Writing Effective Dialogue: Unnecessary Quotation Marks

July 22, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wI’m traveling today, so I’m postponing part three in my dialogue series for next week. I’ll probably talk more about correct use of quotation marks at some point in the future, but today I wanted to quickly warn you once and for all against using quotation marks for “emphasis.” You’ve all seen it on signage, a use of quotation marks that makes you “strongly” question the author’s “meaning.” If you don’t know what I mean, take a look at this fine collection of examples, courtesy of Distractify.

 

What’s the worst example of misused quotation marks you’ve seen?

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Ten ideas for book marketing you (maybe) haven’t thought of…

July 21, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone emailed me and said, “I feel like I keep hearing the same stuff when it comes to book marketing. What if you did a post where you offered some NEW ideas? What would you say are the things we haven’t thought of?”
Okay, I’ll take you up on the challenge. Here are ten things authors ought to know about book marketing, but many don’t…
1. When selling your book, don’t just limit yourself to Amazon.  Sure, they’re the biggest ebook retailer and the research suggests they probably sell about 60% of all digital books… but that means 40% of the market is buying their books elsewhere. So get your book onto B&N.com, get it into the iBookstore, make it available at the Kobe bookstore (which is just starting here in the States, but a big deal in Europe and Asia). If you work with Smashwords, they’ll get your book onto all those other sites, by the way.
2. Insert ads into the back of your current backlisted ebooks, promoting your new, soon-to-release title. It’s called “cross-selling,” and you need to be thinking about it. Sticking an ad for you new book into the back of your current one helps get the word out to people who are already reading you, and build interest in your title as it launches. Most authors won’t do this because it’s a pain, sticking in a new page in the back of all their old books. But it works – it helps you sell books.
3. If you want to become a smarter marketer, track your current marketing. If you keep track of your blog numbers, for example, you’ll begin to see what topics generate readers. But many authors never really check to see which marketing is working and which is not. They do the things they are comfortable with, instead of doing the things that their research has proven effective. Does your social media activity generate interest? Does offering something for free on your website generate a bunch of requests? Does having a contest create excitement and sales? In my experience, most authors think they know, but many haven’t actually tracked the data to find out what really works when it come to marketing their books.
4. Have a “buy” link for you book on your blog, your website, your social media, and anything that brings readers to you. Giving potential readers a clear path to walk on, a clear method to purchase your book, is part of good marketing, and it’s a part that is often overlooked. Many authors want to focus on getting the message of their book out, but they need to also focus on making it clear to everyone who visits how to purchase a copy. Make it easy for them.
5. Try bundling some books for a short time. Take three of your books and sell a three-in-one for the price of one book. Sure, you’re giving up money on a couple of sales, but those may be sales you wouldn’t make because readers are looking for value. Often “value readers” will buy a bundle because they see it as a deal too good to pass up — so you’ve made a sale you otherwise would not have made.
6. Buy an ad. I know… all those Amazon authors have told you that you don’t NEED to buy an ad for an ebook. They’re all telling you to get onto Facebook and do more social media. But we’re still a visual, ad-based culture. So check out the cost of BookBub or RT or BookRiot. Check out the cost of working with Google or BlogAds. Explore what they’re doing on One Hundred Free Books. Publicity is marketing that is free; advertising is marketing that is paid for. Sometimes it’s worth it to invest in the advertising side of things.
7. Share the facts of your book with your non-social-media network. Yeah, yeah, you’re tweeting and sticking stuff onto Pinterest and you’ve set up a Facebook page. But what networks do you belong to that might be interested in the fact your wrote a book? Have you had done a talk at your church about your book? Did you send something to everybody in your alumni association? Contact your local radio stations to suggest an interview? Propose a “local boy makes good” article in your local newspaper? Offer to speak to the local Rotary and Kiwanis clubs?
8. Work with other writers who you know are completing books and create a sampler. It will have the first chapter or two of your book, and maybe samples of half a dozen other writers in the same genre. Then you give it away for free to as many people as possible. You could even print up copies very cheaply through Lulu and hand them out. But whether digital or print, make sure you have a clear method for the reader to purchase the rest of your book.
9. Drop the price to 99 cents for a few days. I’m not one who is crazy about giving away a ton of copies any more — I think there are readers out there with a ton of unread free ebooks on their kindles. But take your ebook and make it really cheap for a few days… so cheap that readers just can’t say no. Don’t leave it sitting there at one price forever. Do the occasional daily deal. Or do a holiday weekend deal. Mix it up a bit, which will force you to stay on top of it.
10. Throw yourself a party when you  bat .300. (I realize not everybody understands what I’m talking about, so stay with me.) In baseball, every time a batter goes to the plate, they keep a statistic called an “at bat.” If a player goes to the plate ten times over the course of a couple games, and gets three hits, he or she is batting .300. That means they failed seventy per cent of the time, but they succeed thirty per cent. Understand the math? Over the course of the season, any batter who gets a hit thirty per cent of the time, and has a batting average of .300 will be considered a HUGE success. A player who batted .300 for an entire career is almost sure to land in the Hall of Fame. In other words, guys who fail seventy per cent of the time at the key element of their sport are considered heroes. (Think about this: The last guy to hit .400 in a season was Ted Williams, arguable the best hitter ever, and that was back in 1941. He failed at the plate sixty per cent of the time… and nobody has been able to duplicate his record in more than seventy years!) So if about 30% of the stuff you do seems to work, throw yourself a party. Don’t sweat the 70% that didn’t work — focus on the 30% that DID. Then go repeat it.
What marketing wisdom would you have for other authors?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 3 Comments »

