Reading the Cloud

September 3, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: Reading the Cloud

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about e-readers, cloud-based computing, mobile apps, and the Fabrik cloud e-book reader.

When I recently broadened my role with MacGregor Literary, from exclusively dealing in translation and other subsidiary rights to representing new works for publication (for clarity’s sake, I am not open to unsolicited manuscripts at this time), my reading for work increased exponentially. Initially, I was content with reading manuscripts directly on my laptop. But, over time this became an issue as more and more of my time was spent in the office “working.” And less and less “relaxing” with my family. I solved the problem by borrowing a rarely used Kindle from a friend and downloading my work reading as PDFs onto the device. I could then “relax” with the family, while “working.” For some reason the change in device represented a change in my behavior to the observers (who spend half of their time exhibiting second-screen behavior of their own). I have been happy with Kindle, but my friend has been making noises about wanting it back soon for an extended trip out of state, so I find myself with a problem.

Recently, I finally broke my iPhone4. And, while perusing the available upgrades at my mobile provider, I was enticed with a bundled deal that would allow me to also pick up an Android-based tablet for very little extra money. So, I dove into the internet and began looking up Android-based e-reader apps in the hopes that I might find something that mirrored the features of the Kindle that I enjoyed while being compatible with the tablet that I haven’t necessarily committed to purchasing yet.

While reading through Android Authority’s 15 Best eBook reader Android Apps article, I happened upon the Fabrik cloud-based e-reader app, which also appears on several top lists for 2015 Android apps. Initially, cloud-compatibility wasn’t even on my list of considerations in looking for an e-reader or e-reader application. But, the more I think about it, and the more I examine the price differences between smartphones and tablets that seem completely based on the amount of storage available on the various devices, the more cloud-based reading seems like more of an inevitability than a convenient option. I may be too old to ever completely trust the cloud with my music collection, family photos, or books. But for manuscripts that may never see publication and books in which I am interested enough to read, but perhaps not to keep, it may be the next big thing to push me toward the sky.

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

How I got screwed by Delta (your Happy Traveler Note of the Week)

September 2, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

So last week I was supposed to fly from Denver (where I was having publishing meetings) to Nashville (where we were hosting a marketing seminar for our authors). I’m the type that Deltaalways tries to keep travel expenses low (in the technical term, a “cheapskate”), so I used some Delta miles to purchase a one-way ticket  back in April. I made sure to get a ticket in the late afternoon, figuring if there’s any sort of problem, Delta could always stick me onto a later flight. I had to be in Nashville at 9 the next morning to speak.

So I get to the airport in plenty of time, go to one of those Delta machines… and it won’t check me in. It says there’s a problem, and I have to go stand in line. Grrr. Okay, so I stand in line a half hour, am greeted by a very nice Delta employee who looks sharp but, unfortunately, has the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel, and who informs me that my flight, which routed me through Atlanta, was changed, and they’d be getting me to Nashville, not that night, but THE NEXT DAY. AT 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON. She smiles sweetly as she says this.

I keep my cool, explain that no, that plan won’t work, I’ve got to speak in the morning, and they need to find some alternative. She looks around, as though I’m speaking a foreign language, then says she can’t find any alternatives. “Um… really?” I ask. “Because I used to live in Nashville, flew in and out all the time, and there are plenty of flights into BNA. It’s only 4 PM, there’s no weather, so maybe you could look again?” She does, but I can’t tell if she really understands the routes, since she twice talks about getting me to Charlotte — which, technically, isn’t Nashville, although I hear they also have great ribs.

Anyway, the line behind me begins to build, and it’s clear she’s getting nervous. So she calls someone, who tells her to put me on another airline. The gal isn’t sure what to do, so I explain that United, Frontier, American, and Southwest all can route me from Denver to Nashville. I watch her call American, wait on hold, stare at the growing line, and get more frantic. Eventually she talks with someone briefly (and by briefly, I mean REALLY briefly), then hangs up the phone and says to me, “Because of the lateness in the day, I can’t seem to get a seat. But if you’ll go to one of the other ticket counters and purchase a ticket, Delta will reimburse you.” 

