Ask the Agent: What do I need to know to speak at a conference?

December 22, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote and said, “I’ve been asked to speak at a writing conference next year. What advice would you give to prospective conference teachers?”

Well, I’ve taught at a couple hundred writers’ conferences, and I’d probably say there are a few things to consider…

1. If you’ve only done something once, you may not be an expert. Wait until you’re experienced at your job before giving too much advice on it. My friend and fellow literary agent Steve Laube and I were at a conference once with a brand new agent. I’m sure she was a very bright girl, but her answers on the panel were awful — she was an amateur, and her responses in front of a group made her look that way. The difference between her replies and those of an experienced person like Steve were dramatic. Had she waited a year or so, in order to learn her new job, she’d have done much better. Maybe you don’t have to be in a hurry to teach. (This lesson isn’t just for agents — it’s for anyone working in an area of publishing that would be of interest to conferees.)

2. If somebody is already covering one topic, pick something else. Writing conferences have a tendency to repeat the same information, and much of it is aimed at entry-level writers. Take the time to consider some niche or alternative topics that might be of interest to that group. (Here’s an example: Most conferences these days need someone teaching a “creating an ebook” workshop. Every conference needs something on the changing face of publishing, career paths, and contracts, but few choose to cover those topics.)

3. Give participants the real deal. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like there’s a lot of inspirational hopnoodle at conferences. Too much of the “let’s stand up and cheer” stuff, which gives people a short-term rush, but doesn’t provide them with tools they can take away and use. It’s one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of general sessions that come across more as pep rallies than reflections on the craft. When I teach my writing workshop, I have students actually WRITE stuff. When I teach my contracts workshop, I actually go through a contract. When I do my focusing exercises, people are taking the time to write their answers. You’ll find you quickly get popular with the conferees if you give them practical information. (And I’m sorry if this makes me sound like some sort of hero. I’m not. Others do this much better than I.) One example: a couple years ago, author & speaker Ellie Kay did a day-long training session at a writing conference on “how to do interviews on camera.” It was real, usable information, complete with video camera and rehearsal time, and I don’t know of anyone who didn’t come away thinking they got their money’s worth with her material. A couple years later, people are STILL talking about her seminar. That’s the real deal.

4. If you’re going to be teaching a group, make sure you’re prepared. I don’t know about you, but I HATE walking into a class and sensing that the teacher is winging it. I figure the participants are saying, “I paid money to come, this clown is getting paid to be here, and he couldn’t take the time to organize his notes?” I also hate walking into a class and seeing the teacher look like he just rolled out of bed. They gave him the schedule weeks ago — buy an alarm clock and figure out how to iron your shirt! Most of the conferees are beginners — they need a strong example.

5. Speaking of examples, I was at two conferences last year where somebody important cancelled at the last minute. Okay, I realize that things happen. Emergencies can arise. But I happen to know that in one of these instances, that wasn’t the case. The teacher was just busy and decided not to attend at the last minute, and I find that a lousy example. People have paid money to attend these conferences. Sometimes fairly big money. I realize that, on occasion, some of those people signed up because they wanted to meet folks like me, or at least introduce themselves, or maybe pitch me their idea. To cancel at the last minute, after my face has been in the ads, and after people have paid money to attend, seems unconscionable.

6. If you go as a teacher, take some time to talk to people. YOU are one of the reasons they chose to attend. Look, in reality, I’m not a big deal, and I always figure people are going to be disappointed when they finally meet me. But giving writers the  opportunity to meet a “real agent” or a “real editor” or a “published writer” is part of the reason people attend. So don’t try to skip out on actually talking to the newbies. Schedule one-on-ones. Sit and talk with people at your table. Don’t ignore the beginners — they’re paying the bills.

7. If you’re evaluating proposals, don’t tell everybody “send it to me.” Doing so officially qualifies you as a weenie. (Besides, your in-box is going to be swamped with bad proposals for weeks.) If you’re looking at proposals, find something good to say about each one, then give the writer a couple ideas for improving his or her craft. But if it’s not very good, be honest and tell them it’s not ready. If you know if doesn’t fit your organization, tell the author you won’t be publishing it. If it’s a bad or wacko idea, tell them you don’t think it is salable, or doesn’t reach a wide enough audience, or is only going to appeal to people on medication. But don’t give a bad writer the false hope of thinking that he or she is GOOD when they are not.