Come join us August 24 for our marketing seminar!

July 19, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

On SUNDAY, August 24, we’re going to try something new… The MacGregor Marketing Seminar, a LIVE version of Amanda’s wonderful marketing information, set into a seminar format. Amanda and I will be in Nashville, at the Airport Embassy Suites, from 9 to 4, talking with authors about how to create a marketing plan for their books. Here’s what our outline looks like:

— The New World of Author Marketing — What’s Working (and not working) in Today’s Market
— Creating a Marketing Plan for Your Novel or Nonfiction Book
— Maximizing Your Marketing Reach
— Finding Your Audience and Reaching Your Readers
— Building Your Author Platform (we are bringing in a specialist to offer some advice and direction)
— Choosing the Tools You’ll Use to Promote Your Book
— Getting Recognized in Today’s Market
— The Traditional Marketer, the Freelance Marketer, and the Indie Marketer

We’ll also get into a bunch of discussions on related topics — one of the most fun aspects of doing this type of seminar is the chance to talk with other authors who are going through the marketing process. But that’s our basic outline for the day, and we’d love to have you join us!

The cost is just $99 for the entire day, if you register in July (it will go up on August 1). Again, the focus of this day will be on doing something PRACTICAL — not on theory or on promoting a product. We just wanted to get authors together and have time to explore how an author can create his or her own marketing plan by focusing on ideas that actually work, so the emphasis will on on what an author can take and do, rather than on theory or philosophy. We hope you’ll join us. Please let me know if you plan to come by RSVPing me. Thanks, and we hope to see you in Nashville on August 24.

-Chip MacGregor
chip@macgregorliterary.com

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 0 Comments »

Point of View (a guest blog)

July 18, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

In the past few months, I have done developmental edits, line edits, or rewrites on over twenty novels, and assessed at least a dozen more for marketability. I’m now partially blind in one eye, and I occasionally twitch for no reason, but it’s been time well spent, working with some amazing storytellers.

If you are in the midst of writing your own novel, you might find it interesting that the most common editorial issue I encounter is the inconsistent use of point of view. I know it can be hard to maintain in longer manuscripts, which I view as a normal writing stumble — and job security. But I think sometimes newer authors are making pov mistakes repeatedly because they are not considering the flow of action and thought from the reader’s perspective, how illogical shifts can be disorienting.

“I tucked the gun in my pocket, walked in the office and shut the door, leaving Jim in the hallway. I noticed the raincoat on the floor beside the desk. Jim opened the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the raincoat.”

This first person voice cannot see through walls or read minds (at least not in this story), so how does he know Jim is digging through the closet? He might know he TOLD Jim to dig through the closet, but Jim could just as easily have been distracted by a donut sitting on top of the waste basket. Of course, this also holds true if perspective shift happens in a third person narrative.

“Todd tucked the gun in his pocket, walked in to the office and shut the door, leaving Jim in the hallway. Jim opened the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the one piece of evidence that might save his life.”

Yes, there is such a thing as distant, omniscient third person point of view where this last example might work, though I would still transition the reader from the office to the hallway, adding something like, “Jim frowned at the closed door. Not knowing Todd had found the coat, Jim walked across the hall to the secretary’s closet . . .”

However, in my humble opinion, the bulk of books being picked up by traditional publishers today are using first person point of view, or third person point of view told from the perspective of one character at a time. Shifts in view point are visually cued by extra space breaks, with or without something like this ********, or by starting a new chapter. Luckily for most authors, these two pov’s are the easiest to maintain.

“Todd tucked the gun in his pocket, walked in the office and shut the door, leaving Jim the hallway.

********

Jim frowned at the closed door. Not knowing Todd had found the coat, Jim walked across the hall to the secretary’s closet, moving old jackets and sweaters aside as he searched for the one piece of evidence that might save his life.”

New authors struggle with consistent pov more than the varsity players but no matter your level of expertise, if you’ve just kicked out a 300-page document, you might want to do a re-read with point of view in mind. Sometimes the shift is just in one paragraph, sometimes it’s a bigger chunk. If you are sticking with the distant third person pov, think about how the movement from character to character is being transitioned for your readers. For good examples, read classic authors who have used this perspective beautifully. You know, Dostoevsky. Marquez.

Of course, it’s not as if the occasional misstep with a viewpoint is the end of the world, not when you’ve got professional editors on stand-by via the amazing world of the internet. As an editor, I am certainly not discussing pov errors here because I’m trying to be smug or condescending, not when I’ve gone through the process myself. I like reading un-polished manuscripts. I like helping other authors with the finishing steps. I appreciate the behind the scenes, down in the mud, hard work that it takes for an author to produce a story, especially one of merit. I think most professional editors feel this way.

I wish you all the best of luck in your writing journey. Break a pen!

 

Published author Holly Lorincz is also the owner of a successful editing and publishing consultation business. See literaryconsulting.com. for more details.headshot-sepia-copy

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: I’ve Done Everything to Market My Book and No One is Buying It

July 17, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

2013amanda2Amanda 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.

Ever paid for a book ad that did nothing for your sales numbers? Or maybe you scheduled some book signings that saw only a handful of people in attendance. Or you ran a giveaway only to see a few measly entries. Or you got some big-name Tweeter to give your book a shout-out, but it resulted in … crickets.

Sound familiar?

I wish I could say that marketing, no matter what the strategy, always pays off, but I can’t. Many times, authors find themselves spinning their wheels, frantically trying this or that, hoping that SOMETHING will stick. And you know what? Large companies do the same thing. Sure, they have the money that allows them to have some marketing successes, but for the most part, marketing is a gamble. It’s a risk. It’s time and investment in a strategy that no one can be sure will pay off.

If you’re a self-published author, you have a much better scenario going for you, because you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck, waiting for those sales to hit.

If you’re a trad-pub author, well… Sure, you get a boost from store distribution and a some other perks the publisher may off you, but if sales are bad you have to deal with the fact that your publisher may not want to do another book with you right away…or they may be talking about putting your book out of print…or they may…just…go… dark…

So what do you do in this time of frustration and panic?

First, remember these things:

  1. It’s likely that your marketing efforts made your sales better than they would have been had you done nothing at all. So yeah, 2000 copies sold probably feels pretty dismal…but it’s a whole lot better than 1200 copies sold.
  2. You’re planting seeds and cultivating relationships. We live in a world in which consumers want to have a relationship with the brands and artists that they enjoy. By being present on social media and doing some other promo things, you’re getting those relationships started. Keep at it, and it will pay off.
  3. A tiny number of first-time authors see great sales. A majority of authors have to get a few books under their belt before they hit their stride and begin to see a fanbase take place. So keep that in mind when you’re beating yourself up over the small sales of your first or second book.
  4. Your publisher is not the beginning and end of your career. And neither is your agent. You may get dumped by either one if you have (and keep having) low sales numbers. But that does NOT mean you’re down for the count. Other agents and publishers may be interested in you! Remember: just because one publisher failed to give you wings, doesn’t mean that it’s a lost cause. All publishers know this. What doesn’t work for one house may work for another. And of course there is always the self-pub option should you want to go that route.
  5. You’re not alone. I think every author feels like they’re failing in one way or another. Like they’re getting the bad end of the deal or like they don’t know what they’re doing. But they don’t want anyone to know this! So when authors get together, they tend to make everything sound great. Greater than great, even. They will say things like “my agent got me blah blah blah” and “my publisher is doing this or that” and “I demanded x and they delivered” and “I found out that if you do y, then you get z!” Basically, everyone acts like they’ve got it figured out and that this publishing thing comes easily for them. But as an agent, let me tell you…every author feels a bit of panic. Every author wonders if they’re doing it right. Every author has a list of things that they’d change or would do-over or are just plain nervous about. And every author is worried about sales…maybe not every moment of every day, but even authors who are wildly successful have a fear that things will suddenly go south. It’s only human. So remember…YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Even if it feels like you are.

Feel better? I hope so. Though I know there are a few of you who are like “okay this is great and all, but tell me what to DO.” So for those of you who are practical to a fault (myself included!), here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if perhaps your marketing train is a bit off track:

1. Have I been limiting promotions to friends and family? If yes, then this is a problem. Friends and family will make the decision to buy (or not buy) your book within the first months of release. So if you are still targeting them four months after the book has come out, you’re wasting your time. It’s now time to find new audiences. New readers.

2. Have I been spreading promotions out over time instead of hitting it hard? If yes, then this is a problem. Some authors do an ad here, a radio spot there, a blog post here, an event there. This can lead to low sales, because consumers rarely buy books on impulse. Instead, they buy books that they have heard/seen/read a lot about. So you want your marketing to hit it hard, providing lots of potential touch points with your readers. This will get them to buy.

3. Have I been too quiet about my book? If yes, then this is a problem. Tell people you have a book! Most are really excited to hear such news.

4. Have I been “creating” more content instead of promoting what I already have? If yes, then this is a problem. When marketing, it’s tempting to create materials in an attempt to use them for marketing…but then you discover that you have to market the materials that you created! Videos, digital short stories, PDF downloads…all of these require their own marketing plans. They aren’t a marketing plan in and of themselves.

5. Have I been ignoring the data? If yes, then this is a problem. Sometimes it’s impossible to know what has succeeded and what has failed in terms of marketing. But by analyzing sales rankings and Google Analytics, you’ll get a pretty good idea! If you aren’t monitoring these things, then you run the risk of spending time repeating tactics that don’t work.

How do you deal with these kinds of author burdens? Any tips on handling the pressure?

Posted in Career, Marketing and Platforms, The Business of Writing | 9 Comments »

Can you explain how my agent gets paid?

July 16, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain how an agent gets paid? Does the publisher send the author’s checks to the agent? Or does the money go to the author, who writes the agent a check? And is all this done before or after taxes?”

Happy to explain this. Traditionally, when it was time for the publisher to send money, they would send the entire amount to the agent, who would then deduct his or her commission (the standard is 15%) and send a check for the balance to the author within ten days. This was the system that was in place for years, and many agencies still work with that system. The strength of it is that the agent knows the author has been paid, and paid the full amount. This is all pre-tax money, so at the end of the year the agent would send a 10-99 form to the author, detailing how much money was paid.

When I started working as an agent 15 years ago, I was working for Alive Communications in Colorado, and they used a different system — divided payments. With that system, the publisher cuts TWO checks. The first is sent directly to the author, for 85% of the deal. The second is sent to the agent, for 15% (along with some sort of evidence that the author has been paid his or her amount). To my way of thinking, that was a better system. The author got paid faster. There was less bookkeeping for me. I didn’t have to fill out the 10-99′s. And, most importantly, I would never get a phone call from an author saying, “Hey, you big doofus — the publisher says they sent you my money two weeks ago! Where’s my check?!” I’ve found too many fights in business occur over money, and I prefer that the authors I represent feel as though we’re on the same side, and we have no reason to fight over money. (That’s why I’ve never charged back any expenses to an author… I don’t want to have to call anyone and say, “Um, gee, do you think you could maybe send me that seventeen dollars and fifty-two cents?”) So when I started my own company eight years ago, I decided to keep in place the “divided payments” system.

Both work. Neither is better than the other — they’re just different. Think of it like this: some agents are great at editorial work, others are great at contracts and negotiations, others are really strong at marketing, others are strongest at career development. Nobody is great at everything, and you want to find the agent that fits your style. It’s the same way with payments — either system can work well. I use the one I’m most comfortable with.

By the way, I’ve occasionally heard other agents say that not everyone will do divided payments. But in my 15 years of doing this full time, I’ve had exactly ONE US publisher refuse to cut two checks (it was Overlook, a fine small publishing house in New York, and the woman who bitched and moaned about it there retired soon after that deal was done). Few of the foreign publishers want to be bothered with cutting two checks, so if your agent is doing foreign deals, that money will most likely be paid to the agency and forwarded on to you.

Back to getting paid: Publishers used to all pay your advance half on signing, half on delivery. Now most pay a third on signing, a third on delivery, and a third on publication (with the people at Random House fighting to pay a quarter on signing, a quarter on delivery, a quarter on publication, and a quarter when the book flips from hardcover to trade paper… sigh… another sign of the apocalypse — they’ll soon be asking for a quarter to be paid upon the CEO becoming eligible for social security, no doubt). Of course, an advance is all recoupable against your royalties, so with each book sold some money is credited to your account. You earn back your advance with royalties, then when the book earns out the publisher starts setting your money aside and will send it to you either quarterly or semi-annually, depending on your contract.

What other questions do you have about the money side of book publishing?

Posted in Agents, The Business of Writing | 3 Comments »

Writing Effective Dialogue: Part 2, The Sooner the Better?

July 15, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wIf you caught last Tuesday’s post, you’ll know I’m spending a few weeks talking about good dialogue in fiction– how to write it, how not to write it, how to recognize it, and who does it well.

One of the suggestions I often make when reading manuscripts is for the author to use dialogue earlier. In general, the more pages that pass without hearing a character speak, the more distanced I feel from her and the longer it takes for me to engage with/care about her. The most common source of this problem seems to be the author’s compulsion to tell the reader EVERYTHING he knows about a character right away. I’ve lost track of how many manuscripts I’ve read that started out with a literal biography of the main character from childhood to the events of the story– what she was like in high school, how many relationships she’s been in, what her friends are like, what her work history is, etc . While it’s important for the author to know all this so he can write intelligently about the character, the reader doesn’t need to find out all the background info at once (or ever, in some cases). My favorite way to get to know a character is to hear him talk and to see how he interacts with other characters and his environment; to be dropped in the middle of this character living and breathing rather than shown his baby album and medical records, and so I frequently encourage authors to examine whether they need to pare down their opening content in order to get to the first “live” scene sooner. Now, obviously I’m not saying there’s a hard-and-fast rule for how early in a manuscript dialogue should appear, or that you should manufacture some if it’s not a natural place for it, but how do you make that call? Though by no means a comprehensive list, here are some scenarios I’ve encountered where I don’t miss early dialogue.

  • First-person narration. In a book written in first-person, we get to hear one of the characters speak right off the bat– he’s talking to us even if we don’t hear him converse with other characters immediately, and we start to pick up on his voice and personality right away. Even in a first-person novel, however, it can get boring to be listening to a single character’s thoughts and voice for too long, so be careful not to get stuck in narration mode. A first-person narrator shouldn’t be used as an excuse to info-dump for ten pages. Examples of books which do this well include A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving, To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, and Rebecca, by Daphne DuMaurier. In each book, we spend pages, or even chapters, with the narrator before the first line of dialogue appears.
  • Vital description/background information. I’m not talking about the “Mary was popular in high school but never had a steady boyfriend” kind of background info, or the hair color/eye color/outfit of your main character, but description/background that immediately lets your reader know what kind of universe your story is taking place in and how to interpret the events that are about to take place. The opening chapter of The Scarlet Pimpernel comes to mind, in which five pages of third-person description and background info on the events taking place in Paris in September of 1792 precede the first line of dialogue. We don’t miss the dialogue, however, because the information we’re given is calculated to excite our interest in the plight of the aristos and make us aware of the dangerous world the story takes place in. A novel in which the context of the historical or geographical setting is vital to understanding the stakes of the opening events or the motivation of the main character may be better served beginning with compelling description or well-chosen history rather than a conversation manufactured for the sake of getting dialogue in early.
  • Establishing tone/author voice. Certain genres of fiction lend themselves to long dialogue droughts better than others. Suspense and mystery novels often open with a third-person account of a sinister event or a foreboding setting, and humorous novels can get away with pages and pages of even trivial description or meandering background info if the delivery is funny and helps establish the author’s voice and sense of humor. These tone-setting openings serve the same purpose as vital geographical or historical description; they help the reader to understand the universe in which the story takes place and what rules the author is going to be playing by which helps us connect to the characters more quickly when we do get to see/hear them.

Even though these exceptions to the “rule” of early dialogue are obviously used extremely effectively by many authors, the essentials of storytelling I referenced last week remain true: stories are told in action and dialogue. More specifically, characters are revealed through dialogue, and readers connect with characters through dialogue. If your novel starts with three or four pages of dialogue drought that don’t fall into one of the categories discussed above, you may want to consider weeding out the excess set-up and letting the reader see your characters in action a little sooner. It may keep an agent or editor reading longer!

I’ll talk more next week about naturally occurring and natural-vs.-realistic dialogue, but if you have examples of authors who do a good job drawing the reader into a story by using dialogue up front, or of authors who successfully delay dialogue use, share them in the comments.

Posted in Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: “If I already have an offer, do I need an agent?”

July 14, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote me to say, “I was just offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”

There’s quite a debate about this issue. I know several agents who would say, “If you already have an offer — call me!” I mean, they’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But I have some doubts about the value in that type of situation. Let’s say you got a contract offer featuring a $10,000 advance. If the agent steps in, he or she takes $1500. Is the value of their work worth that? You can ask a contract service to review your contract for around $500. (But be careful… there are good and bad authors, good and bad agents, and good and bad contract review services. Make sure to ask questions, so you get someone who knows what they’re doing and has done it before.) A contract service won’t negotiate for you or improve the deal — they simply evaluate and report back to you. So if you have a bunch to negotiate this may not be your best choice.

You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be cautious — they’re generally paid by the increment, usually by the six-minute increment for every phone call, email, conversation, or reading you ask them to do. It can add up fast. A good attorney can certainly help, and should be able to strengthen the contract. But in my experience you want to be careful who you’re working with — I’ve had too many situations where the goal of the attorney seemed to be nothing more than to keep the clock moving (though expect some attorney to come onto the comments to claim that never happens). The longer it takes them, the more they are paid. I know of several authors who ended up paying more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars. Yikes. Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract — the guy doing grandma’s estate or your last real estate closing probably doesn’t know much about current publishing contracts.

As for getting an agent, I would say that you want to make sure the agent actually does something to earn the commission. He didn’t help craft the idea, didn’t help you polish the proposal, didn’t shop it to editors, so ask what exactly he’s going to do in order to bring value. Review the contract? Negotiate better wording and royalties? Assist with marketing? Shop your dramatic and foreign rights? Handle potentially sticky situations? Help with long-term career advice? Assist with other services, such as helping you self-publish your backlist? I’ve often had authors come to me with offers in hand, and I’ve frequently told them to pay for a contract evaluation, since it’s less money. I have sometimes agreed to take on an author, but usually for a reduced commission. And I would encourage you to think long term — Is there someone you want to work with? Is there an agent you like and trust, who can help you with your career, and not just this book deal? A good agent may be willing to take less in order to work with you. My advice: I don’t think it’s fair for me to take the full commission on a book I didn’t sell, but not every agent out there agrees with me, so talk with others and solicit some opinions. Congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.

By the way, on a related note, someone asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?

Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor co-worker, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their opening web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse, since it’s too easy for a slimy agent to say to every author, “Hey, this has potential — let our editor work on this for a fee!” It turns authors into marks. Look, I have a bunch of freelance editor friends, and I will frequently say to writers, “This needs considerable editing. I can send you the names of some editors I trust, but what you work out with them is between you and the editor.” I don’t get a fee for recommending anyone, so I’ll send them three to six names of editors who are probably a fit for their type of manuscript. But we’re not an editorial service, and we don’t charge for that type of work. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent.

And, since I”m on a roll, one other question: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”

This is another one I can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork. Let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about the interest, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with one of those publishers I was just selling your work to. But I’ve seen the situation you’re describing a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.

Posted in Agents, Career, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 7 Comments »

Does a beginning writer need an agent? (and other questions from authors)

July 11, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to ask, “In your opinion, does a beginning writer need an agent?”

In my view, it depends on the writer. There are some authors who are well connected in the industry, don’t mind dealing with contracts and negotiations, understand career direction, and can survive without an agent. But in my experience, it’s rare to do those things well while maintaining a writing career. I used to tell people that I’m not an evangelist for agents, and over the past 15 years or so I’ve tried to maintain a balance — I haven’t always believed that every writer needs an agent in order to succeed. But in light of all the changing issues in publishing today, I’m now changing my tune. Most legacy publishers require you to have an agent or they won’t look at your material. And most traditional publishers have moved toward relying on agents to be the first filter in the system, reviewing proposals and weeding out the chaff. Working with an agent professionalizes the relationship — an agent is not as emotionally tied to a work as an author, so he or she can be more dispassionate about discussing a project, and the agent is going to be more familiar with the business of contracts, so ostensibly things will move along better for both sides.

I recognize that some have said the future is in self-publishing, so that means authors won’t need agents. I think that’s completely wrong-headed. If you’re going to be responsible for your book, you might think about working with someone who knows the industry already and can help you. Think of the way realtors have changed the home buying market: You can still sell your home by owner, but it’s gotten considerably more complex to do so. You’ve got to know the market, understand how to show your home, know how to get the word out, feel comfortable negotiating a price, and perhaps most importantly, understand how to fill out the mountain of paperwork that goes along with every home sale. (My wife and I sold three homes on our own, and another five homes through realtors, so I understand the difference a professional can make to a deal.) There are still plenty of small publishing houses that prefer to work directly with the author, but any publisher of size will want to work through an agent. And if you’re going to go indie, an a good agent ought to be able to help with your career, your self-publishing decisions, your marketing, your dramatic rights, and your foreign and other sub rights.

All of that leads to the question, “How will I know I need an agent?”

If you’re a novelist, but you don’t have a completed manuscript yet, you probably do not need an agent. (And, to be completely honest about it, you’d have a tough time landing an agent.) Most fiction writers will need a polished draft of their first manuscript completed before landing an agent. If you’re a nonfiction writer, having a great idea and great writing in a proposal is essential, and bringing some sort of strong platform to the table will help a lot. The bottom line is this: if you have something that is worth selling, then unless you know how to sell it and who to sell it to, you maybe be out of your depth and need an agent. If you have a great book idea and a solid proposal, you probably should at least consider interviewing potential literary agents. Again, you can learn to do some of this on your own, if you want to put the time in.

And that leads to the obvious question, “What should an agent do for me?”

The answer depends on your needs. My relationship with one of my authors (say, bestselling novelist Vince Zandri) is quite different from my relationship with another one of my authors (let’s say a first-time nonfiction writer). Each author is going to have a unique set of needs. But, generally speaking, an agent should help you evaluate ideas and discuss publishing trends and the salability of your manuscript. He or she should help you create a dynamite proposal, tweaking it as necessary and working with you to make the writing as strong as possible. (You get one shot with a publishing house, so don’t turn something in that’s only 80% ready.) A good agent will help you improve your work, understand the industry, suggest editing or writing help if you need it, introduce your work to key acquisition people, and sell your proposal for you. He or she will negotiate a good deal on your behalf, paying special attention to key contract issues, and help you create a partnership with your publisher. The agent should ensure contract compliance, help you maximize your marketing opportunities (something that’s becoming more important in the current marketplace), be a pain when you need someone to kick things into gear, read a royalty statement and spot errors, be your biggest fan and encourager, and work through your marketing plan with you. Most importantly (at least in my view), a good agent should assist you with career planning, champion your projects, and grow with you over time.

So the follow-up question probably needs to be, “What do YOU need in an agent?” Because your needs may be very different from your friend’s needs. And every agent is different. Some are great editors. Others are great contract people. Some are basically sales people. Others are negotiators. And still others are life coaches. If you figure out what you need most from an agent, you’ll be better equipped to find the agent that’s right for you.

I recently had someone send me this question: “I feel stuck — you can’t get an agent unless you’re published, but you can’t get published without an agent. Help! What’s the best way to go about finding an agent?”

You’re right — it’s not fair, and you’re screwed. Sorry! The most important step in finding the literary agent that’s right for you is to make sure you’ve got a great idea, expressed through great writing, and you can back it all up with a strong platform. Those are probably the first things you need to have completed. Once you’re ready to start looking for an agent, you can begin by looking in any of the “find an agent” books that are on the market. Check with Writers Digest books, and look at B&N for a book that lists literary agencies. Next, you can meet agents at writer’s conferences, book shows, or at publishing functions like BEA or ICRS. These are still the best places to get 15 minutes of face-time with an agent. It allows you to get a feel for him or her, and see if you think the two of you might work together. At some writers’ conferences, you can send in your material ahead of time and sign up for an appointment. If you’re going to do that, remember to create a good presentation — after all, you are selling yourself. Put together a cover letter that tells about your life and work. Include your previous writing and book sales. Show the agent a great proposal, and make sure it’s as strong as you can make it. Be ready to talk about yourself, your books, your ideas, and your platform. An author who shows huge potential for the future is much more likely to garner interest from a good agent.

Got a question for a literary agent? Send it to Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com and I’ll get you an answer. It may or may not be correct, but at least it will be an answer.

Posted in Agents, Career, The Business of Writing | 5 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Musts for an Author Website

July 10, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

2013amanda2Amanda 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.

Websites…every author should have one. They are your central hub; your validation point. They are what will tell the world that you’re up and running and serious about this writing thing and that you aren’t going anywhere soon. All because you have a website.

It may seem silly, but that’s how we view these online spaces. They have a way of making everything OFFICIAL in a way that Facebook and Twitter and Google+ can’t. Weird, yes. But it’s true. I mean how many times have you googled a band, a company, a service provider and winced at the fact that while they may have a million Yelp recommendations or a slew of Facebook follows, they don’t have a site?

There’s something about a website…it’s like an online stamp of approval. And so yes, every author should have one. In the past I’ve talked about the components of a website, and I also touch on this in my book, but I wanted to provide a down and dirty list of 5 MUSTS FOR AN AUTHOR WEBSITE.

My hope is that you’ll spend the weekend adjusting your site to hit on each of these five things.

  1. LINKS TO SOCIAL MEDIA. Take a look at your site’s home page. Is there a clear way for visitors to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram? Do you have those buttons clearly displayed? This is important, because you don’t know how your fans will want to interact with you. When they show up to your site, it’s an opportunity to get them to connect on a more intimate level. So, you want your social media links front and center.
  2. PLEASANT IMAGES AND DESIGN. It doesn’t need to be expensive or overly fancy, but your site should be a space that is pleasing to look at. The colors and fonts should be up to date (don’t be like Joe Lando), and your author photo should be somewhere within the site. These days it’s easy to find beautiful site templates that can be used on WordPress and other similar sites. And many times, they’re either free or less than $100 to purchase.
  3. AN ACTIVE SITE. I have a weird opinion on blogs…I think they are the single most time-consuming, difficult thing you can do to try and grow a platform. So no, I don’t recommend that your blog be your sole marketing focus. BUT! Blogs come in handy when it comes to getting your site ranked well on Google (SEO), and they also do wonders for making your site appear lived-in. By updating your blog at least once a week, you’re proving that you actually spend time on your site. You’re a living, breathing author and you want to interact with fans! Another way to keep your site looking alive and well is to adjust the text from time to time. Keep an updated calendar of events, and adjust the home page wording to reflect different times of year, or different promos/events. This will make your site come across as an active space.
  4. INCENTIVE TO VISIT. While updating your blog and making your site feel lived-in will give some incentive for visitors to return, you really want to have other dangling carrots. Consider your audience and your brand, and determine what you have to offer that will get people coming back for more. For some, having a great blog will be the key factor here. For others, they may find success with offering PDF downloads that are updated every quarter or so. Or maybe their speaking schedule/tour is enough to get people coming back to check in. OR, maybe for the nonfiction author, the site could have video curriculum that can be used in conjunction with the book…thus giving readers a reason to visit over and over again. The idea is to keep them coming back, and to avoid having a site that can be visited once and then forgotten about.
  5. GOOGLE ANALYTICS. All of the above will be for naught if you aren’t tracking your numbers. I can’t stress how important a program like Google Analytics is to an author site. It will not only tell you how many visitors you’ve had, but it will show you how the visitors got there…what search terms they’re using to find your site, what social media programs they’re using to connect with you, and what kinds of posts have received the most hits. Google Analytics provides an unlimited source of knowledge. You can truly know your visitors, thanks to this program, and in turn, you can cater your blog and site to better meet their needs. Thus increasing traffic and, yes, GROWING YOUR NUMBERS!

Those are my five tips on having a great author website.

What are your tips? Or what are your website struggles?

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Web/Tech | 10 Comments »