Now, I may live in a small town in Oregon, but I’m no fool. “Um, no,” I explain to her. “They won’t. I know because I went through this with United one time. The gate agent said United would reimburse me, but they never did. I got screwed for about $300. Why don’t you try again?” She looks around, as if she’s forgotten where she was, then calls someone, never actually speaks to anyone, and finally looks at me and says, “If you purchase another ticket, Delta will reimburse you for the cost. I’ll even put that in the notes on this ticket.”  

Well, by now I’ve been at this an hour, and I’m no closer to Nashville, so I take her word for it. I walk ten feet away, find the cheapest last-minute fare I can get, and buy a one-way ticket to Nashville that night on Southwest for $457. I grab my boarding pass and receipt, and go back to the Delta line. I wait another 20 minutes, get to the front of the line and say to Miss Cocker Spaniel, “See? I bought another ticket! I’d like Delta to reimburse me!”

Of course she shakes her head and says, “Oh, we don’t do reimbursements here. You have to call for that.” 

A red light goes off in my head. “I knew it. Delta is going to screw me, aren’t they?”

“No! I’ve put it right here in the notes. When you call, just give them the ticket number and they’ll be able to find my notes explaining it all.” 

Uh-huh. Note to travelers: Don’t take the word of gate agents who remind you of cute puppies. I fly to Nashville, do the marketing seminar, meet with publishers… and call Delta. About a dozen times. I fill in the online forms. I give them my ticket number. I send a complaint letter. Nobody knows anything about my flight to Nashville. They can’t find out anything. I kept expecting one of them to say to me, “Perhaps you dreamed it all…” They lie and stonewall and intend to stick me with a $457 bill that I shouldn’t have had to pay. One person offers to put my miles back into my account — which, um, isn’t exactly a “win” in my book, since I never, you know, actually took a Delta flight. Giving me back my own miles on a flight they screwed up doesn’t strike me as making them eligible for “Customer Service Giant of the Year.”

Finally, a week later, on roughly my fifteenth call, I lose it. When the woman says there are no notes about me buying another ticket, and that no Delta ticket agent would ever suggest buying a seat on another airline, I start yelling… “I run a business! I know that I’m responsible for what the people who work for me say. If they make a promise, I’m on the hook. I bought this ticket because your gate agent encouraged me to — over my own objections! So screw Delta! You people are liars and cheats!”

Her response: “Sir, I’m reporting you to Delta.” 

Well… ouch. THAT certainly hurt. I mean, what’s going to happen now — on my next flight, Delta is going to give me crappy service? (And, to ask a rhetorical question, if Delta decided to give me crappy service, how would I recognize it?) 

So there you have it. I’m still sitting here, looking at my receipt for the Southwest flight that I didn’t want to buy. Screwed out of $457 by Delta Airlines. Thanks Delta!

Posted in Current Affairs | 11 Comments »

Editing for Authors: Part 5, The Big Picture

September 2, 2015 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wWelcome back (after a couple weeks off) to my series on editing for authors. I spent the last two posts talking about the role of a style sheet in the editing process (here and here, if you missed them). A style sheet is an extremely helpful tool in making “little-picture” edits such as consistent spelling or formatting, and in keeping track of details such as a character’s hair color, mother’s name, or the kind of car she drives. When it comes to editing your book for the “big picture,” however, it’s hard to draft a checklist that can anticipate the variety of bigger-scale problems that can show up in a manuscript. Learning to recognize problems such as inconsistent pacing, incomplete plots, weak dialogue, or mushy writing voice takes a different kind of perspective and a different set of editing skills. These kind of “big picture” edits are part of the developmental editing process, the purpose of which can be boiled down to two goals: to make the manuscript coherent in content and consistent in writing quality. We’ll look at the first of these two goals this week.

