubbing publishers in New York who only want to enslave you as a midlist author.” Um… I tend to think there’s another way.

A hybrid author gets the benefit of an occasional advance check, professional editing, great distribution, and access to marketing professionals from his or her publisher. PLUS there’s the benefit of having complete creative control, book price control, and the chance to do more titles that generate immediate earnings from his or her self-published titles.

Of course, there’s also a down side. A hybrid author really has to set up his or her writing life as a small business, since everything from cover choices to copyeditor payments are the responsibility of the author. He or she has to stay up on trends – which e-tailers are selling your books? What formats are selling best? What price points? What changes do you have to make to stay current? How do I line up my self-published books with my traditional releases? And for most hybrid authors, marketing becomes a full time job. With that sort of to-do list, simply finding time to write can be difficult.

So the decision to become a hybrid author is really the decision to start your own company – one where you’ll be making the decisions, handling the problems, and charting your own strategic direction.

And that’s where I see myself fitting in. I’m a multi-published author, a former publisher (with the old Time-Warner Book Group), and a longtime agent (16 years and counting). A hybrid author often needs help with the technical side of things (reading contracts, setting up release schedules), the business side of things (dealing with editors, arranging to get all the vendors paid), the selling side of things (contracting foreign rights, talking with Hollywood producers), and the marketing side of things (crafting a marketing plan, connecting with a magazine on a press release). Most importantly, a hybrid author needs an experienced person to go to for career advice. A good agent will probably offer some practical help with several of those issues, and free you up to focus on your writing.

Each author is different, so your needs won’t be the same as someone else’s, but some writers really need help with editing, others with managing the business, still others with handling all the marketing responsibilities. A good agent ought to be able to help an author manage relationships, coordinate with publishers, and troubleshoot the difficult issues you face. He or she may be able to help with vendor coordination or marketing planning. Most importantly, an agent really ought to be able to help you clarify your long-term goals and create a plan for reaching them.

But authors aren’t limited to simply publishing with a huge New York house or self-publishing their manuscript on their own. The changes in technology and the advent of ebooks has created a brand new world of indie publishers – smaller houses who are sometimes doing e-only titles, and sometimes doing ebook and print-on-demand books, often marketing them to a niche audience. This has greatly expanded the options available to authors, as companies step in to assist authors with reaching their readers.

If you’re a writer pondering what steps to take to become a hybrid author, let me suggest a few simple things to consider. First, look at the books you already have scheduled, and the manuscripts you’ve completed and want to self-publish. Begin to map out a schedule of releases that gets you out there on the market, but doesn’t have you competing with yourself. You’re going to do best as a hybrid author if you have several titles to sell to the same readership, in you can keep creating new works, and you decide to sell them at a price the market will support. So start by creating a publishing plan for your titles.

Second, begin to create a list of people in your world who can help you move forward – editors, marketing professionals, cover designers, and people with the technical experience to assist you in the process. You may need to be talking to someone who can help with foreign rights, or with someone who can help with dramatic rights. You may need to sit down with a business manager or accountant to assist with the financial picture.

Third, determine right now that you’re going to invest a lot of time into marketing. That’s the most important skill you’re going to need if you plan to set up a self-publishing business, so that could mean investing in some training or resources, or deciding to link up with some experienced marketing types who can assist you in this new venture. Most authors get into hybrid publishing having done some publicity, but with little experience mapping out a marketing plan, and almost none with advertising. To boning up on those areas by taking classes or talking with experts in the field can help you move forward.

One author I represent, Vincent Zandri, decided several years ago he was going to become a hybrid author. He has worked with traditional publishers, and currently has created a handful of bestselling books with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. But he has also worked with some smaller houses (his latest release is with Down & Out Books), and has successfully self-published some titles, so that he has maximum exposure to readers. The result? Over the past four years, Vince has sold hundreds of thousands of books, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, and made a good living as a writer.

Hybrid publishing isn’t for everyone, but it might be an avenue to consider if you’re an entrepreneurial and prolific writer with a knack for marketing.

Posted in Career, Self-Publishing | 0 Comments »

Heed the Book Doctor: Give Your Novel a Facelift (a guest blog)

November 14, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Since I direct a college writing program and also travel across the country instructing at writers conferences, I encounter a lot of people who have finished writing a novel but are having no success at selling it to a publisher. After a dozen or more rejections, they’ll turn to a person like me—aka a “book doctor”—and ask, “So, what’s wrong with my book?” Often, the answer is simple. These people have not learned that “all writing is rewriting.” They’ve written a novel, but, as yet, they have not rewritten a novel.

If this is your situation, let me offer some guidance in how to turn back to your manuscript and give it the polish it needs to shine professionally.

  1. Get Outside Perspectives – You know what the book is supposed to say, but in order to determine if it actually is saying it, you need outside readers. Find someone in your writers’ group to read it and give you specific feedback regarding narrative drive, character development, setting, dialogue, and theme. Likewise, consider hiring a high school or college English teacher to copyedit the pages, checking grammar, syntax, punctuation, format, spelling, and transitions. This will reveal tangible aspects of the book that can be improved upon.
  2. Evaluate from Macro to Micro Elements – Read your entire book, but chart it as you go along. How quickly does the lead hook the reader? Does the subplot become evident no later than chapter three? Where are the arcs of conflict, the surprises, the clever plot twists? Is the ultimate climactic scene dramatic enough? Does the denouement tie up all loose ends, answer all questions, and imply what the next phase of the characters’ lives will be? By putting the whole book in your head (macro) while critiquing the individual elements (micro), you’ll be inserting correct pieces that will eventually reveal the finished puzzle.
  3. Examine the Pattern and Flow of the Story – Just because something is perfect in regard to writing mechanics doesn’t mean it is interesting. Consider key structural elements. Is the novel well-paced, motivating the reader to keep turning pages, or are there scenes that drag, passages of dialogue that are cluttered, and set-ups that have too much description and backstory? Are the flashbacks just thrown in at random like narrative sludge, or do they seem a natural foundation for the overall story structure? Is there a consistency in the length of chapters, or are they a hodgepodge of plotting whims? These are all specific areas that publishers will judge harshly, so work to make them smooth.
  1. Scrutinize the Individual Words – If you lean heavily on –ly adverbs to assist your verbs (talked quickly, sang merrily), remove them and insert stronger verbs that can stand alone (trilled, barked, rapped, prattled). Similarly, if you have a tendency to use too many –ing verbs (“She was hurrying to get to work”), replace them with stronger verbs (“She raced to her job”). Weed out dull, indistinct verbs, too. Instead of saying, “She was outside the principal’s office,” say, “She paraded . . . She paced . . . She strode . . . She stood . . . She fumed outside the principal’s office.” Add verbal energy.
  2. Show, Don’t Tell – It’s been drilled into you since childhood that actions speak louder than words. In fiction, this is especially true. For example, don’t have a high-school girl tell her arch rival, “You’re not supposed to smoke in the bathroom. If you light up, I’m going to tell the teachers.” Instead, write, “As Jennifer opened her purse and took out a cigarette and a lighter, Tina reached for the fire alarm.”

Here, what could have been a cliché, has now become a page-turning face-off confrontation. That’s what you want. Don’t lull the reader to sleep with a rehash of what happened, put him or her into the scene ready to witness the unfolding events.

I always compliment people who have shown the discipline it actually takes to write a novel. Most people have an idea for a story but not the professionalism to put it in writing. However, once that first draft has been purged from the mind, it becomes time to go back and fine-tune it.

There is no shame in not producing a masterpiece on the first go-through. The shame is in letting it lose the beauty contest because you wouldn’t give it the needed facelift.

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Dennis E. Hensley, Ph.D., is Chairman of the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University. His latest book, #54, is Jesus in the 9 to 5 (AMG Publishers), which was represented by MacGregor Literary. Dr. Hensley is a monthly columnist in Christian Communicator and an annual judge for the Christy Awards, the Christian Book Awards, The Christian Writers Guild First Novel Contest, and The Evangelical Press Association Awards.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: Creating an Author Brand

November 13, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

In response to last week’s post on author brand, some of you admitted that you didn’t really know how to answer the question of “who am I?”

This is one of the many questions that a company or individual will ask when on the hunt for a clear brand identity. They may also ask:

“What comes to mind when hearing my name (or company name or product, etc)?”

“What feelings do people have when thinking about my name/my company/my product?”

“What do they associate with my name/company/product/etc.?”

“What do I want them to feel or think or associate with my brand/company/name/etc?”

Many companies will pay tens of thousands for answers to questions like these. They end up with lengthy research reports on their brand, the image it conveys, the climate of their client base, etc.

But authors don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars, do they?

So let’s try a back door approach.

EXAMPLES OF AGENT BRANDS

You may think that agents are just agents. That we have no use for a brand, and that there isn’t really anything that defines us as individuals aside from the deals we do and the authors/genres we represent.

But let me show you something…

CHIP MACGREGOR

If you’ve met or are familiar with our agency president, chances are you didn’t just think “agent” when reading his name.

Instead, you probably thought of his Scottish heritage and penchant for wearing a kilt. You probably thought about how he is blunt and intimidating (things I’ve heard him described as), or how he has a strong personality but a kind, generous heart if you get to know him.

Chip isn’t just an agent. Chip has a brand. His name or picture evokes a reaction that is more than his job title. Authors who want to work with him want to be part of that brand. And conversely, authors who don’t want to be part of his brand, don’t want to work with him.

AMANDA LUEDEKE

When reading my name, do you just think “agent?”

Maybe…I mean I’m not really around when people are talking about me. But I do know that folks have described me as “young,” “funny,” a “straight-shooter.” But those things don’t really stand out, do they? At least not in the agent realm, because there are tons of young, funny, honest agents out there.

When I first became an agent, I knew I needed a brand. I needed to capitalize on something that I possessed that most agents didn’t. Sadly, I couldn’t choose “former model” as my brand or “heiress” or “moonlights as circus performer.” But I did manage to find an angle…

I’m the “marketing agent.” The agent who used to work for a real life marketing firm. The agent who has been part of big marketing campaigns with national brands. The agent who has done market research and launched YouTube channels and Facebook pages and taken risks with large clients. The agent who is willing to share with authors all she knows about marketing and who strives to communicate these things in a practical way.

This is the brand I gave myself. Did you hear me? I GAVE MYSELF A BRAND. It happened in an afternoon. I spent a bit of time thinking about what would set me apart and what skills I had to pull from, and BAM. My brand was born.

I put this brand everywhere. In my bio and in my conference workshops (you’ll never see me offer a class on craft). I started blogging about marketing every Thursday (and years later, we’re still trucking!). I embraced the “marketing agent brand” because it allowed me to stand out. It was something that other agents weren’t doing, and it was something that authors craved.

If I gave myself an agent brand, then you can give yourself an author brand.

When we approach this question of “who am I?” I want you to couple it with the question: “what do I have or what is it about me that others want/like/need?”

Think about your hobbies.

Think about areas in which you’re an expert.

Think about your job experience.

Think about the volunteer work you do or the causes in which you’re active.

Maybe you’re awesome at genealogy research or scrapbooking or cooking. Maybe you used to be or are a psychologist. Maybe you worked in television or news. Maybe you love animals and volunteer at a shelter. Or maybe you’re into local politics and give your time that way.

Each of these things could be the start of a brand. The key is to think about who you are. Who you want to be. 

This isn’t about your books. Books are so…fleeting. But your brand should stay with you forever.

So, consider the prompts above… what are some things that define you? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Be detailed. I want to know what you’ve come up with!

Posted in Career, Marketing and Platforms | 16 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How can a publisher create a success?

November 12, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve had a number of people ask me about the recent reports of Grand Central Publishing trying to create a big splash with Christopher Scotton’s debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. The questions are basically, Why did they decide to put a hundred thousand dollar marketing budget behind an unproven writer’s obscure novel? Why did they choose that book? And Does this happen very often?

The process by which the leadership at Grand Central decided to pick this one book out of the pile and promote it like crazy is interesting and rare. It’s what we call in the industry a “make book” — that is, neither the author nor the project is well known, so we’re going to decide as a company to “make” the book successful. And we’re going to do that by treating it as though the author is already a bestselling writer, the story is already well known, and that big orders and big sales are expected to happen. It’s not as simple as buying their way onto the bestseller lists, as some have suggested. Instead, it’s putting the best resources of the company behind a particular project and risking that everybody else is going to buy into the vision.

Grand Central is part of the Hachette universe, and I know them pretty well. I was an associate publisher for the company back when it was part of the old Time-Warner Book Group, and the process they’re using on The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is the same they used on some other titles. Robert Hicks’ The Widow of the South, about an old woman tending the graves of Rebel soldiers who died at the Battle of Franklin, was a make book. The company just got behind that book because it liked the story, marketed it like crazy, and saw it rise to the bestseller lists. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was a great example of a make book. The editor, Asya Munchnik (who is brilliant, and responsible for a string of hits from Michael Connelly, Stephenie Meyer, David Sedaris, and others) read the manuscript and loved it. Instead of quickly pushing it through to publication, she made sure the sales and marketing staff all read it, and that built enthusiasm in-house for the title. I believe the completed manuscript was in house for two full years before it released, giving it enough time for everyone in the company to get on board and treat it as a big book, even though it was a crime novel from a debut novelist, not a big, upmarket story from a well-known author. And all that company enthusiasm got the country to see it as a huge hit. The Historian was another hugely successful make book — Elizabeth Kostova’s lengthy debut novel about an academic going through her father’s papers and slowing realizing he had discovered the truth about Dracula. That was the first instance in American publishing history that a first-time novelist debuted at #1 on the New York Times list, and it was a make book from the same group of people.

What do all those books (as well as The Secret Wisdom of the Earth share? In my view, love and patience. People in-house read it and loved it. The sales guys saw potential in the story. (According to PW, VP of Sales Chris Murphy sent a note to everyone in the company, encouraging them to read it.) Although it was a mid-level deal, the print run was boosted. Then the marketing folks got involved and started pushing it. Soon people were talking about it, the industry buzz was great, and the print run had quadrupled. And nobody seemed to be in a hurry, so that this book had to come out next week — they were willing to take some time and let it build (and this in an industry that sometimes seems intent on racing through a release so they can move on to the next project). So everyone on the Hachette side loved it, they worked it patiently, and… well, it’s going to be a hit.

This doesn’t happen often. It’s got to be an intentional decision on behalf of the entire publishing company. They genuinely have to like it (and, let’s face it… few books have broad enough appeal to be loved by everyone in a company). It’s risky, in that they are putting a bunch of money behind an unknown author, and contemporary publishing runs on The Pareto Principle: 80% of the money comes from 20% of the books. Someone who did a bestselling book last year is your safest bet for dong a bestselling book next year. A publisher just doesn’t have the time and resources to do this with every title. But yes, it still happens, and thus gives hope to writers everywhere that THEIR book will be the next one chosen to be made into a hit.

Posted in Current Affairs | 3 Comments »