8. Learn to speak the truth in love. Yeah, I’ve been accused at times of being too blunt. And yes, I’ve had people start to cry because I didn’t like their book idea. I once snapped at a guy for trying to hand me his proposal while I was standing at a urinal. (Yes, that’s a true story. It was at a conference at Seattle Pacific University. And yes, I yelled at the guy. I should have just turned to talk to him…) But the goal at a conference is to help people WRITE better, not just help them FEEL better. Authors who work with me know I don’t have a mean streak — I’m not trying to hurt someone’s feelings by saying a manuscript isn’t ready, I’m trying to help them understand how tough it is to be good enough to get published. Part of my job is to help them improve as writers. We have a tendency to “nice” ourselves into accepting bad work at conferences. We see crap and call it creme brulee. But that’s lying. Learn to tell an author something isn’t great. Learn to share lessons with writers that will help them improve.

9. Go to some of the sessions. You might learn something. Even if you’re an expert. (And don’t misunderstand me… I rarely go to the big-group gatherings at a writing conference. Usually they’re at night, and I’ve been teaching and meeting people all day. I’m worn out, and I won’t be bringing any value to the big group meeting. But that’s me – you might love the general sessions.) Again, this doesn’t mean I can’t get something from some of the workshops. I always like to hear what other experts in the field are saying, and I try to make it to one or two workshops at every writing conference. At ACFW last year, I went to Cara Putnam’s workshop on contract language, and found it very insightful.

10. My friend Cecil Murphey likes to ask a good question of prospective conference teachers: “Why do you want to teach?” I was away from conferences for a while, thinking I’d said everything I really had to say, and, besides, people needed a break from me. Then a few years ago I did a bunch of conferences again, frankly because I needed to let everyone know that I had started my own agency. I wanted to get my name out there and remind people that I really do know what I’m doing, even if I got the axe from Time-Warner. But the fact is, I also find teaching at a conference a ton of fun. I enjoy speaking. A conference gives me an outlet where I’m helping people, not just pitching them. I love the mentoring side, talking to people who are just starting out. I can’t represent them all, but I can certainly take an hour to talk with them in a class, or 10 minutes to review their latest book idea. I probably won’t do very many in the next couple of years – once again, I’m feeling as though I’ve said all I have to say. But the past year or three have been a great time for connecting with newbies. You may find it helpful to think through your own motivation for wanting to teach at a conference.

If you’re a conference speaker, what advice would you share with prospective speakers? 

Posted in Conferences, Current Affairs | 0 Comments »

Flip Your Creative Switch (a guest post)

December 19, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Any writer who has ever stared at a blank screen or sheet of paper, unable to come up with a story idea, knows the feeling of being creatively comatose. Try as you may, nothing comes to mind.

If that is ever you, don’t blow your brains out in frustration. Instead, feed in new ideas and have some laughs along the way. Here is an idea from childhood that will help you put the creativity back into creative writing.

As a youngster, you may have had a fold-over book that was divided into three sections. For example, the first scene shows a normal-looking man. Then you flip over a new top third section, and the man is wearing a pirate hat and an eye patch and has a parrot on his shoulder. You then flip over a new bottom third; and the man is dressed in policeman’s trousers with handcuffs, a billy club, and a pistol hanging from his belt.

Creative writers can play a mental version of this game. Imagine a business executive in a suit and holding a briefcase. Now, flip a new bottom section on him, and suddenly he’s wearing jogging shorts. Why? Well, maybe it’s because he’s actually a model on his way to a photo shoot for men’s sports gear. Or he’s an avid jogger who runs every day during lunch hour. Or he’s a bachelor and is so far behind on his laundry, he wore jogging shorts under his suit. Jot down all those ideas.

Now flip over the top section. Suddenly he’s wearing the upturned collar of a clergyman, has a neatly trimmed gray beard, and is wearing conservative wire-rimmed glasses. Why? Well, maybe he’s a reservist with the Army and serves part-time as a chaplain, or he’s a seminary professor who teaches ancient languages. Or perhaps he’s a con artist who travels from city to city posing as an evangelist. Write down all those ideas.

Now flip the middle section. Whoa! Look! Now he has on a brightly colored vest with a watch chain extended from one side pocket to the other. Why? Maybe he’s a riverboat gambler or a circus sideshow barker. Or perhaps he sings in a barbershop quartet. Add these new options to your list of notes.

Pause a moment; and in your mind’s eye, look at this silly person your mental flip-book has created. How could one person ever combine such diverse appearances and occupations? Ridiculous! Funny! Silly! Unbelievable! Or is it?

Start to play detective. How might all these elements be combined to form a dossier on this man? Hmmm. Perhaps he’s a youth minister (upturned collar) who works at a church camp (jogging shorts) and whose hobby is singing in an old-fashioned gospel music group (vest). Or perhaps he’s a hospital chaplain (upturned collar) who assists disabled children with their physical therapy regimens (gym shorts) but who is also ready to help raise funds for the new hospital wing by being part of a vaudeville night benefit show (fancy vest).

Let your imagination run wild. Have fun. Come up with several different profiles for this character. (Note: If it is hard for you to do this exercise in your imagination, create a real flip-book. Open magazines and catalogs, and use the photos of chefs, pilots, mechanics, parachutists, barbers, cowboys, and firefighters to stimulate your thinking.)

Once you’ve developed one set of profiles for your lead character, run through the process two or three more times—for a villain, a sweetheart, and maybe even a sidekick. Then start imaging how the various characters might come head to head in a conflict strong enough to evolve into a plot.

For example, could the aforementioned chaplain face an ethical challenge when, in privileged communication, the director of the hospital fundraiser tells him he has stolen some of the show’s earnings? Uh-oh, what does the chaplain do now?

All sorts of mix-‘n’-match scenarios are possible. Keep on “playing” with the flip-book until you’ve matched the right characters with the right plot conflict.

When that happens . . . you’ll just “flip”!

======================

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley is chairman of the Department of Professional Writing at Taylor University (Upland, IN). He is a columnist for Christian Communicator and a board member of the Midwest Writers Workshop. He was featured in a cover story profile in Havok magazine in January, 2015, along with one of his newest new short stories. He is represented by MacGregor Literary.

 

Posted in The Writing Craft | 2 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: Should You Take a Holiday Break from Marketing?

December 18, 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.

Disclaimer!!! I apologize for any typos! I have a blinding migraine today (yes, those are real things!), but I wanted to get the post out. :)

Every year, around this time, I struggle to figure out what to blog about. I’m so very tempted to slap a Christmas meme up for my Thursday post, or do something easy and less informative like last week’s list of author marketing books. This desire to cop out is INTENSE. And I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about.

After Thanksgiving, that weekly column you do seems like busywork. Those individuals who have Tweeted you, expecting a response, come across as more things to add to your to-do list. That sale that your publisher is doing on your book doesn’t have the full marketing push behind it that your previous sales have had.

Basically, you’ve run out of steam because your life is just so full of so many other things.

This can happen at any time of year; not just the holiday season. The difference, however, is that December is a month of spending. And gift-giving. And things. It’s a retail rush, not only in the weeks leading up to major holidays, but in the weeks following (you gotta spend those gift cards!). So where am I going with this?

I do believe wholeheartedly in taking time off during the holiday season. I believe in focusing on family and friends and others. But I also think it’s important to have some kind of a marketing strategy in place during the holiday season. It can be as intensive as you want. It can be something that you even plan out months in advance so that you’re relatively off the hook for day-to-day maintenance. But I think it’s important that you keep your marketing mindset. Your career is a business, after all. (So often we treat it as a hobby that can be set aside). And most business close for a week at the most during this season. So I encourage you to adopt that mindset and to keep marketing. Keep doing what you do to spread the word.

Because all that gift card money that people end up with has to be spent! And it may as well be spent on your book.

What’s your plan of attack this time of year? Take the month off? or try to keep going as usual?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 3 Comments »

Favorite Books, Christmas Edition: “A Christmas Carol”

December 17, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wLast week, in between hurriedly throwing a few Christmas decorations at my walls and attending “The Nutcracker” for approximately the 1,247th time, I managed to keep my yearly date with A Christmas Carol. I always caution myself that it cannot possibly be as good as I remember, but every year it’s better. With each successive reading, the charm and earnestness and pure skill of the writing is more apparent, and if you doubt this book’s place in a blog on the writing craft, you probably haven’t read it in awhile. This book was a labor of love for Dickens rather than a serial written to pay the bills, and it shows. Free from the need to sustain a story for months/years on end in order to keep the paychecks coming, Dickens demonstrates a previously unsuspected ability to tell a story taking place over a time span of less than twenty years (I’m looking at you, David Copperfield), and he lets himself go on description and characterization in way he was unable to do in a serial installment expected to advance the plot each week. We see him revel in this independence in the gleeful abandon with which he describes the riches of London shop windows at Christmas time, the passionate cries of the narrator which interrupt the story from time to time, and the flights of whimsy he indulges in in a book not expressly written for children.

Basically, Dickens wrote the story he wanted to write in the way he wanted to write it, regardless of how well it fit the mold he’d found most of his success with, and 160 years later, it’s still his most popular work. The longevity of the book (it’s never been out of print) should serve as a lesson to those authors who are navigating the tricky issue of how to balance profitability and passion–  writing to pay the bills is all well and good, but the books that are going to resonate the most with readers are going to be the ones that you were most personally invested in, in which your skill set and your fervor for a story intersect and hone each other to a finer edge than either could achieve on its own.