Coherency in a finished manuscript is one of the hardest things to assess accurately as a self-editor. After all, all your manuscript’s content came out of your head– you invented the crazy plot, you know the thoughts running through the characters’ heads, you understand the connection between seemingly unrelated anecdotes or lessons in your memoir, you appreciate the significance of a piece of information in your business book, etc. Inevitably, some of this information that is so clear in our heads gets muddled when we transfer it to the page, leaving a reader confused about a sequence of events, a character’s actions, or a seemingly pointless paragraph. We can try to edit our own work for clarity and coherence, but because we invented these scenarios or are writing out of our own substantial knowledge or experience, we often read our own work with too much background information to be able to make an accurate call as to whether it will make sense to an outside reader or not. We automatically “fill in the blanks” left in the text with our own knowledge and so we don’t even notice them.

I remember seeing Harry  Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban with my sister and my mom; my sister and I had read the book but my mom hadn’t, and a couple parts of the movie didn’t make sense to her. At first, my sister and I just assumed our mom hadn’t been paying close enough attention, because it made perfect sense to us, but after watching it a second time, we realized that there were several plot holes that the filmmakers never bothered to explain in the context of the movie– if you hadn’t read the book, you would have had no idea of the significance of certain scenes or the connections between certain events/characters. Because we’d read the book, we filled in those blank spots automatically with our greater prior knowledge and we didn’t even notice them the first time we watched it. We would have made lousy editors on that film (though apparently, that’s the kind they used…).

Because of this innate, unavoidable bias on the side of not noticing the coherency issues in our own manuscripts, our best hope for identifying issues related to confusing plot sequence or missing information or erratic character behavior is to employ a beta reader to read a manuscript and provide feedback on its clarity. Now, don’t be spooked by the word “employ,” you most likely know several people (okay, at least one) who would be willing to read through your manuscript for you and give you their thoughts for free (though gift cards are always appreciated), and they don’t have to have any qualifications beyond knowing how to read (and preferably liking the genre you write in). You’re not asking them to edit– that’s still your job– you’re just asking them to read it from beginning to end and flag any “Huh?” moments. Obviously, the more word-savvy your beta reader, the more technical and in-depth they might get with their feedback, but while you might get some bonus craft-related feedback from folks like this, even a non-expert reader will usually be able to recognize plot holes, point out seeming character discrepancies, and alert you to confusing scenes or passages.

If you’re really reluctant to let someone else read your manuscript (though if that’s the case, why the heck are you writing in the first place…) or you just can’t find any good beta readers, it is possible to detect your own coherence issues if you know what to look for, such as:

  • plot holes (unanswered questions or plot developments what happen out of the blue without explanation),
  • character discrepancies (instances in which a character acts or speaks in a seemingly inauthentic or uncharacteristic manner),
  • unnecessary, incomplete, or out-of-place information (in non-fiction).

Just like when you’re editing for punctuation errors, you have to tune your “editing eye” to be on the lookout for the types of clarity issues that might trip up a reader. You may find it helpful to work backwards through your manuscript– find the end of each plot thread or storyline and follow it backwards through the story to the beginning, making sure you can find all of the pieces in the correct order– this strategy helps you to look at your plot through fresh eyes and can help you become aware of gaps in a particular plot thread that don’t exist in your head but do on the page. To evaluate your characters, compare the extremes of their behavior and their relationships and then make sure you’ve given the reader enough information to understand any huge range between extremes– if your character had a big confrontation with a cheating boyfriend at the beginning of the book, we’re going to need a compelling reason why she just moves to Vermont without a word or a note when she thinks her new boyfriend is cheating on her. (The obvious reason is, of course, because this makes for the requisite misunderstanding-between-lovebirds that is required in every romance novel and if she’d just confronted him she would have found out right away that the girl he was hugging in the street was his sister and there wouldn’t have been a misunderstanding, but without a good reason for not confronting him like she did the last loser she dated, this move seems out of character and like a lame, plot-serving move by the author. You have to build bridges between your extremes.) For non-fiction, you can try the same backwards approach, tracing the line of narrative or the thought process back to its origin and comparing every paragraph to the theme or point of the chapter to ensure it’s all on-topic and in the correct place.

I’ll talk more in the future about techniques for fixing these issues, but without an understanding of the most common enemies of coherence and the danger our own bias poses to recognizing these issues during the editing process, we’re not going to make much progress on the developmental editing front (or, by extension, on the getting-a-publishing-deal-for-our-well-ordered-logical-and-coherent-manuscript front). Come back next week when we’ll look at big-picture editing for consistent writing quality. Thanks for reading!

Posted in The Writing Craft | 2 Comments »

The View from the Bookstore (a guest post)

August 31, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

In response to the posts we’ve had on the Family Christian Stores debacle, we’re received a number great letters from people involved. Authors, editors, publishers, and agents have all written with their thoughts. But I wanted to share one note from a bookstore owner in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who I think offers some perspective on the situation. This is shared with her permission…

People have talked about how much Family has lost in this bankruptcy, what the vendors have lost, what the authors have lost, and I’m sure what you may have lost also. However, no one seems to have mentioned the problems this has caused for the entire independent Christian bookstore industry. We have read how the vendors had to have Family stay in business because “they needed to have someone to sell their books to.”
  I am a part of the Munce Group, and we still have nearly 500 independent stores. The Parable Group has a large group of stores, too. The Covenant Group has independent stores that have faithfully served the market for years. And there are many who are not a part of any marketing group. These were stores they could sell to also.
 These were stores who have been paying their bills, and have most likely been paying more for their product than Family did. We didn’t get consignment offers, and if we did we would have understood that product was not ours – it still belonged to the vendor.
  Family talks about all their profits going to widows and orphans. If there were no profits how many widows and orphans were helped? In contrast, many of these independent stores have ministered in their own communities, and brought the gospel to thousands of people? We will not know that until we all reach heaven and see who has been touched by our ministries.
  Who is going to champion for the independent stores? Many of us have been in business for 40 years or more, and continue to see our business eroded by a number of things, including vendors who have had to go out of business. We’ve had sales reps and inside sales people we’ve known for years lose their jobs over this situation. We’ve seen some of our companies have to close.  We’ve seen some of our bookstores have to close. And to top that off, the vendors now have less money to spend on our catalogs, and some of the distributors are having to make decisions that cut our discounts. The whole industry has suffered, and that includes the “forgotten independent stores” who have been quietly watching the industry implode around them.
  Thank you for the insightful blog. You are one of the only commentators on the Family situation who has presented an alternative view, recognizing the damage done to the entire industry. Keep up the good work.
  Your comments would be appreciated.
Karen Grosse
Lighthouse Christian Books
Green Bay, WI 54304
38 years in business this year

Posted in Current Affairs | 3 Comments »

“Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores?”

August 27, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Okay, so my recent posts (here, here, and here) on the bankruptcy, reorganization, and sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) has created a bit of a stir. Four publishers wrote me to say thanks. Several independent bookstores wrote to tell me I’ve not told the whole story. And a few folks wrote in to say, in essence, “Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores? Don’t you want them to stay in business? And don’t lots of businesses go through bankruptcy?” 

I think there are four things to note…

First, this isn’t your typical bankruptcy. Look, I’m a small businessman. I know that bookstores_2sometimes the market can turn on you, and you lose money. I had a friend who went big into microfiche, just as the ‘fiche industry was made obsolete by digitalization. Tastes change, technology creates new products, and a business can suddenly be facing hard times. Um… that’s not what’s going on here. According to vendors, the folks at FCS were ordering products in, knowing they were not going to be able to pay for them. Some small businesses delivered orders within days of FCS shutting down — and they have claimed the company simply had to have known it was receiving product for which they’d never pay.

The worst example? Bibles — and at least two publishers have said to me, “This was all about Bibles.” Of the $14 million FCS owed to publishers, about $10 million of it was in Bibles. The vast majority of money they owed to HarperCollins was for Bibles that Family had ordered in. So look at the money for a moment… FCS orders in $10 million in Bibles. But instead of paying ten million, they end up, after their re-org, paying roughly one-and-a-half million. AND they get to keep that product and sell it at full retail price, so somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $25 million. This is why a couple of the publishing houses insisted they be paid full value for all books ordered in the last three weeks before FCS files for bankruptcy — because some publishers felt they were being scammed. So, in my view, this isn’t all due to a change in the market. (Of course, there’s also the weirdness of having the owner of FCS turn around, create a new company, and buy out his own company in order to save millions… something everyone is holding their noses over.)

Second, the reaction of FCS administration was shockingly off-kilter. We all got to hear CEO Chuck Bengochea declare this was “God’s plan” and state that he was “celebrating.” Worse, he went back to an earlier company line about using money to help “widows and orphans.” Try to read that and not want to barf as you think about the various companies that went out of business, the publishers who lost millions, and the authors who aren’t getting paid for their books. Or think about the fact that FCS is going to shut down stores and lay off workers, even though they’ve argued repeatedly that’s not going to happen. Hey, Mr Bengochea (who was reprimanded by the judge for making a late night call to the owner in order to apparently work a backroom deal) may be a wonderful human being, but his tone-deaf response and that incredibly stupid-sounding “we’re just in it for the ministry” jingoism makes him look like an out-0f-touch corporate raider. How about a bit of “we take full responsibility” or “I’m sorry for the people we hurt”?

Third, the lack of reporting on this story, particularly among religious media, has been appalling. I’m not sure what Christian magazines and news sources are hoping to gain by not being clear about this story, but have a look — there’s been very little in print. Maybe it’s that whole “we’re all Christians so we don’t want to hammer each other” mentality. Perhaps it’s simply, “If we say something, FCS may not carry our products any more.” I don’t know… but in my view, a lot of people should be ashamed for failing to report on this. I’m no crusading journalist, but I don’t want to sit on the sidelines while the authors I represent and the publishers I do business with get taken for millions of dollars.

Fourth, I’m not rooting for FCS to fail… I’d just like them to be held accountable. I represent authors whose books sell in their stores, and losing all that shelf space would be painful — just as it was painful when Borders closed a thousand stores. (Of course, nobody at Borders was claiming they were going to be giving their profits to widows and orphans.) So I’m glad FCS is remaining open, at least for a while. I’m also a fan of all those great indie bookstores out there, including the member stores that are part of the Munce Group, the Parable Group, and the Covenant Group — all indie-owned, and mostly appalled at the behavior of FCS. Of course, I hope this spurs CBA publishers to stop being quite so brick-and-mortar focused, but my reason for writing about this is basically because it felt like nobody was telling the story. I love this business, and if you’re really involved it you’re going to hear both the good and the bad. If you only want to hear good news, I guess you should stop reading my blog… and maybe you could start reading “The Bengochea Celebration Blog.” No doubt it’s happy. And there’s probably a button so that you can contribute to all those widows and orphans.

Posted in Current Affairs | 32 Comments »

You’re Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy

August 26, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: You are Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about the practice of incorporating psychological techniques into children’s books to help children with a variety of emotional, behavioral, and other problems. Yesterday, the Smithsonian published a piece on its website called Six Children’s Books That Use Psychological Techniques to Help Kids. In the article, Smithsonian writer Emily Matcher takes a quick look at The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep and five other books that use suggestions, cues, hypnosis and other techniques to facilitate a variety of reactions in children. Whether it’s going to sleep in the case of the Amazon best-selling self-published title that begins the article, working through PTSD with A Terrible Thing Happened, getting help with anger management with Calm Down Time or Angry Octopus, or dealing with stress by reading Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation, all of these titles employ a kind of embedded technology to produce a desired effect. The other thing that all these titles have in common is that they are selling well. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is currently Amazon’s number one best seller. I find this infuriating for two reasons: First of all, where was this book when my children were young enough that they needed help falling asleep (as opposed to help getting out of bed at a reasonable hour). And secondly, given that haptic interaction is one of the key qualities missing from the experience of reading digitally delivered text, one wonders if electronic publishing could learn something from the success of these titles regarding the idea of embedding technology in the reading experience to deliver an enhanced result for consumers of digitally delivered text. I’m not entirely sure what something like that might look or sound like, but if the mobile phone and video console companies can do it, what’s stopping the manufacturers of e-readers?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

Why does everyone want to be published?

August 25, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I thought you’d like to see this question someone sent me: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY so many writers want to become published authors?”

A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically Keyboardwant to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.

That’s not to say most new writers don’t also have something they want to say — they do. It’s just that many newer writers struggle with having a worthwhile story. Think about it — we all know it takes a while for a writer to become competent. Rarely do you see a novelist get her first completed work contracted. The industry average is five complete books before landing a deal… in other words, if you’re starting out, it will probably be your fifth completed novel before you get a contract. That’s why so many writers give up after one or two — it takes persistence to complete five novels before a publisher will pay attention to your work. So, in my opinion, many writers get into the business as a way to express themselves; as a way to get noticed.

Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and praise their words, but most successful authors discover that fame is not only fleeting, it doesn’t make us better people or better writers. And that, I think, is why so many successful writers I know spend considerable time attempting to improve their craft. In other words, the best writers are always trying to get better.

If that’s true (and it might be too much of a leap for some readers to accept), then the one thing a beginning writer ought to do is to devote himself or herself to improving their craft of writing. As an agent, I see hundreds of manuscripts every year that I reject for representation. Nearly all of these are rejected for one basic reason: the writer simply isn’t good enough. The ideas may be interesting, and the marketing may be slick, but the authors simply aren’t good enough to publish. That’s a message I’ve tried to get into the heads of beginning writers everywhere: Don’t try seeking “the secret” of writing; improve as a writer. I’ve yet to meet a great writer who is not published.

And how does one go about doing that? I don’t think it’s all that complicated – write regularly and expose yourself to great writing. A beginning writer should read widely, and should focus on great, not just popular, writing. A beginning writer should set aside time to write regularly, and should make writing a habit in his or her life. A beginning writer should find someone who can help him or her improve – a writing instructor, a writing mentor, an experienced editor, even a writing critique group, so long as the members can bring some wisdom to bear on the issue of craft.

I know of no other craft that promotes beginners before they are ready. Surely a young pianist doesn’t take a couple lessons and rent a concert hall to present Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini.” A first-year ballet student doesn’t expect to dance the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy. An artist cannot expect to move directly from paint-by-numbers to creating fine portraits. Yet I often meet beginning writers who are hell-bent on publishing “something.” They often have no clue of their motivation or message (though they can dress it up with fancy talk and make it sound like “a calling”). What they really want is to be noticed — to have be able to show someone “I did a book.” So my advice to beginning writers is to study the craft of writing by reading and listening to those who already know it, in order to become more like them.

Now, having said that I realize there are those in the industry (including a couple editorial friends) who disagree with me. They think “market” is more important than “craft.” In other words, “Don’t focus on becoming a good writer, focus on creating a salable book.” I understand that thinking, but I don’t agree with it. Right now ANYBODY can get ANYTHING published. Go to Amazon.com, and you can find a way to get anything (your company reports, your school papers, your nutcase political screeds) into print. Lulu and PublishAmerica and Author Solutions will print anything you send them. We’ve made “becoming an author” into the easiest, most-accessible form of “art.” You may not be able to paint well enough to sell a still life, or sing well enough to be a finalist on American Idol, or dance well enough to get cast in a show… but you CAN become an author!

Well, I’m sorry, but that’s not really legitimate. One of the things that real publishing professionals provide is a filter. There is training and evaluation involved as agents figure out who can write, and editors determine what is valuable, and publishers produce books that offer something of merit. So part of the role of those of us who work in the industry is to strive toward some sort of quality. As I always say, if I were in this strictly for the money, I’d do porn. (It’s cheap, it’s easy, and there’s a huge market for it.) But I can’t make myself go there, since I still think part of my job is to help writers become better, and to help publishers sell good books.

So what’s the motivation? In writing it’s probably to tell a story, I suppose. We write to inform, to entertain, to expose, to convince, to enlighten — there are a ton of motivations. But from a personal perspective, I think every good writer wants to be a great writer.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 55 Comments »

Freeping the Hugos

August 20, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: Freeping the Hugos

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be discussing the upcoming Hugo Awards, freeping, and literary awards in general. This weekend in the seventy-third annual World Science Fiction Convention comes to Spokane, Washington, bringing with it the annual Hugo Awards ceremony, with all the pomp and circumstance one might expect from an awards ceremony. But this year, the awards are somewhat embroiled in a bit of controversy. It seems that a fringe group of conservative sci-fi writers and fans was able to freep (stack the poll results with a swarm of votes) the nomination process for the Hugos and secure nominations for a group of like-minded writers. For an in-depth article on the controversy, click here.

The first question that comes to mind is, “why?” Why would anyone, much less a whole group of people, devote their time and energy to so seemingly pointless an exercise? Are the conservative minority so offended by the ongoing swell of social consciousness invading their beloved genre? Or have they been angry since say 1956, when Heinlein’s thinly-veiled social commentary Double Star won the Hugo for Best Novel? Or are they just angry because authors who don’t look like them (white men) are getting good work published in the genre that is selling and winning awards?

Regardless of the point of the freeping of the Hugos, I’m led to question the value of the awards in general. Are they truly “prestigious”? Do readers “looking for a good science-fiction or fantasy book…look for the distinctive rocket ship logo of the Hugo Award,” as recent NPR coverage claims? I’ve heard that booksellers may be swayed by a titles status as award-winning, and I’ve witnessed firsthand the power an award can have on the translation rights sales process. But, do readers actually care or pay attention to awards?

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments »

The Family Christian Follies

August 17, 2015 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Okay, it’s all settled. After months of arguing, pointing fingers, and making late-night calls that threatened to screw up the entire deal, the country’s largest Christian retail chain is going to remain open. That’s good news for writers (in a way). It’s also a mess (and I’ve reported on it here and here).

Late last week a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) to a “new” entity, called FCS Acquisitions, which happens to be owned by the same folks who owned FCS. The price tag? About $55-million — which is interesting, since FCS owed about $127-million. So by going through a Chapter 11, they shed millions of dollars in leases, rent contracts, loans — oh, and debts to publishers. According to two sources, Credit Suisse (the largest of the creditors owed money, and the bank that kept FCS in business with a huge loan a few years ago) will be paid roughly 17.5% of what it’s owed.

Publishers, on the other hand, who were owed roughly $14-million, will be paid about 15% of what is owed them. Several publishers, including Baker, Harvest House, Tyndale, B&H, Crossway, Barbour, and others, are taking huge losses — many in the half-million dollar range. HarperCollins is having to write off millions. Gospel Light Publishing had to file for bankruptcy. And this means authors, whose books will be sold from store shelves, won’t actually receive any royalty from those sales because the publishers will never be paid for the books they shipped. I also heard from at least two suppliers that were going out of business because of the money that had tied up in products FCS took in and will never pay them for. And, despite their claim that all 266 stores will remain open and nobody will lose their job, estimates are that they’ll close at least 20 stores. It’s been a total black eye for Christian publishing.

So what was the response of the guys running Family Christian Stores? Did they apologize to suppliers for cheating them out of product, or to publishers for ordering books they knew they’d never be able to pay for? Did they do an interview, hat in hand, telling of their remorse over their past mistakes? Um… not exactly: “We can celebrate!” exclaimed CEO Chuck Bengochea, apparently checking in from the planet Mars. “God has a plan for Family Christian!” Yes — and hopefully that plan includes arranging to have the company run by people who can actually make money and pay their bills, and who won’t cheat their suppliers.

Okay, I’ve been accused of being too hard on the FCS brass. Maybe I am, though I’m just trying to report as I see the facts. The creditors voted 162 to 7 to take this deal, so while I doubt any of them are doing the Bengochea Happy Dance, it’s safe to assume most of them must have come to the conclusion that getting something is better than getting nothing. (The only other bidder in the proceedings was the combination of Hilco and Gordon Brothers, who take over distressed businesses, liquidate the inventory, and close the stores.) The fact is, I’m glad they are staying in business. Family Christian is one of the few chains that has great shelf space available to Christian books, and I represent a lot of Christian books. I genuinely hope the stores remain open, do well, and sell LOTS of books. But… this has been a mess, and I’ve been surprised the media hasn’t made more noise about it. I mean, we’ve had (1) FCS promising to donate all their profits to widows and orphans; (2) the owner of FCS insisting he be paid before his suppliers; (3) the owner try to buy back his company on the cheap, only to have the judge reject the whole proceeding as flawed; (4) the CEO of the company get reprimanded by the judge for calling the owner late at night in the midst to the proceedings to work an insider deal, nearly throwing the whole plan into chaos; and (5) vendors claiming FCS was taking in product up until the last moment, knowing full well they’d never be able to pay for it. In other words, it hasn’t exactly been our best hour.

But, um, yeah — we can certainly celebrate. I’ll celebrate that writers in CBA still have some brick-and-mortar store shelves to sell books from. I’ll celebrate that publishers in CBA showed enough grace that they were still willing to work with people who took their product and sold it but never paid for it. And I’ll celebrate that, at least for the time being, there will still be a chain of stores that aren’t owned by a denomination, so readers can find books that aren’t in a very limited theological window. But I’ll also remember that a lot of people didn’t get paid, some lost their jobs, and others lost their entire companies. So forgive me if I don’t go all Bengochea over the news.

Posted in Current Affairs | 24 Comments »

Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood

August 13, 2015 | Written by Marie Prys

Publishing & Technology: Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood

Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

This week in Publishing & Technology I’m not writing about technology. I’ve just come off my first appearance as an agent at the venerable Willamette Writer’s Conference and, though I had an excellent time hanging out with writers and other industry professionals, I’m afraid that I’m just too mentally exhausted to do any meaningful research into what is happening in publishing at the moment. It’s as if I was deep, deep in the ocean, under the relentless pressure of a six eight-minute pitches an hour, every hour, from nine in the morning to five in the evening for three days straight, and after all that, I came up for air too fast and developed a case of what feels like the bends.

I know, if I were still working for a living (and I mean with a shovel), I’d probably scoff at the idea of being exhausted after three days at a writing conference. But, I’m not lying when I say that it can be completely tiring hanging out with several hundred introverts all doing their best to be extroverted enough to sell their work to agents, editors, and the like. And to have so many of them pay to sit in front of me and try valiantly to explain their plots and characters and platforms was both disheartening and absolutely beautiful at the same time. The least I can do to honor their courage is to offer up one little insight that I have for authors as I walk away from this experience for the first time.

My one insight: Anyone that tells that there is one perfect way to pitch your novel to agents and acquiring editors is either a hopeless fool or selling something. Agents and acquiring editors are individuals. They have varying tastes, different communication styles, etc. Sure, commit a few facts about your manuscript to memory. Facts like word count, whether the manuscript is complete or not, the point of view you employ, descriptions of the setting, the protagonist, and other key characters, are all great ways to get the conversation started. But, sitting down in front of a prospective buyer and rattling off (or reading aloud) something that sounds like the VO to a bad horror movie trailer can’t possibly be helping your efforts to sell your book. Also, don’t get offended if the prospective buyer interrupts you to ask clarifying questions, etc. They want to understand what you’re talking about.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments »