The Work of It (a guest blog)

October 31, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Unless you’ve written the best and most original piece of work since To Kill a Mockingbird—and of course you have, darling—you’re going to have to hustle to sell your book. Online, in-person, over the phone to booksellers who’ve never heard of you and question your desire to sit-and-sign at their store. However you decide to do it, it’s part of the job, and you might as well enjoy it.

From my first conversation with Chip MacGregor, he made it clear he was all about the business of writing. It’s not enough to write well, to craft compelling stories, to engage readers on the page. Like any other profession, roughly a third of your time and energy has to be committed to finding work and selling your product. It was true when I ran a software company and it’s true now.

Long before I had my deal with Down & Out Books to publish Stinking Rich, I’d decided the best thing I could do for my debut novel would be to tour it. I have the luxury of time and the dollars I’d spend on gas and accommodation would never generate anything beyond a blip in advertising. What I didn’t know was how much work would be involved beyond the hours on the road.

Pulling together a database of independent bookstores is an interesting task in an era of store closures. With mystery bookstores in particular, it felt like one in three had disappeared since the start of the 2008 recession, coincident with the surge in ebooks and online retailing. Still, most of the people still in the game are deeply passionate about what they do, and many are bound to succeed regardless of market changes. I even met one bookseller brave enough to respond to the local Barnes and Noble closure by opening up last year. She couldn’t imagine her town without a bookstore.

Booking events, even with the help of Christy Campbell, my publicist at D&OB, was a challenge for a debut genre writer from a small press in peak book season. (Hint: try NOT to wind up with a September publication date your first time out.) But we stuck at it and wound up with over twenty gigs, a mix of author co-appearances, solo book store events, sit-and-signs, and readings in bars.

I’d started doing library readings and Noir at the Bars about a year before my novel came out, so I’d like to say it was a breeze, but that’d be a lie. The readings came off okay—I stuck to sometimes abridged segments loaded with dialogue, and audiences usually get a kick out of the dark bits in my work—but the open author discussions took some getting used to. All of a sudden, I felt expected to perform without a script, without the luxury of editing my words or rehearsing what I’d say. Even in the most comfortable and friendly environment, I had to be “on”.

And before and after each event, chatting with the bookseller, I still had to in sales mode (which for me has always meant active listening). If I’m going to meet 50 or 60 booksellers over a two-month period, I’d better not let them become a blur. These are the people I want hand-selling my third novel two years from now. I need to know what makes their business hum.

But wait, 50-60 booksellers? Wasn’t I talking about 20-some events? Who are the other ones? They’re the ones along my route who said, “No, thanks” to my appearance. The ones I heard of from people I met on the road or who turned up on Google that I’d somehow missed while planning the tour. They all get a visit, a quick chat, and where it makes sense, an ARC. And some of them will host me next time I’m out. Because I’ve made an effort to get on their radar.

Sound like work? Sure. Exhausting? You bet. But when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel that way. And when I finally hit my desk again, there’s a boatload of new stories to spill.

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

Rob Brunet is the author of Stinking Richwhich has just released with Down and Out Books. What could go wrong when a backwoods motorcycle club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Um… plenty. Have a look at Rob’s funny, twisted look at the local good ol’ boys. Famed writing guru Les Edgerton called it “one of the wildest romps you’ll ever go on.” Rob is currently out on the road, pitching it to readers. 

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, The Business of Writing | 0 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Misconceptions about Book Marketing

October 30, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Halloween Amanda Luedeke

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

Amanda Luedeke is an undead 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.

Let me make one thing clear: There is nothing easy about marketing.

Spend any amount of time reading up on author or book marketing, and you will start to wonder if you’re the only want who is struggling! Posts and comments tend to make it sound like a walk in the park, and it’s easy to feel as though everyone has marketing figured out, while you struggle to get a single comment on your blog. Please, throw that mindset aside! MARKETING IS HARD. It’s one of the hardest aspects of any business because it can be is a complete crapshoot.

Because it’s so hard, we naturally come up with reasons as to why we aren’t doing this or that or why we haven’t launched any kind of marketing strategy. These excuses may make us feel better, but we’re ultimately hurting ourselves and our careers. A book that isn’t marketed certainly isn’t going to sell itself. But if it IS marketed, then by golly, it has a chance!!! And this is definitely a business of chance and risk.

So here we go…

5 MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT BOOK MARKETING as gleaned from the many writers I’ve talked to over the years.

1. I don’t have a book, so I have nothing to market.

I hear this all the time from aspiring writers, and while I can see their point, the issue here is that they aren’t viewing the situation properly. If being an author is a career and your books are your business, then that makes readers your customers. The best way to connect with customers isn’t to throw marketing and sales pitches at them, saying buy, buy, BUY! Rather, it’s the relationship that counts in the long run. So if you’re an aspiring historical fiction author, hang out with the historical fiction readers! If you’re an aspiring romantic comedy writer, find where the lovers of all things chick flicks and How I Met Your Mother and Bridget Jones hang out. Spend time with them. Develop relationships. Get them reading a personal blog of yours that touches on topics that interest them. This is how you market without a book in-hand.

NOTE: If you write nonfiction, your entire career is based on your platform. This means you need to have a substantial following before you even begin the submission process. Why? People buy nonfiction because they have a need or they have a question that needs to be answered. Nonfiction books present solutions. No one wants advice or a solution from someone they’ve never heard of! They want tried-and-true. So all you nonfiction folk, it’s important to establish yourselves as experts. You need to be somebody to some people.

2. Book marketing is expensive.

If you hire someone to handle it for you, then yes. It’s ridiculously expensive. But it doesn’t have to be that way! You can do marketing yourself. I promise. It just takes some time and perseverance. And if you choose to focus on online marketing, as opposed to traveling around (expensive!) and selling books out of the trunk of your car (costly AND time-consuming!), then you really can get going on this marketing thing with no more expense than the cost of Internet.

If you want to get serious about marketing and need a little jump start, check out my book, The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a PlatformI promise it’ll give you some ideas and make the whole marketing thing feel DOABLE.

3. Book marketing takes away from my time to write.

For a few, this is probably true. Life really is too crazy for them and they barely can get writing time in amongst all their other responsibilities. But for most, it’s all about priorities, and while I’ve met plenty of authors who say they don’t have time to market, I’ve also found that those authors somehow always have time for their favorite tv shows, etc. (And because we’re storytellers, most authors follow numerous tv shows every season! Not just one or two). So is it really marketing that is taking away your writing time? Or is the issue that you’re unwilling to move around other things in your life to make room for marketing?

AND let me point out, that if in order to make room for marketing, you feel you need to cut into your writing time, then that is very telling as to where writing falls on your list of priorities…right at the very bottom.

Something to think about. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have down time or entertainment time. I’m just saying that for many of us (myself included) that time takes up way too much of our week.

4. My efforts to market my book go nowhere. It’s a waste.

It would be great if marketing efforts always got immediate results. But they don’t! That’s not how people shop. Think about the last book you read that was by an author you didn’t know…

Chances are you didn’t run out and buy it the first time you saw an ad or the first time a friend mentioned that it was good. You didn’t add it to your shopping cart the first time you saw it on BarnesAndNoble.com or the first time you spotted it on the shelf. Instead, it was only after you’d seen it in a number of these places that you realized you should probably check it out. And even then, the act of actually buying the book was probably the result of some coupon or some promo or some final piece of marketing that pushed you over the edge.

This is why marketing takes time. People are choosey about their books. They are especially choosey about the books they spend money on. So keep at it. The more touchpoints you can have with your potential readers, the faster you’ll be able to push them toward making the purchase decision.

5. Publishers aren’t going to be impressed by my silly ideas and pathetic numbers.

If you write nonfiction, then yeah…this isn’t a misconception; it’s truth. But if you write fiction, an author who is doing something is a million times more appealing than an author doing nothing. So while you may feel as though your numbers don’t impress and your strategies are n00bish, remember that fiction houses aren’t always expecting to be blown away. They just want to know that you think of this like a business. You recognize the need to try. And you’re willing to do what it takes.

When it comes time to presenting your platform, try to think outside the box. Try to show your growth over time or show examples of strategies that you believe have worked in the past for you. If you can communicate that you’ve had some success and that you are on the right track, then you’re going to be able to position yourself as an author who is moving forward. And no matter how small your actual numbers, it will cast you in a positive light.

 

Book marketing isn’t going away. It’s here to stay. So I want to know…what comes to mind when you think about marketing?

 

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 1 Comment »

Voice Lessons: Part 4, Responding to Voice Criticism

October 28, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wI’m starting to wrap up my series on author voice, and this week and next week will be looking at ways authors can protect and continue to develop their literary voice.

 

So far in the series, I’ve really tried to emphasize that a lot of these examples of voice are descriptive rather than prescriptive, meaning that just because one author in your genre tends to use less description or more complicated syntax doesn’t mean that the way for you to have a stronger, more effective author voice is to do the exact same thing. On the contrary, the best way for you to develop a strong author voice is to be as much yourself as possible, but I’ve talked with a  lot of authors who have  received feedback or criticism about their voice that has caused them to second-guess their instincts or believe that they need to change their voice in order to further their writing career, and in most cases, this isn’t true. Below are several common pieces of voice-related feedback authors receive and the do’s and don’ts of responding.

 

  • “Your voice isn’t very strong/you need to develop your voice more.” DON’T: go out and become a caricature of a voice in your genre. If you write thrillers and are advised to strengthen your voice, that shouldn’t be taken as a prescription to go back and re-write your story in over-the-top Gothic style or to add a bunch of distinctive vocabulary or syntax as a way of manufacturing a recognizable voice. DO: start a list of what elements already define your voice (ask a critique group or writing partner to help you) and then write (and read) a LOT more. Voice is largely developed through experience, but reading authors with strong voice can help you develop your ear for voice and make you more aware of the way your own voice comes through on the page.
  • “Your voice needs to be more _________ (humorous, menacing, formal, informal, intellectual, accessible).” DON’T: blindly accept any and all feedback in this line. One reader’s preference of voice in a certain type of book doesn’t mean that you have to (or that there’s any way at all you could) cater to an individual reader’s taste. DO: consider whether that feedback is driven by personal preference or by genre/readership norms. If you write for a younger audience and someone tells you your voice needs to be more accessible, you may want to consider whether you really have a handle on the age/education of your reader. If you’re writing a non-fiction book on accounting, that might not be the place to let your informal Twitter voice drive the manuscript, and you may want to consider the possibility that your voice needs to be more formal.
  • Your voice needs to be more consistent.” DO: ask for clarification, if you can. Do they mean that your voice comes and goes, or that it changes tone throughout? If the former is the problem, take a look at the places where your voice IS evident and think about ways you could apply the same technique in other parts of the manuscript. If it’s the latter, take it back to genre: if the majority of your cozy mystery is humorous/lighthearted except for the two places where you suddenly shift into completely chilling terror-territory, you probably need to re-work the scenes in the minority to better fit with the tone you have more consistent success with in the rest of the manuscript (and the tone a reader generally expects from that genre). Just because you CAN suddenly write a completely hilarious scene or a completely horrifying one doesn’t mean you should– if it’s going to confuse the reader or lessen your authority as a thriller writer (or a romance writer, or a children’s writer, or… etc.), it needs to be excised in the interest of further establishing your voice.

Though it can take different forms, the majority of feedback on author voice is pointing out the same thing: you don’t consistently sound like yourself. Attempting to reinvent your voice  in response to every individual critic is ultimately going to be unproductive as well as completely destructive to the development of your consistent, unique voice. In general, take voice-related criticism with a grain of salt, consider it in light of your genre and potential readers, compare it with your own understanding of your writing voice, and then get back to writing, always the most surefire way to develop a strong voice.

 

 

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Ask the Agent: How do I set up my writing business?

October 27, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone asked, “How do you set up your writing business? What are the benefits to treating your writing business as a ‘real job’ by setting it up in a professional manner? And what did you do to make that happen?” 

Let me offer a handful of thoughts for you…

1. You’re doing the right thing by asking questions. Finding some folks who have done this before is a good way to start. Begin by talking to people who have been down the path before. Ask them what they’ve learned. 

2. Find a place to write. Make this your official writing spot and designate it as your official home office, then read up on what the IRS will allow you as a tax deduction.

3. Establish a writing time. For most authors, that’s simply “morning.” Protect a time each day when you can do some actual writing and not just check email, do phone calls, meet people for coffee, etc. When I started, I set aside 6 to 8 every morning. (I had young kids. Later that would not have worked. I hate mornings.) Tom Wolfe starts writing at 9 and stops at noon. Find a time that works, in which you’ll just WRITE, and not do phone calls and emails (and Facebook). 

4. Create a filing system. (“Alphabetical by title or author” works well. Don’t rely on the “Eureka!” system.)

5. Set up a bank account that is just for your writing business. Sign up for PayPal.

6. Set up your address list. Keep emails and phone numbers handy… and if you want to move into the bold new world of, say, 1996, invest in a phone that will keep those handy.

7. Create a calendar. Not just for your day, but for the big projects you’ve got. It’ll help you figure out what you’re writing when. It’ll also remind you that you’ve got to take Fiona to her orthodontist appointment, and what night the Snyders are having their party. 

8. Group similar activities. Do all your mail at one time. Group your phone calls back to back so you get through them more quickly. Ditto email, if that were possible. Things that are “occasional but regular” should be scheduled — for example, I try to look at submissions every Friday morning.

9. Create a budget. How much do you expect to make this year? How much do you expect to spend? (Having more of the former makes for a better business, by the way.)

10. Create a to-do list. Every day. Work through it. On Friday (or every other Friday) start at the bottom and work up – that’ll prevent you from never doing the one task you hate.

11. Create a contact list. Capture names and email addresses, so you can stay in touch with the people in the industry who matter. 

12. Invest in a separate business phone line or business cell phone.

13. Invest in a website and business cards. (I don’t know if you really need a blog, but you certainly need a site where people can find out about you and connect with you.) 

14. Invest in the help you need – training or people or space or tools.

15. Invest in a great computer and the software you’ll need. (If you work in publishing, you’ll need Word.) 

16. Invest is a good printer, preferably with a scanner.

17. Invest in yourself — take a class, attend a conference, join a support group, get therapy, whatever it is you need to grow.

18. Learn to keep good records. If you need a class on it, take one. (There are even personal organization trainers who will help you get organized.)

19. Learn about taxes – so that you track income and expenses, and learn to maximize information.

20. And the BEST advice? Write regularly. If you don’t do that, you won’t make a living at this.

That help? What advice would you give someone who is starting a writing business? 

Posted in The Business of Writing | 2 Comments »

Being Open to Change in Your Writing Career (a guest blog)

October 24, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

My teen daughter’s swim coach has a list he gives his teams called The Habits of Mind. The point of using it in sports is to get each athlete to change their thinking and consider a new way to approach their sport. Coach is known for constantly telling his swimmers, “You need to change your thinking.” I could have used Coach’s admonishment three years ago when I was stubbornly waiting for the next contract to come along.

The only option I could see was to get published through a legacy publisher again or to give up on publication. I didn’t want to think about doing it any other way. Considering the tough times the publishing industry was going through, I had pretty much set myself up for failure. So, even as several of my publishing friends were busy taking matters into their own hands by self-publishing, I refused to change my mind about any other publishing method beyond traditional publishing.

To be fair, indie publishing hasn’t always been what it is now, so my reasons for waiting weren’t all bad. There were a few good pioneers self-publishing and doing it well, but there were enough poorly written works flooding the market that I had reason to pause and consider. Where my thinking was off was how I told people I would never go out on my own in lieu of traditional publishing, and you know the old saying about saying never.

I finally let go of never and changed my thinking earlier this year when I began to see huge strides in the industry. Terms like hybrid and indie took hold and well-respected authors started going rogue, as they say. I started to wonder why, when I had the experience of two legacy books under my belt and three unpublished books waiting for an audience, was I sitting back and letting other authors have all the fun – and maybe the money too. I changed my way of thinking.

If my mind had still been closed to anything besides legacy publishers earlier this year, the opportunity to sign up with an up-and-coming publisher would have passed me by. Of course, I did not jump right in. I’m still more of a toe dipper than a diver, or even a swimmer, but I wanted to be part of the indie scene to get my stories out to my readers as soon as possible. My only problem with self-publishing was that I didn’t feel ready to do everything on my own. For one thing, I looked at what my friends were doing and didn’t think I had the time or talent to handle all the editing, uploading, and designing self-publishing requires. And call me a snoot, but I also still wanted a stamp of approval that says, “We have vetted this book, and we are going to publish it.”

The opportunity to step out of my own box and take charge of my career without self-publishing came in the form of a digital publishing company that also publishes some print titles through print on demand. The way this opportunity arrived was that I had written a blog post about how I had begun to change my way of thinking about indie publishing and my long-time author friend, Amy Sue Nathan, read it, contacted me that day about this company she had been editing for, and told me I should check them out. I would still have to submit my writing, and they could reject it, but if accepted contracts were more favorable to authors who retained more control over their careers. When my manuscript was accepted, the gate I had locked against trying anything new in my career swung wide open. And all because I had started to think differently about my writing career prospects.

Like other independent authors, I am still very involved with almost all aspects of my book and responsible for a great deal more than I am with my legacy publisher, but I like being able to take charge of my career. If you want to be indie, but aren’t sure about self-publishing, you should definitely consider submitting to a smaller press. I don’t know why this option of submitting to smaller, full-service independent and digital presses isn’t talked about as much as self-publishing when we discuss going indie or becoming hybrid authors. Maybe it is because there is still a gatekeeper to get through, but to an author like me, it was worth giving it a try. If I hadn’t, my readers might have never been able to get their hands on my latest novel.

Whatever you do, try looking at your career in a new way. Allow yourself to think about what you could do to change your career. You aren’t as powerless as you think.

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Tina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer. Her latest novel, Waking Up Joy, just released from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of two other novels, Ruby Among Us and Rose House, from Random House. Tina is a substitute teacher and makes her home in Wyoming. Connect with her at www.tinaannforkner.com or @tinaannforkner on twitter.

Posted in Career, The Business of Writing | 6 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: Odds and Ends

October 23, 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.

It’s late in the day, and whoops…didn’t get my Thursday post up!

So I’m going to wimp out this week and instead link to some cool things:

I was interviewed for the local paper. (P.s. How do you even go about buying one copy of the paper?! This is a mystery to me! Walgreens? Or maybe I should wander downtown until I come upon one of those dispenser thingies?)

Next weekend, I’ll be at the Indiana Faith & Writing Conference.

Remember that book page I created last week? It’s been viewed a whopping 6 times.

And recently, I got to report a book deal that I’m pretty excited about:

September 19, 2014 – THE 7 LAWS OF LOVE by Dave Willis

Non-fiction: Advice/Relationships

Blogger, speaker, and creator of the 820,000+ Facebook community “Marriage” Dave Willis’s THE 7 LAWS OF LOVE, a look at the seven truths that define love and how to apply them to our relationships, to Brian Hampton at Thomas Nelson, in a very nice deal, for publication in early 2016, by Amanda Luedeke atMacGregor Literary.

 

What have you been up this this past week career-wise?!

 

Posted in Author News, Deals | 0 Comments »

Voice Lessons: Part 3, Word Choice

October 21, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wNo, you’re not hallucinating, I really have returned to my Tuesday blog space. No, I did not forget that I was in the middle of a blog series on voice; I simply chose to be in Ireland the last two Tuesdays instead of here writing blogs on voice, and of course I would have gladly devoted some of my precious vacation time to blogging instead of gazing at those boring ol’ Cliffs of Moher, but wouldn’t you know it, Ireland hasn’t installed the Internet yet, so I couldn’t. Very sad. But happily, I’m back in the USA where the Internet is alive and well and so today I’m resuming my blog series on how to define, identify, and develop your voice as a writer. And Ireland was lovely, thanks for asking.

In looking at how word choice affects/reflects an author’s voice, the biggest question you should be asking is, are your words a fit for your voice? It’s natural for a writer starting out to be a bit self-conscious of his words on the page, much like someone at a new job or on a first date is hyper-aware of how he’s coming across to others. You might tend to check and re-check your responses in order to be sure you’re making the impression you want to make, you’re probably going to dress with a little more care than you ordinarily would in the hopes of coming across the way you want to, and you might find yourself agreeing with opinions or laughing politely at jokes that you don’t actually identify with, all in the interest of being perceived as a pleasant, reasonable person, regardless of what kind of lunatic you actually are.

Around your own friends and family, however, the filters slip, and you’re much less conscious of the image you’re projecting; instead, your actions and words and demeanor reflect your actual views and personality much more faithfully. This version of you might not be as politically correct or as polished as the version that your new colleagues or your blind date see, but it’s much more genuine, and while not everyone is going to love the “real” version of you, the people who WILL like you for who you are will have a much easier time recognizing what makes you unique.

In the same way, newer writers can sometimes write with a consciousness that someone– an agent, a peer group, an editor– is going to read their work that can sabotage or smother the writer’s true personality coming out on the page, especially where word choice is concerned. Authors may choose words to make them come across as more intellectual or more relevant when they should instead be primarily concerned with getting their stories on the page with as much honesty and authenticity as possible, and the words they choose in their attempts to project rather than reveal themselves can be extremely distracting to the reader and create distance between the reader and an author who comes across as inauthentic or faceless.

For example, I often read manuscripts in which it would appear that the author has painstakingly consulted a thesaurus for each and every word on the page, with the result that their meaning, and the heart of the author’s story, is almost completely obscured. If you aren’t using long, complex words naturally, they’re going to be jarring to the reader when we come up against them strewn awkwardly along your story. If your voice/writing style is very informal, more formal language is going to stick out. Your words are those that come fairly naturally to you, not those you choose because you want to sound more “writer-y” or intellectual. The reverse is also true; if your writing style is naturally very cerebral or formal, conscious decisions to try and “dumb down” your word choice or syntax aren’t going to ring true, and prevent the reader who would love your natural voice and word choice from getting a clear picture of that voice.

Consider also the audience that will most likely be reading your book. If you’re writing for children, you’re going to make difference word choices than if you were writing for adults, and vice-versa. If you’re writing a legal thriller that will most likely be read by white-collar men from the baby boomer generation, you’re going to make different choices than if you’re writing chick lit that will most likely be read by 30-something moms.

You also need to consider whether your words are a fit for the time period you’re writing in. If modern slang isn’t a fit for an otherwise very formal historical setting and characters, it’s going to be distracting to the reader when you choose to use it, and if your 1940s characters speak with mostly modern syntax and vocabulary because that’s the voice you naturally write in, period-appropriate slang will probably feel very conspicuous. Your story and your writing are king. Let those elements drive your word choice instead of conscious efforts to be historically accurate or intellectual or accessible or age-appropriate.

Sometimes when you examine your word choice and start to recognize the patterns that naturally occur in your writing, you come to the realization that you haven’t written the book you thought you had, and find yourself reexamining the genre or age group you write for. You may start out thinking you’re writing YA but discover after the fact that your voice is naturally much better suited to an older reader, or you may think you’ve written a thriller but what you’ve really written is romantic suspense. Obviously, there are some other factors in genre-identification, but word choice and the way it reveals your natural voice is a big part of it.

I’ve seen dozens of projects that were pitched as once thing but that were really a much better fit, voice-wise, for  different genre or age group– picture book writers whose word choices and syntax were much better suited for middle-grade, middle-grade authors who were actually writing easy-readers, adult fantasy novels that were a perfect fit for a YA readership, historical fiction with a great voice that was really a better fit for contemporary fiction– the list goes on. I know it seems overwhelming to consider that the genre or readership you’ve worked towards and identified with might not be the best fit for your voice/writing style, but you’ll meet with a lot less resistance on your writing path, long-term, if you figure out where your strengths and the market align, rather than trying to apply your strengths to an area of the market where they’re not the greatest fit.

It’s important, in these discussions on voice, that you don’t let some of the finer points of voice distract you from the big picture; that is, that voice is the personality of the author as revealed through the writing. The takeaway from a discussion about word choice should not be to go back and second-guess each of your word choices and agonize over every adjective use, but to help you to notice the word choice patterns you naturally fall into as a writer and get you started thinking about how those patterns and habits can help you zero in on your unique voice and the unique audience you’re writing for.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 2 Comments »

Ask the Agent: If I have a deal, do I need an agent?

October 20, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to say, “I’ve been offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? And if the agent accepts, should he or she still receive 15% of the deal, even if they didn’t market my book or secure the deal for me? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”

There’s quite a debate about this issue. I suppose many agents would say, “Sure — call me!” They’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But my advice would be to think long term. Is there an agent you like and trust — someone you want to work with in the long term? If so, call him or her. Talk about the situation. They may be willing to take less in order to work with you. They may review the contract for a fee. If, for example, you’ve got a $10,000 advance coming, make sure it’s worth the $1500 to have the agent assist with this contract. (It may be worth it — a complex situation, or a novel that is going to be made into a movie, or a potential bestseller probably call for a good agent to get involved).

That said, it doesn’t really seem fair to me to take the full comission for a book I didn’t sell, though not everyone in the industry agrees with me. You can always talk with a contract-review specialist, who will review your contract for a flat fee (usually somewhere in the $300-to-$500 range). You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be careful — they’re generally paid by the six-minute increment, and their goal is to keep the clock moving. The longer it takes them, the more they are paid. Make sure you’re talking with a lawyer who knows publishing contracts, not someone who issued to doing home sale contracts or Grandma’s will. I know of at least one author who paid more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars. Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract. Congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.

Another writer 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 friend, 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. 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. There are too many scam agents who are basically trying to sell editorial or marketing services for a fee, rather than trying to help you place your book.

And another author  had this situation: “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 it, 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 them within a year.

But I’ve seen this 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.

What have you always wanted to ask an agent? 

Posted in Career | 0 Comments »

The Writing Road: Inspiration from East to West (a guest blog)

October 17, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Other cultures fascinate me. I love traveling. But when I married a member of the U.S. Foreign Service, I knew I was signing on for an unconventional life-path. The day we learned our first overseas assignment was China, that unconventionality turned sharply real.

I braced myself for a lot of “news” — new food, new language, new security concerns…. The only thing I didn’t anticipate changing was my work situation. I’m a writer. I work from home. How far could things alter?

How naïve! For someone whose literary endeavors involve history and folklore, research is critical. My introduction to China’s expansive Internet censorship system, the Great Firewall (I wish I’d invented that clever term. Alas, that’s the official moniker.), was not a cordial one. Suddenly, it took ten minutes to load every site I tried accessing. Google—and everything to which it was a gateway—was entirely inaccessible. Progress on my 1920’s novel ground to a halt.

Those first weeks before we installed our VPN, I was not a happy camper. Or writer. Or anything else.

Until it was pointed out that as an author, I couldn’t receive a better gift. Not only was it much harder to anesthetize writer’s block (i.e., procrastinate) via YouTube, but my mind was refreshed and my imagination electrified every time I stepped beyond my Chinese-character embellished welcome mat. When everything around is unfamiliar, life becomes sharper, more vibrant. And for a writer, an energetically buzzing mind is invaluable.

And I discovered The Bookworm, a Western literature themed café that somehow exists in central China. Part restaurant/bar, part library/bookshop, it’s literally wall-to-wall and (ceiling-to-floor) with books. The drink menu is styled like a newspaper, the food menu like a book. Drink specials boast names like “Crime and Peppermint.” Walking into The Bookworm was like wandering into a breathing dream. It’s the place I’ve always dreamed existed in the States but never found. The masters of Western literature had preceded me to China, a reminder that writing is one of the few truly global endeavors, whatever language it adopts. If Austen and Dickinson can flourish here alongside Li Bo and Du Fu, then so can I.

And really, what writer wouldn’t consider forfeiting an appendage for the chance to carry home the research and inspiration only adventure provides?

 

What/where has provided unexpected inspiration for you? When the muse doesn’t sing so loudly, how do you jumpstart your creativity?

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

Lauren Peltier

Lauren Peltier is a novelist living overseas. A graduate of Taylor University’s Professional Writing Program, she is working on a novel based on the Irish selkie myth.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: Should I Have a Book Website?

October 16, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

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

Last week I identified some web options for authors looking to create a website. Shortly after, I received an email, asking me if I would consider talking about book websites. And I’m happy to oblige.

THE PROBLEM WITH A BOOK WEBSITE

Many authors wrongly assume that by creating a site dedicated to their book, they will generate sales. But I’ve never ever seen this work. Sure, it may feel like you’re really nailing the marketing thing by having a book site, and it may look impressive and make you seem like you’ve got things under control.

But a book site is no different than an author website or a blog or anything else that you create and then put up on the Internet. NO ONE WILL VISIT THE SITE UNLESS THEY KNOW THAT IT EXISTS.

And furthermore, for those who DO visit the site, they certainly won’t revisit if they don’t have a reason to.  Why? Content on these sites is very stagnant. There is usually one draw to get people there (maybe they clicked on an ad or were promised a quiz or a download), but once that bait has been taken, there is no reason for them to return. I know that certainly don’t spend my time visiting book websites. Do you?

So the mentality that a book site is a great option is false, in my opinion. You are spending time and energy pushing people to a site that will not keep them. Will not engage them. Will offer them a simple YES or NO option (do you want to buy the book?) and once they have made their decision, they’re gone forever.

BUT WHAT ABOUT POTTERMORE?!

Sure if you have billions of dollars, a site like Pottermore is great! But 99.9% of authors, however, don’t have billions of dollars. So my example of a stagnant book site is the norm.

DOES A BOOK WEBSITE EVER WORK?!

As with all marketing, there is always an exception to the rule. So the answer is yes, there are times when a book site does really well.

A book website has a chance at doing well when:

  1. There is a marketing plan in place to drive traffic to the book website (ads are big here, social media campaigns, etc.)
  2. The author is a speaker/blogger/person with platform and can easily direct an audience to the page to buy the featured book
  3. The site presents some kind of takeaway that appeals to a large audience. Most book sites are all about buying the book. But when a site also features a free download or some kind of incentive to visit repeatedly, that’s when it can take the hard-sell-strategy and turn it into a softer sell.

A book website would do BEST when all three of the above are implemented.

My two cents? If you don’t have a reason for creating a book site (as opposed to a blog or a tumblr or something else that is more frequently updated and encourages returning visitors), then don’t create one. But if you have a vision for how you could truly benefit from a book site–for how you can get out there and drive people to your site–then by all means give it a shot.

BookLaunch as a Book Website Option

A really neat option is to go through BookLaunch.com. In fifteen minutes, I set up a web page for my book, The Extroverted Writer. No joke. And it was free. They do have a Premium version that you can use to showcase all of your books (now THAT could be a really cool tool), but if you’re iffy on whether or not a book site is for you, then this may be a great first step. Set it up. Put your marketing plan in motion, and see if it’s worth it (they have an analytics tool that makes tracking the numbers easy!).

REMEMBER! What works for one author, won’t work for another. So while I may say that book sites are typically a bad idea, that doesn’t mean that you won’t see great success with one! It’s all about the plan BEHIND the product. How will you market your site? How will you ensure visitors do what you want them to do? How will you engage with them beyond the site? If you have answers to these questions, then give a book website a whirl!

What do YOU think about book websites? And if you try the BookLaunch feature, I want to hear about it!

Posted in Marketing and Platforms, Web/Tech | 0 Comments »