William Makepeace Thackeray was right when he said that the Carol was, “to every man or woman who reads it, a personal kindness.” Even if you’ve seen every movie version ever made and you think you’re sick of the story, you’re cheating yourself if you haven’t read the book. It thaws out the little places where your feelings about Christmas have become frosted over by the annoying Christmas music remixes playing in the mall and the sniping over the political correctness of the phrase “Merry Christmas.” It’s not preachy, it doesn’t have any kind of “presents and food and parties aren’t important” nonsense, but rather, it reminds us why our celebrations are important, that things like compassion and hospitality are graces that we should revel in being able to employ during our time on earth, that it is okay to occasionally warm ourselves from the winter. A few passages to begin the thaw~

  • Scrooge’s nephew Fred defending the profitability of Christmas: 
”But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round- apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that – as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
  • Jacob Marley, lamenting his wasted opportunities for compassion: 
”Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed…not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I!…Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed star which led the wise men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me?”
  • And on the changed Scrooge, post-spirit-visits: 
”Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him.”

It’s quite as well that we should wrinkle up our eyes in grins, and gain weight from food eaten in good company, and go broke buying gifts to delight the people we love, as have these maladies in less attractive forms. Merry Christmas!

Posted in The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

What’s New about “Faith Happenings” (a guest blog)

December 12, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

One of the key questions everyone is asking throughout publishing is, “How do consumers find out about books in order make a buying decision?” They used to wander the aisles at bookstores and make that impulse buy. With CBA stores down to about 1000 (from nearly 6500 when I first started as an agent), that’s not happening to any great degree. Some publishers are starting their own direct-to-consumer etail sites. But will a consumer go to 20 different sites to find products? Would you? Will Goodreads or Amazon service the less-than-avid reader to get them to find and buy books? Not likely. Can authors and their friends Tweet, Facebook and blog ENOUGH to find anyone but their own tribes to market to over and over again? Most authors know the answer to that one. All of this is part of the puzzle to create awareness and move books, but will it be enough over time to move the needle on our sales numbers as retail continues to decrease and the noise on the web continues to increase?

Greg Johnson, a friend and colleague of mine for nearly 20 years, has taken a bold move to help authors (traditional and indy), speakers, bloggers… get noticed. He’s started a new “one-stop resource for people of faith” called www.faithhappenings.com. It’s a first-of-its-kind local and national resource. It has area events (speakers, concerts, author events, fundraisers); serving opportunities; area church and ministry listings; camps, schools, family fun, marriage getaways. Basically, Greg says anything that is “soul-, marriage-, parenting- and church-enriching can be on our site.”

It just launched in June, so out of the 454 local websites active, only about 20 have a broad array of local content. But they ALL have national content like books, music, video, etc. How will it help authors, speakers and bloggers? Um, wow. Here’s his list:

  • When people sign up (free to do so), they can select which categories of books (traditional and indie) to get weekly notices about. They have about 70 different book categories people can sign up for so they never miss a new release in a category they’re interested in. Fiction, nonfiction, kids, teens, leaders. The site does the same for for video and music in a dozen or more categories.
  • You can also sign up for events, so if you’re a speaker and you want to be on the local calendar so people in the area know about your event, people have one website to come to in order to find out about you as a speaker, as well as your events. With the loss of announcements in local newspapers, this feature alone will be a huge benefit to a local area.
  • And what about a book signing that no one but an author’s friends ever hear about? Greg’s philosophy is if someone is doing something Kingdom-related for free, they can have his space and membership list for free. That means, he says, ANY author event, like a book signing, reading, ACFW chapter meeting (or the like), or free workshop CAN ALL BE POSTED LOCALLY FOR FREE. It goes on the Area Calendar for that specific area and people can see it at any point (yes, even months out). He has developed this quick and easy template system for people to post their events. If it’s a paid event or an offering taken, there is a small fee ($50). Monthly or yearly low-cost membership-type groups are counted as free.
  • If you are a speaker and want to post yourself locally as someone churches/ministries or women’s/men’s/student groups could call on to speak, then you list yourself and it goes in the “People You Need” section. They also have “regional speakers” who can be listed in several areas within driving distance. The goal: Get more speaking gigs closer to home. There is a small cost for this, but much less than what you would earn from one speaking gig.
  • You can post your backlist books and independently published books in up to 3 different genres. For example: if you are a contemporary romance novelist and your book is on FaithHappenings, everyone who has requested this genre gets an email about it. All books are linked back to etail sites for easy purchase. And books stay on site in up to three genres… forever.
  • FaithHappenings wants to be a clearinghouse for blogs in 15+ different categories. So if you’re a consistent blogger and want to get noticed, this will be a great way to find new readers who may never have heard about you. The site also does a “Featured Blogger” on the home page that runs for 3 days (small fee to be featured).
  • On the Home Page, they are doing “Featured Resources of the Day.” So if your book is an ebook or print special, you can announce it so those who request to get this feature in their inbox will know when your book goes on special.

For those authors/speakers/bloggers who want to post in these areas above, yes, they will bundle services together at a substantial discount. The discounts range from 50% to 70%, with some variables.

The tagline for this site is “Your Complete, Tailored, Faith Resource,” but Greg also describes this new resource as a “Kingdom Christian CitySearch/Craigslist/Google.” The mission is to “To inform, enrich, inspire, and mobilize individual believers/churches and to enhance the unity of the local Christian Community to better serve the people in their local areas and the world.” Obviously, they need to expand into hundreds of other areas if they want to build a brand and make an impact. And they have a plan to do so.

My advice is to check out the site in your local area, check into how to become a member (they are even giving away 20 free music downloads and a free audiobook just for signing up), create a profile, look around and see if you like it. Greg promises the site is a “politics free zone” (he says, “Others have that mission”) and it fits a broad theological group.

While I’m certain the site is not perfect in every way—there are thousands of moving parts in it—this is a bold and needed endeavor as we see an author/publisher’s ability to find readers becoming increasingly difficult. And like any national website, it will get better as time goes on. Greg’s vision is to serve people locally so they will find our books and ministries.

How else can you benefit from this website? Briefly, here is the list Greg gave me:

  1. Become an Affiliate Partner: Authors who put the FaithHappenings widget on the site to help increase membership numbers can earn points that will pay cash or double their value in going against paid items on his site. If you like the site and believe in the mission, this would be worth checking into. More info is listed in the black bar across the bottom of the Home Page. If you have questions, he says to email herringshaw@faithhappenings.com.
  2. Work part-time with FaithHappenings: If you or someone you know is in need of some income, he is hiring commissioned customer service and sales people called “Community Associates” to build membership and present the site to the 35 or so different types of vendors who pay to be on their local site. You’d go to the “Work for us” link at the bottom of the Home Page to see if you’d qualify. Email hofer@faithhappenings.com if you have any questions.
  3. Create Content to PR Your book: They are looking for consistent bloggers and devotional writers in several areas: women, men, pastors, students. They aren’t paying yet for this, but they will trade some of the other above services for content (that you keep ownership of). Again, email Casey if you would like a list of what they are still looking for. They are open to using older content you might have in your archives.

If you have other specific questions, you can email Greg at greg.johnson@faithhappenings.com.

Posted in Current Affairs | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Author Marketing Books That Won’t Disappoint

December 11, 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.

Need author-y gift ideas for yourself or your friends? How about gifting some marketing help?!

No, I’m not talking about buying your writer friends a phone chat with a publicist or sending them an AdSense gift card. I’m talking about books! Marketing books, to be exact. The kinds of books that every author wants, because they know them to be helpful, but may not want to shell out money for (because come on…if they’re going to choose between the latest novel from their favorite author or a book that tells them how to work harder, the choice is obvious).

Here are five books that I’d recommend gifting to your author friends or yourself:

1. The Extroverted Writer: An Authors Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform by Amanda Luedeke (Currently $8.09 for a print copy from Amazon and $2.99 for digital)

I figured I’d get my book out of the way, since OBVIOUSLY I’m going to include it in this list. But before you brush this off as shameless self-promotion (which it is), take a look at the reviews. I don’t know many of those people. I didn’t solicit their two cents. But feedback has been very positive! I like books that are practical and fun, and that’s what I tried to write.

 

2. The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing by various NYT bestselling authors (Currently $11.11 for a print copy from Amazon and $4.99 for digital)

I haven’t read the whole thing, but from what I have read, I love how chock-full it is of links, ideas, tips, and more. Indie authors are known for sharing everything they know about the business, and this book proves that. While they write with indie authors in mind, most of the content is applicable for any writer.

 

3. The Tricked-Out Toolbox: Promotion and Marketing Tools Every Writer Needs by Tonya Kappes & Melissa Bourbon Ramirez (Currently $13.08 for a print copy from Amazon and $4.99 for digital)

Another book packed with information you can take and use immediately. A bit brief in places that could use more detail and examples, but overall a great resource.

 

4. The Author’s Guide to Marketing: Make a Plan that Attracts More Readers and Sells More Books by Beth Jusino (Currently $11.24 for a print copy from Amazon and $4.99 for digital)

This book has a bit more theory than others on this list, but it has a great section on marketing plans near the back. When I say “great” I mean “Complete with a worksheet and everything!” Beth has been in the industry awhile, as an agent, among other things. So she has a great perspective.

 

5. Connections: Social Media and Networking Techniques for Writers by Edie Melson (Currently $14.99 for a print copy from Amazon and $6.99 for digital)

Another great book with tools you can USE…and its focus is social media!! Many know Edie from her blog, and if you’re familiar with her knack for online marketing, then it follows that this book is worth it. Numerous topics with do’s and don’ts included, Edie really did her best to cover the gamut of social media marketing.

Which of these books do YOU want for Christmas? Or maybe there’s a book you want that I didn’t list? 

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments »

Choose Your Own Final Draft: Applying Reader Feedback

December 9, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wIf you caught the last couple of Tuesday posts, you’ll know I’ve been talking about the final stages of manuscript preparation– knowing when to stop polishing a manuscript, finding beta readers, etc. I pointed out that finding beta readers who are a good fit for your skill level and your genre is an important step in ensuring that the feedback you get from them is worthwhile and relevant so you don’t go crazy trying to apply conflicting or uninformed advice. Even when you’ve selected your beta readers wisely, however, it can still be overwhelming to revisit your manuscript with three or four different sets of feedback from three or four unique readers– even if all your readers are published sci-fi authors, each one is going to have a slightly different reaction to your book, and deciding which advice to apply and which to ignore can feel like one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, in which every decision you make will result in a different outcome. (The good news here is that the editing decisions you make are highly unlikely to result in being thrown into a volcano or trampled by elephants, unlike CYOA.)

So, how do you decide what feedback, and how much, to apply? Here are a few guidelines to help you as you CYOFD– Choose Your Own Final Draft!

  • Decide in advance how much rewriting you’re willing to do. If you don’t have the time and the fortitude to make major plot changes, or to rewrite the entire book from a different character’s perspective, you can cross off suggestions on this scale right away. Don’t waste time agonizing over whether or not a large-scale change would be a good idea if you know realistically that you’re not in a place to make a change like that. Turn your attention to smaller-scale suggestions and don’t drive yourself crazy with “but what it…?”.
  • Create a plan for whose feedback you’ll apply in which area. For example, if you gave your manuscript to three readers and you know one of them in particular has a gift for dialogue, look at what that reader had to say about your dialogue before you look at anyone else’s dialogue notes, . Obviously, you can get good advice from more than one source, but if you don’t want to spend your life in re-writes, starting with the “expert” advice in a specific category can be a good strategy for making the most of your editing time.
  • When readers give conflicting advice, go with your instincts (within reason). It’s one thing to have had twelve different readers tell you a scene isn’t working, or that your dialogue is unnatural, or that a plot point is unclear, but if one or two readers have an opinion that isn’t shared by another, you probably don’t have to agonize over who’s “right.” Which feedback makes the most sense to you? Which reader seems to know you better as a writer/really “gets” your book? Let your instincts drive editing decisions and be okay with having made the “right for you” decision instead of the “objectively, mathematically right” decision.
  • If a piece of feedback doesn’t make sense to you, and you’ve only gotten it from one source, throw it out. Like I’ve said before, actual problems with your manuscript will probably be caught by more than one quality reader, so feedback you get multiple times probably merits consideration, but even from an intelligent, articulate critique partner, you will occasionally hear a suggestion or a piece of criticism that just doesn’t make sense to you or that you strongly disagree with, and that’s okay. Don’t stress out over it; it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re blind to some major flaw in your work or that you’re an arrogant jerk (though you should probably double-check with someone, just to be sure), it just means that something that makes perfect sense to you doesn’t to one individual reader. Guess what? That’s going to happen as many times as the number of people who read your book. Either learn how to be okay with the fact that not everyone will perfectly understand every artistic choice you make, or prepare yourself for an exhausting career.

What strategies have you adopted for deciding when to apply reader feedback? Let me know in the comments!

Posted in The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

Ask the Agent: How do I determine page count?

December 8, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I got this question in my in-box: “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”
Sure there is. The rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)
That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…
First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 40,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.
I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark with your novel. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.
Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… and, to repeat a story I’ve told before, it was the very first time a book from a debut novelist started out at #1 on the New York Times list. My advice? Instead of thinking “I need to keep it short,” think “I need to write a great book,” then get all the help you can to make it a great book.
Third, remember that most books are still created in signatures – that is, in 16-page blocks of text. (You can see these by looking at the top of any book — a group of pages that are folded together.) That means if you count the pages in the front (the half title, the title page, the copyright page, the acknowledgements page, etc), add the numbered pages of the book, then include any blank pages in the back, they will add up to a multiple of 16. And if there are a bunch of blank pages in the book, the publisher is frustrated because they are paying for pages in a signature they didn’t have to use. In today’s economy I think it’s tough to sell any book short of ten signatures (160 pages). And it’s tough to bind any book longer than twenty signatures (320 pages). If you generally keep your word count between those, you should be okay.
And fourth… the agent asked how many pages it was? Really? Nobody cares anymore how many pages your manuscript is. With a few clicks the editor can bump up the font or increase the leading to make it longer, or she can reduce the margins and shrink the font to make it shorter. Nobody really cares much about page count these days — it’s word count that matters.
By the way, do you know who came up with the notion of the signature? Johannes Gutenberg — the same guy who came up with movable type. He was the one who figured out it was cost-effective to take one large sheet of paper, print pages in various positions, then fold it four times to create a 16-page section of a book. Printers still produce books that way, using 16-page signatures. That’s why every good editor can rattle off the correct page counts — 160, 176, 192, 208, 224, 240, 256, 272, 288, or 304 pages.

Lots of questions have come in to the Ask the Agent section. I’ll get to a bunch of them over the next month!

What questions have you always wanted to ask an agent? 

Posted in The Business of Writing | 1 Comment »

So… what’s up with the Christian Writers Guild?

December 5, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Recently the Christian Writers Guild has been much in the news. I’ve heard rumors about problems and threats; there have been questions about new leadership and new directions; and then we got news that the whole thing was being shut down. It seemed odd, since the Guild was purchased and funded by mega-selling author Jerry Jenkins, who wrote the Left Behind series and sold more than seventy million books — at the time it was the best-selling fiction series in history, later eclipsed by Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games, and, um, Fifty Shades of Grey (proving that H.L. Mencken was right).

Jerry is not a friend, but he’s certainly a friendly acquaintance (I worked at the agency that represented the Left Behind books), and I knew he had invested his own money into the CWG, and had really built it up. Their annual conference was very good, they were moving into publishing, and for a long time I couldn’t go to speak anywhere without running into writers who had been mentored through their excellent writer training system. So I asked Dr. Dennis Hensley, who is Chairman of the Professional Writing Program at Taylor University, and a longtime insider at CWG, if he could tell me what was happening with them closing up shop. His response follows…
====================================

I have been a close friend and business associate of Jerry B. Jenkins for more than 30 years. During that time I have observed how he and his wife Dianna have anonymously, humbly, and graciously used their personal funds to provide major support for worthy efforts. They have bought automobiles for missionaries, funded college scholarships for needy students, underwritten building projects in third world countries, and provided jobs for writers, editors, and teachers.

A mission close to Jerry’s heart for many years has been to develop a new generation of competent writers who can share the Christian worldview by way of journalism, fiction, social platform outreach, and multi-media communication. To that end Jerry has opened doors on numerous fronts. He bought the Christian Writers Guild from Norm Rohrer 15 years ago and modernized all the correspondence courses for training by way of computerized distance learning. He authorized the creation of new courses, organized a staff of experienced teachers and mentors to work with the online students, and even made arrangements for certain of these courses to qualify for college credits. Additionally, he initiated the annual Writing for the Soul Conference in Colorado Springs, which welcomed participants to hear leading authors and editors give keynote addresses, conduct seminars and workshops, and provide one-on-one manuscript assessment sessions. Furthermore, Jerry took over ownership and management of the annual Christian Writers Market Guide, making sure that freelance writers would have a volume of current marketing information related to magazines, newspapers, online periodicals, and book publishers. And, on top of all this, Jerry himself frequently accepted invitations to speak at writer’s conferences, colleges, universities, retreats, and conventions nationwide, where he would share his knowledge and experience about aspects of professional writing.

In all this, Jerry never made one penny of profit. For a fact, he expended more than three million dollars of personal money just to provide all these various services and opportunities to developing writers. And that does not take into account the hundreds of hours he spent managing CWG and its off-shoot operations, all of which were unpaid ventures for Jerry.

At the start of 2014, Jerry shared with several of his close friends and business associates that he was ready to return to his primary occupation and calling, that of full-time writing. However, it was his hope that the work and mission of Christian Writers Guild would continue. He took on a partner and was indemnified against financial responsibility for new endeavors by CWG, but he granted permission for his name to be used as the new partner segued into total ownership and management.

It is no secret that a host of inquiries and complaints have arisen related to CWG’s management since Jerry stepped out of his leadership role. I am not privy to those specific matters, only to say that I am absolutely confident that Jerry B. Jenkins, himself, has never – never!—shortchanged or cheated anyone. He is honest, fair, and trustworthy in all he does. If anything, he and Dianna are overly generous in their business dealings. Thus, my personal opinion is that any complaints that have arisen regarding problems at CWG in 2014 cannot be laid at Jerry’s feet. Being the exemplary man he is, Jerry has reinserted himself into the business side of the Guild to insure that it is closed with fidelity and honor. He has pledged that all students will be able to complete their courses and all members will get the full benefits of their memberships. To say that this is a magnanimous gesture would be an understatement. Integrity and Jerry B. Jenkins are synonymous in my dictionary.

Dr. Dennis E. Hensley

Posted in Current Affairs | 23 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Steps to Create an Author Brand

December 4, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

literary agentAmanda 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.

The past few Thursdays we’ve been talking about creating an author brand. The main points of the posts have been:

1. Your books are not your brand. YOU are your brand. Your brand infuses your books and not the other way around.

2. You can be the one to determine what your brand is.

3. If you don’t determine your brand, others will do it for you…and you probably won’t like the result (after all, most of us want to be known for more than physical traits such as “blond” or “tall” or “old” or … you get the picture).

We touched on a few of the questions that you need to ask in order to discover what kind of an author brand will work for you, such as:

– What are my hobbies?

– What is my personality? Am I sassy? Contemplative? Old-fashioned? Radical?

– In what areas am I an expert? What are things that I know more of or do better than others?

– What life experiences have I had that stand out?

Once you’ve identified what kind of a brand you want to give yourself, how do you implement it? How do you go from being an author, to a brand?

1. Look your brand. Let’s say that you have skills in refurbishing and decorating vintage pieces. Your fiction always tends to be set in vintage eras (or it focuses on characters who appreciate that style) and so you feel having a vintage brand will carry throughout your career. Now, you could go around living life as normal. OR you could replace your professional wardrobe with vintage clothing, update your online spaces to have clear vintage themes, adopt some vintage phrases, and so on. By doing this you are connecting the dots for your readers, and you’re also making it easy for fans of all things vintage to gravitate toward you.

2. Talk your brand. In the above example I mentioned that someone with a vintage brand could adopt some vintage sayings. But “talking your brand” goes beyond that. In interviews, on panels, and in discussions with readers, you want to drive your brand home. So let’s say your brand is “the MMA pastor.” In interviews and conversations, you don’t want to just talk about your book or your career, you want to talk about MMA! Talk about your favorite matches and share experiences you’ve had in the ring (do MMA matches happen inside a ring??).

3. Expand your brand. Let’s say you’ve started talking and looking the part, but thanks to social media, readers are looking for an experience. There is a huge opportunity to make your brand bigger than you and your career. Instead of always focusing on you and your life and how it ties into your brand, you want to be aware of the lifestyle that is associated with your brand.

There is a very specific lifestyle (a set of likes, dislikes, events, groups, blogs, etc) associated with “vintage.” There’s another lifestyle associated with “MMA.” Let’s say that the brand you’ve given yourself is the “Fashionista author”. There is an entire world of fashion that goes way beyond your books and career and small corner of the Web. You want to be aware of this bigger world and take part in it. You want to share pertinent news about this world with your followers. You want to know what’s going on. And you want to connect with those who are also influencers within that corner of the web. By doing this, you’re expanding your brand into something much greater, and that’s a powerful thing!

4. Develop brand standards. Every company worth its weight has a set of brand standards, which is literally a book or document that details out what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to marketing, logo, communications, etc. These things are usually super detailed, going so far as to identify which fonts can be used on various publications. While you don’t need to go that far, you should have a set of rules for yourself. A system of checks and balances so that you don’t find yourself straying from your brand. Because believe me, when life takes a turn, it’s so easy to start blogging and Tweeting about those personal things when it’s all you can think of. But your audience doesn’t care about those things! So you want to limit the amount of time spent talking about the “randoms” of life or things non associated with your brand and balance that with plenty of content that provides the takeaway your readers are looking for.

5. Have fun with your brand. Your brand should be something that feels comfortable. Natural. And yes, while we talked about changing your look and online approach to better embody your brand, it shouldn’t be a fish-out-of-water experience. Your brand is built from YOU. So it should be fun! And spending time in your brand’s world should in a sense be a natural extension of who you are. So, don’t sweat the small stuff. Be yourself. Be your brand. And it’ll come together!

Any questions?! Let me know!

Posted in Career, Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments »