How to End Up on a Facebook List

September 16, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wIf you use Facebook with any regularity, you’ve seen a number of trends take over your news feed in the past few years. We’ve had “change your profile picture to a picture of your celebrity lookalike” week, “change your status to the fruit that corresponds to your relationship status in a bizarre and completely non-effective attempt to raise awareness for breast cancer” month, and the recent ALS ice bucket challenge during which we all enjoyed the sight of our employers, friends, and celebrity crushes being doused in ice water to raise money for ALS research.

Trending now on Facebook is a status which challenges users to post a list of the 10 most influential books they’ve ever read. Not their favorite books, necessarily, just the first 10 books that come to mind when thinking about the books that shaped their thinking, their attitude toward reading, or their taste in literature. When 130,000 people’s lists were compared and studied, a list of the 20 most frequently listed titles was revealed.

Now, obviously, this isn’t a scientifically perfect list– everyone’s definition of “books that stayed with you” is different– but it’s obvious that the authors who ended up on this list managed to connect with readers in a way that left an impression. As any good writing resource will tell you, there isn’t one way to write a great book (or a memorable one, or a significant one, or… etc.), but as we see from this list, there are factors that several of these influential authors have in common that are worth thinking about if you aspire to join them on this list when this trend resurfaces in 50 years or so.

  • Write more than one book. Almost none of the works in the top 20 titles were the author’s first novel. Jane Austen wrote drafts of Lady Susan, Sense and Sensibility, and Northanger Abbey before Pride and Prejudice was completed, Margaret Mitchell wrote at least three (unpublished) novels before beginning Gone with the Wind, and Suzanne Collins wrote and published an entire separate series before finding insane fame as the author of The Hunger Games. The takeaway here is, if you’ve worked and slaved over your first manuscript for years and still haven’t found huge publishing or sales success, don’t give up on that first work entirely, but for heaven’s sake, start writing something else! Novel-writing is like any other art; the more you do it, the better at it you get.
  • Write the story you want to write. If C. S. Lewis were writing today, he’d probably be told that his Christian themes were too strong for a general market children’s series. Tolkien might have been discouraged from writing fantasy because it’s not currently “trending.” Harper Lee might have been advised to use an adult protagonist if she wanted adults to read her book. If you have a story you want to write, write THAT story without worrying about which box it might or might not fit into. You can let an agent/editor worry about that down the road, but you’ll write a better book if you let the story and not the market drive your writing.
  • Write for children. Of the top 20, seven of the titles that were most often cited as staying with the reader are books which are classified as children’s or young adult. The books a person reads when he is young shape his view of reading, his taste, his worldview, his beliefs, and the likelihood that he will continue to read as an adult. As evidenced by this not-so-scientific list, a book that connects to a young readership will be remembered long after the flavor-of-the-week erotica-disguised-as-romance or suspense thriller on the “adult” bestseller list.
  • Write books that are just fun to read, period. Two words: Harry Potter.

As always, these elements should be taken as more descriptive of influential writing than prescriptive– obviously, if your story is a depression-era family saga, you shouldn’t re-work it to make it “fun to read” (see: “write the story you want to write”), but it’s interesting to look at these titles and see what elements they have in common that you may be able to harness in your own writing.

Have you posted your list of “10 books that have stayed with you?” What titles were on yours that were missed from the “top 100?” Were any of your titles books for children/young adults?

Posted in The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 0 Comments »

Ask the Agent: Which e-book publisher should I choose?

September 15, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

I’ve been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 

There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.

1. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (you’ll find them at kdp.amazon.com). This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). This is who we almost always recommend to authors who want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes & Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats you’ll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and they’ll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay 70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we’ve never had a problem with the accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you’re reaching all the major markets.

3. BookBaby (www.bookbaby.com). This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of everything — formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I’ve spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is more of a one-stop shopping — so while posting your book on Amazon is free, the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn’t as fast as the others, but they have good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you’ll have to pay for, of course). We think they’re a good option for the right authors.

4. Kobo’s Writing Life (www.kobo.com). This one might be new to you, but I mention it because it’s huge in other countries. Kobo currently says they are the world’s second-largest e-bookstore, and that they’re doing book in nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that’s from their website, so I’m taking their word for it). I’ve known authors who have worked with them, and they rave about how easy it is — you upload a file, Kobo converts it, they pay you 70%, and they’re now starting to offer some marketing helps. But the big news is that they’re working closely with ABA bookstores, which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles. This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check them out.

There are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children’s books, cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango, iUniverse, Trafford, and Lulu, who are all owned or in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, “Do your research.” There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to consumers. 

My question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what are your impressions?  Leave a note in the “comments” section for who you liked and why (or who you didn’t, and why not).

Posted in Career, Current Affairs, Publishing | 8 Comments »

Real Life Characters (a guest blog)

September 12, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

What are you afraid of? This was the question I pondered several years ago as I considered giving writing another shot. I’d been writing stories all of my life, but never shared them. One of my worries was that I would offend someone—especially someone in my family. But I also knew that to write a great story, I must be willing to take a stand. If I tried to please everyone, I’d end up with a mushy mess.women's fiction

Recently I heard New York Times best-selling author Elizabeth Berg address this same fear. When she wrote her novel, DURABLE GOODS, about a child afraid of her dad, she worried how her father would react. She asked her mother to serve as a buffer and remind her dad that “This is fiction.” Well, her father didn’t see it that way. Elizabeth Berg admits things were a little stilted between them for a while. But in the end, they had a frank discussion about her childhood and they grew much closer.

This is probably the best case scenario for an author. Personally, I’m not that brave. To err on the side of caution, I decided to create characters so different from my family that no one could be hurt. In my first series, the main character’s parents are no longer alive. And instead of a brother, she has a sister.

But I’ve also found that when I base a character on a real-life person, they tend to become three-dimensional so much easier. Sometimes I think of someone I know, write the character, then change the physical attributes, quirks and of course, the name. In the end, I’m the only one who knows who inspired me.

So, I figure I’ve played it safe. No one can accuse me of slander or misrepresentation. Right? Yet my mother-in-law asked if the mother-in-law in my books is nice or mean. Wait a minute. I wasn’t thinking of her when I wrote those characters. (Let me just say that I have a kind mother-in-law no matter what my books represent.) But this was a scary reminder of what I risk every time I publish something.

women's fictionWhat happens when my daughter is old enough to read my novels? I have to admit she has influenced the children in my stories. The fact that she wanted a telescope for Christmas (which made me so proud) or the fact that she said she swims not like a fish, but like a mermaid (which made me laugh) or the fact that she needed special tutoring to overcome her dyslexia (which broke my heart). In one ironic twist of fate, I wrote of a child who fell asleep chewing gum and woke up with it stuck in her hair. A few weeks later, my daughter actually did this. Once I got over my case of deja-vu, I re-wrote the scene and had the mother work much harder to try and remove the goo before resorting to cutting it out.

Will my daughter someday be mad that I wrote about her misdeeds? I hope not. The truth is I’m a better writer because of her. I owe her so much for opening my eyes to the struggles and joys that motherhood entails. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t be able to relate to a large part of my audience. Were it not for her, I wouldn’t realize what a crazy, emotional roller coaster parenthood is. I used to lean heavily toward the “nurture” camp, but now realize what a wild card DNA is. Who really knows if they’re making the right decisions when it comes to their kids? It takes eighteen years to see the results and even then, are they a finished product? I think not. Oh, this motherhood thing is a challenge! Fortunately, struggle is what makes a good story.

So, if you’re afraid to write because you think you’ll offend someone, just start writing. There’s no guarantee that even if you produce the most innocuous story, you won’t bother someone. Do your best to alter names and any other obvious identifiers, but then go for it. The truth is, the point of literature is to evoke emotion. Some people will love your work and some people will hate it. C’est la vie.

For all of my efforts to write about people that were not at all like my family, here is what my mom said when she finished reading my novel, A SISTER’S PROMISE: “OK, which sister was you and which one was your brother?”

Neither. Both. I’m not saying.

—————

Karen LenfesteyKaren Lenfestey, a Midwest Writer’s Fellowship winner, writes “happy endings with a twist.” She has just published her fourth novel, A WEEKEND GETAWAY, which begs the question, “Should Bethany track down the daughter she’s never known just to give her bad news?” To receive a free copy of the prequel, FRIDAY A LA MODE, visit www.karensnovels.com.

 

Posted in The Writing Craft | 1 Comment »

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Get a Publishing Job

September 11, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

Publishing JobAmanda 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.

I’m going to deviate from talking marketing this week and instead will address a question that I get asked A LOT.

I look quite young (okay, I guess you could say that I AM young, but 30 is also considered middle age, so…). Because I look young, I’m always fielding questions as to how I got in the business, how one becomes an agent, whether or not this is an internship (yes, I’ve heard that one), etc.

Though I must admit these questions are coming at me less and less (probably indicative of me looking older and older), they still pop up, and I can see the wheels turning as folk try and figure out how a 24-year-old (this is the age they typically give me) could possibly be an agent AND have been in the industry for five years AND have held a marketing career before that AND worked in higher ed AND be married.

Fact is, there are lots of people in the business who are much younger than I. I once talked with an editor at Penguin who was 24 at the time. 24!!! 

Young Publishing Professionals

Me with fellow youngsters in publishing!

 

So HOW does one get a publishing job? There are a few different tracks.

1. THE COLLEGIATE TRACK. Many young people are getting into the business these days by pursing publishing or editing or writing or marketing or design (or pretty much any kind of program that would be useful in a publishing setting) in college and then doing internships. The internships then lead to jobs or at the very least, recommendations. The 24-year-old Penguin editor I mentioned had done an internship at a major agency. She got a recommendation that landed her the spot at Penguin.

2. THE NETWORKING TRACK. In this instance, people get into publishing because they know someone who makes it happen or at the very least whose name gets them an interview. This business is very much about who you know, and it can be a tight-knit group with editors jumping from house to house and very little room for names to be pulled from the endless HR file. If your plan is to apply to a publishing job and sit back and wait, it’s probably not going to happen. You need to be able to name drop to get noticed.

3. THE “I FELL INTO IT” TRACK. You’ll many times hear publishing professionals say that they weren’t planning on a career in publishing. It just happened. Maybe they happened to be sitting by an agent on a plane and one thing led to another. Maybe they started in the warehouse and worked their way up. Maybe they sent a note about a book to a publisher that resulted in the publisher hiring them as a freelance editor (haha, not sure that has ever happened, but hey!). This track is hard to force, because it’s all a matter of being in the right place at the right time and then saying YES to the doors that open. (That last part is key…so many people say no because they feel they don’t have the time…or they don’t want to work for free for awhile, etc).

My journey was an “I Fell Into It” example. I was happily working in higher education when I met Chip, who happened to be serving as a visiting professor. He took an interest in me, gave me some side projects to do, and it grew from there. It wasn’t easy, though! For THREE YEARS I maintained a full time job while spending my evenings and weekends doing work for Chip and building an agent list. I finally got to a point where my side job could no longer be a side job if it were going to grow. It was then that I went full time as an agent. Fall of 2011.

Did you catch that? I juggled two jobs for three years. But I knew what I wanted and so it was worth it.

PURSUING YOUR DREAMS CAN BE HARD WORK

Agent Publishing Job

Me with my first agented book!

Many times, we want the path to be easy. We want to be able to fill out an application, get interviewed, and then get the job. But gosh, if it were that easy then everyone would be chosen! And these jobs wouldn’t have value.

If you’re wanting a career in publishing and if you’re still in school, I highly urge you to do as many internships as possible! Go out to New York. Get in with the big houses. It may cost money and it may be out of your comfort zone, but the collegiate track is where it’s at for young people.

If you’re wanting a career in publishing and you’re out of school, then I recommend surrounding yourself with industry professionals. Attend conferences. Make connections. Be polite, give space, but figure out a way to keep the conversation going.

book marketing

Get a head start on author marketing!

What was YOUR road to publishing? Or what questions do you have in terms of how to get there? Let me know!

 

Posted in Agents, Career | 8 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What will the NEXT big trends be in publishing?

September 10, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

In response to Monday’s blog post, I had a couple authors I represent ask me about the NEXT big trends — What are the big things that we’re starting to see that have the potential to re-shape publishing over the next few years? 

I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can take a stab at several things that are around, are growing, and have the capability of significantly changing things in this industry.

First, the Espresso print-on-demand machine has been around for a decade, but it’s only now starting to reveal what it can do. If you’re not familiar, the Espresso is a fancy computer & printer that sits in a bookstore and will produce one copy of any book you want. To this point it’s been pretty much a non-starter, but now indie stores have realized they can appeal to high-end readers, create a cozy environment for them, print one high-class copy of a book, and not have to invest in a ton of other inventory. Suddenly we’re seeing a new way to do a bookstore. No, this isn’t going to compete with Barnes & Noble, but the folks doing this aren’t trying to compete with Barnes & Noble. They want to create a completely different kind of experience.

Second, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding can help support authors, publishers, and bookstores. A couple of companies have used this lately to raise significant funds for titles that appeal to specific audiences (basically spec fiction and graphic novels to this point). But now we’re seeing publishers and stores go to loyal readers to help support certain titles. In other words, rather than an individual using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or RocketHub to help fund one unique book, businesses are finding ways to make it a part of their overall finance strategy. That’s a brand new way of supporting the publishing business, and I think it could significantly alter the way some projects are brought to market.

Third, Babylon and GoogleTranslation software could make foreign rights obsolete. Right now publishers take their text and sell it to publishing companies in foreign countries, who hire translators to move the book into another language. And, to this point, translation software has been fine for discovering how to move yes, let’s do lunch  into si, facciamo il pranzo, or making sure you spell vous le vous coucher avec moi correctly, but it’s not good for taking your romantic suspense and shifting it into Spanish. But the new translation software has the power and potential to reshape publishing, by instantly transforming your text from language into another, thus dropping the costs significantly and, potentially, re-making the way we treat foreign rights.

I’m no doubt missing a bunch of things. I have friends who believe the future versions of Google Glasses will transform the reading experience, that the new Apple Wallet will change the financial packages of bookstores, and that Snippet will be the hot thing for those interested in reading shorter books. But the three I mentioned certainly have the potential to make a big difference in the publishing industry.

What are the changes you see happening that have the potential to re-shape books and publishing? 

Posted in Current Affairs, Trends | 6 Comments »

Copying the Masters: Learning from great writers past and present

September 9, 2014 | Written by Erin Buterbaugh

brick green no smile b:wI’ve always been fascinated with the way artists have learned their various crafts throughout history. In the 1400s, if you wanted to be a sculptor, your family apprenticed you to an artist’s workshop in which you’d learn the skills of that medium as you assisted your master in producing his work– the master’s name was on the end product, but as many as a dozen apprentices and assistants may have helped with/worked on a piece. In the 1600s, artists’ guilds were the training ground of choice for future artists, highly regulated and exclusive organizations which existed to protect the interests and promote the work of their members. In the 1800s, if you wanted to be a painter, the way to get started was to move to Paris, stop eating, and spend your days in the Louvre, copying the works of the old masters as meticulously as possible.

 

Fast-forward to today, where the Internet age has made it much easier for artists of all kinds to access training. Graphic designers can take online classes, musicians can learn to play instruments from YouTube videos, and writers can complete entire MFA programs without ever setting foot in a classroom. While none of this instruction is necessarily less valuable for being accessed remotely, there is something lost when artists learn in a vacuum instead of in community and in close collaboration with (or via exposure to the work of) a “master” of their craft.

 

That’s why writer’s groups, critique partners, and conferences are so important to a developing writer, specifically those in which you have the opportunity to learn from/work alongside with highly skilled and experienced writers in your genre. Just as the Renaissance painters flourished working alongside and under more experienced artists who offered immediate feedback and instruction and correction, so modern writers who seek out partnership or “apprenticeship” with stronger writers tend to become aware of their weaknesses sooner and hone their craft more quickly than a writer whose only feedback comes from a rejection letter when he finally send out the manuscript he worked on in isolation for two years.

 

A question I’m often asked in response to the advice to get involved in a writer’s group/find a writing mentor/etc. is, “What if I can’t find a mentor/group/critique partner,” or “What if I’m the strongest writer in my critique group? Who do I learn from then?” The good news is, there IS a way to learn from the “masters” even if you’re not able to join a writer’s group full of them, and that is to read their work.

 

Seriously. I maintain that the majority of what I learned about writing and storytelling came not from a classroom or a textbook (though I had some great teachers in those areas), but from reading as many books as I could get my hands on from the time I learned how to read. Pacing, climax, subplots, humor, suspense– these are nearly all better learned intuitively from constant exposure to the kinds of authors you aspire to write like than via some formula posted by some agent in her Tuesday blog.

 

Read the works of some of the best writers in your genre as if you were their apprentice; pay attention to their trademarks, to what they do exceptionally well and how they do it, and even try re-writing pages of your manuscript while copying their style/voice as closely as you can, just as an exercise. You might be surprised at what you notice about your own manuscript after spending some time with the “masters” in your genre.

 

What relationships with other writers have been the most helpful to you in honing your craft? Comments are always welcome, and thanks for reading!

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What are the new trends in publishing?

September 8, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

For the past several months, I’ve had numerous people write in to ask about the trends I see happening in the world of publishing. We’re in a state of evolution in the industry (one could argue we’re in a state of revolution), where answers to questions as simple as “what is a book?” and “what constitutes a publisher?” are changing. With everything in a state of flux, I’ve been trying to use this blog to respond to the basic questions writers have about the industry. Then, over the weekend, a longtime reader sent me the question worded this way: What trends do you see having the potential to reshape the world of publishing? 

Wow. A fascinating question. Here are some thoughts…

1. Convergence: How stories continue to shape, reshape, and adapt. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in the publishing industry is that a novel is no longer just a novel. Nowadays a novel is being evaluated not just as a print book and an ebook, but as a potential film or TV show. (That part you knew about — publishers have long been interested in the dramatic qualities of the stories they produce.) AND the novel is being evaluated as a potential video game; it’s being explored from a social media perspective; it’s being reviewed for potential as a series; it’s being read with interactive media in mind. The story itself may not end — others may participate in the story by writing new endings, or creating entirely new stories that relate (have you seen what J.K. Rowling is doing with Pottermore?). One of the changes that has occurred in storytelling over the past 15 years is the gamer’s mindset, where a story may not have an ending, or it can be told and altered a million different ways. All of those issues are now part of the discussion when we examine a novel. That’s a huge change in the way we view story.

2. Design: How content continues to become more visual. Advertisers have been telling us for decades that interesting visual content is far more effective than simple words, and the message stays with people longer. So perhaps we shouldn’t all have been surprised when the numbers of interactive video games began outselling movies and dwarfing the sale of books. Graphic novels have moved from the fringe to the center of our culture’s entertainment choices, spurred on by the capabilities of tablet computers. Now we’re beginning to see animated content in enhanced ebooks, interactive content in books (a reader can go into the text and comment or even add material), motion-formatted books (think of graphic novels as advanced cartoons), and “visual journalism” projects (take a look at Symbolia on your iPad sometime). Organizational theory tells us that ideas becomes more complex over time, not less so, and we’re seeing that with the presentation of content to potential readers.

3. Brand: How marketing has taken over the world. I used to talk with editors about the value of an author’s idea before getting into the author’s bio and qualifications for writing a book. Now the first question I get is invariably, “Tell me about the author’s platform.” Sometimes it can seem as though the value of the content is subservient to the ability of the author to market the idea. So authors all got onto Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to get the word out, which has led to some authors having specialized content only for loyal readers, or offering premium products (like a private message from the author, or behind-the-scenes information) in order to incentivize readers. At the same time, professional marketing types are exploring how a fringy idea becomes a core entertainment concept, and moving to transform marketing from “sharing product news” to “subtly reshaping the discussion so that our content gets noticed.” All of this means that there is NO discussion about publishing a book these days that isn’t influenced by marketing.

There are other trends shaping publishing, and I’ll continue mentioning them, but I’m interested in your perspective… What trends do you see shaping the future of publishing? 

Posted in Current Affairs, Trends | 17 Comments »

The Future of Private Eye Fiction (a guest blog)

September 5, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Scrape that gum off your shoe, and try this one on for size: private investigators. What goes through your head when you picture one? A tough guy in a trench coat spouting gruff, side-of-the-mouth dialog that’s sharp enough to shave with? Brassy, wisecracking dames in distress? Fistfights, gunfights, and dark, glistening city streets, all put to the music of a lone, wailing saxophone? Well yeah. I do, anyway. Matter of fact, most of us do. But somehow over the years that mythos turned into a stereotype, and we are all poorer for it. Because make no mistake, there are some gems to be found. The masters from the early years showed us how to do it: Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ellery Queen … even Mickey Spillane had his moments. A lot of their work was magic.

But beginning in the early sixties, private eye fiction began to fall out of favor. James Bond—and don’t get me wrong, I love the guy—and gadgets started taking over. Private shamuses (shami?) waned, and then transmogrified (gotta love them college words) into objects of ridicule. Only in the last decade and a half or so has the reading public decided to give the genre another try. Why? I don’t know. Maybe we simply were ready for heroes again.

Thankfully some good writers have stepped up to the plate. A cursory perusal showcases such talents as Sara Paretsky, Loren Estleman, James Lee Burke, Robert Crais, and many others. These writershave helped expand the borders of PI fiction. Now we have lady PIs, gay PIs, midget PIs, kid PIs, part-time PIs, handicapped PIs, just about everything under the sun except for spiritual PIs.

Until now.

Question: can a faith-based private investigator hold his own in a secular market? Answer: why not? Lord knows (excuse the pun) there’s a need. Okay, so what would such a creature look like? How would he (or she) act when confronted by J. Evil Villain? Pray for him? Shoot him? Pray for him and THEN shoot him? I’m not sure. But something tells me these ideas would be a lot of fun to pursue. And someone’s going to do it. Maybe even me. All that to say, the future for private eye fiction looks bright, no matter what brand of gumshoe you favor.

Now enough jawing. Somebody get this dame off my desk, hand me my heater, and cue the sax.
====================

John Robinson is the author of several gritty novels, including Abyss, Until the Last Dog Dies, To Skin a Cat, and Last Call. He lives in Ohio.

Posted in The Writing Craft | 4 Comments »

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Effectively Communicate Your Author Platform–No Matter How Big or Small

September 4, 2014 | Written by Amanda Luedeke

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

I’m sure you’ve been in this position: You’re sitting across from an agent or editor. And despite their attempts at making it a comfortable meeting, you’re experiencing a range of emotion. Panic. Confidence. Fear. Hope. Anxiety. Not to mention the shaking. Or the muddled thoughts. Or the ohmygosh she didn’t even look at my one-sheet.

And then the bomb drops…the agent/editor asks about platform.

If you have a massive platform, then chances are you totally nailed this. But if your platform is anything less than massive, then things don’t go as well as planned. You’ve been preparing for this moment, but you quickly realize that your rehearsed platform monologue isn’t working. And then the questions come, and you find that you don’t have the answers. Or maybe you do, but they’re not coming out as confidently as you’d hoped. And regardless of whether you come away with a rejection or a request to send the proposal, if you’re like me, you’re thinking about what went wrong. How things could be better. And what the heck do these people want from me?!

5 Things Agents or Editors DON’T Want to Hear When Asking About Author Platform

1. Yearly stats. When your blog numbers aren’t that impressive, it’s understandable that you’d want to try and put them in the best light. The primary way authors do this is by communicating yearly blog or website numbers as opposed to monthly. So, instead of 500 unique visitors every month, they would say something like 6000 unique visitors…and leave it at that. The problem is that we WILL ask for clarification. Yearly blog or web stats mean nothing to agents and editors. It’s all about the monthly stats, because books aren’t necessarily promoted year-round by publishers. They have a 4-month (or so) window. So it’s all about MONTHLY stats. And it’s so very helpful when authors understand this and then give us the information we need up front. Even if it makes their blog look smaller.

2. Page Views. Another way to make a blog seem more trafficked is to talk about page views as opposed to unique visitors. The unique visitor stats track individuals that frequent the website on a monthly basis. Each person (or IP address) gets counted once. Each time a person clicks a new page on the site, that gets tracked with the page views.  Therefore page view stats are always higher than unique visitors, and it’s tempting to focus on the bigger number when trying to impress. Please don’t! In the industry, we talk in terms of unique visitors. We’re only interested in page views if you can prove that a majority of people who come to your site are spending lots of time on each page (5 or more minutes) and clicking around a lot. Then you’d mention those stats as a sidenote.

3. International stats. I’ve noticed that those with smaller blogs and website presences will almost always say something like “there are people in Russia reading my blog! And China!” I realize it’s exciting to think that you have an international readership. But having a handful of non-US readers doesn’t mean anything to an agent or editor. In fact, those readers are probably robots or scammers who are out to flood your site with spam. So, only bring up international readers if you have sizable following in a particular country. “Sizable” is relative, but we can say 15-20% is a good rule of thumb.

4. What your fans are saying. I get this a lot from published authors…when talking about platform, they want to include their fanbase (which is great!). But they tend to focus on the handful of emails they’ve received in which fans have requested sequels or spin-offs. And the authors present this to me as though it’s evidence that said sequels and spin-offs will do well! Unless you have thousands of people requesting the same type of book, this data isn’t worth mentioning. You are welcome to talk about how much fan mail you get, provided it’s a decent number (a few hundred emails/letters/notes per month), but please avoid using a few fan emails as evidence of a large following.

5. Look at my website. It’s common for authors who aren’t sure what to say, or how to communicate their platform, to want to pull up their website and social media to show it to me. They may even want to show me their analytics or the prototype for their new site. While your online platform may be pretty to look at and well-done, it doesn’t sell your platform. And I also don’t want to work with someone who will simply give me their Analytics login and tell me to “have at it.” Now rest assured, we ABSOLUTELY look at websites and online presence. But we do so on our own when we’re evaluating whether or not we’d be a fit. Or, we do so if the conversation naturally progresses in that direction. So don’t feel as though you need to show us those spaces in order to get us to look at them. We’ll do so on our own. And remember to have a general idea of your stats going into the meeting. Last week’s exercise on focusing your book marketing efforts would be a handy tool in this case.

5 Things Agents or Editors DO Want to Hear When Asking About Author Platform

1. The truth. If you have a small platform, own it. If you need to grow your platform, say so. This prevents us from wasting valuable time with you trying to “fool” me, for lack of a better word, and then me telling you that your platform isn’t big enough. It will help us cut to the chase and focus on your BOOK as well as your ideas for growing your presence.

2. Your goals. Where do you want to be? What social media outlet do you plan to grow? Having a clear set of goals will tell us that you know where you’re headed. It helps us feel as though you have a handle on this platform thing even if your numbers aren’t impressive.

3. Your strategies. In addition to sharing your goals, talk about strategy! So few fiction authors ever talk about this and I think it’s to the detriment of their career. Show me a fiction author who has a tiny platform but LOTS of ideas and strategies for HOW to grow it, and I’m immediately interested. This is really a way for fiction authors to stand out!

4. What’s working. Sure, your stats may be slim, but if you’ve been working on platform for any length of time, you have to be seeing SOME success. Tell me about that. Tell me about the instances in which you obtained 100 new Facebook likes in a few days. Or when you had a Tweet or video see tons more traction than usual. Talk about what has gone WELL and how you plan to replicate that or build on it. It shows you have a mind for marketing and thats always an impressive characteristic.

5. A clear sense of understanding what platform is all about. By simply talking knowledgeably about platform, you will put yourself in a favorable light. Having your stats ready, knowing your goals and strategies, knowing what doesn’t work for you and what does, knowing what the experts are saying and also what others in your genre are doing. Being EDUCATED on platform shows us that you really have a chance at making this work and it makes you that much more appealing.

author platform

You Can Do It!

Talking about your platform doesn’t have to be hard or embarrassing or awkward. Even authors with the smallest of platforms can make a big splash if they pay attention to these do’s and don’ts. And DON’T FORGET to include those do’s in your proposals!

Have you struggled with communicating your platform? Or maybe you found a way to present it in a really favorable light? Share your stories!

Posted in Marketing and Platforms | 8 Comments »

Ask the Agent: What do I do with a bad review?

September 3, 2014 | Written by Chip MacGregor

Someone wrote to say, “I got a terrible review on Amazon. I hate even going there to look at it. Tell me, what do you do with a bad review?”

You know, one of the things unpublished authors don’t realize is that once you put something into print, it’s there forever. If you say something stupid, you’re stuck with it. You can go to the person and apologize, but the words are still out there, waiting to be discovered by millions of other potential readers who will never get to hear your personal explanation or apology.

Writing is a scary thing.

I’ve often done fairly blunt assessments of books and articles, and at times I’ve hurt people’s feelings. But I never set out to do that. I mean, it’s not like I saw the book, didn’t like the author, and decided to toast them just for fun. When I’ve said something was stupid or badly written, it was because I was trying to offer an honest evaluation of a project. But that’s not universally respected. Let’s face it — plenty of people ONLY want you to stay something nice, or to say nothing at all.

So if you’re asked to review a book that’s awful, what are you supposed to do? Lie about it? It seems to me like the best thing to do is to be honest but as gracious as possible, speaking the truth (or at least the truth as you see it) in love. It’s those sorts of jobs that can get you into trouble.

Unfortunately, a bad review like that can hurt an author’s career (to say nothing of the author’s feelings). So I find that when I’m simply asked to review a book for a friend, I tend to simply stay away from reviewing a book I didn’t love. That means the title will get a falsely-positive set of reviews, but I don’t have to deal with any fallout. Maybe that’s why so many of us tend to discount what we read on Amazon — we’ve seen too many reviews from mothers and friends to accept the glowing evaluations as honest. On the other hand, if a magazine or website hires me to do a review, I have to be as honest as possible, even if that means sounding critical.

A while back I did an interview with an online magazine. It was just a Q-and-A thing, and it was fun. I was maybe a little acerbic at times, but the whole tenor of the thing was to give good info to people in an entertaining way. As a response, one writer who didn’t like my answers because I clearly wasn’t religious enough decided to create her own “Chip MacGregor Is A Heretic” website. (I’m not making this up. She was particularly concerned because I poked fun at “a conservative Christian home-school mom in blue denim jumper and her hair in a bun.” Which, you’ve got to admit, is a fairly decent description. I had to laugh at the two women who wrote in to defend blue denim jumpers.) Anyway, she got a bit personal, and when one person wrote in to say to her, “you know, you sound a little upset about all this,” the creator of the site went to great lengths to explain that she’s not mad, she’s standing up for truth, justice, the American way, blah blah blah.

Uh-huh.

What she failed to mention was that I’d toasted her a couple times on an ezine for saying really stupid things. So this was her way of getting back. Except it doesn’t work that way. You rarely win anything by attacking someone. And you NEVER win anything by attacking back. A couple of times I’ve worked with authors who wanted to write in a defense or a clarification after experiencing a bad review. They wanted to go onto Amazon and defend themselves. But offering an explanation for a bad review never works. My advice? Forget it. Put the bad review in a box, set it behind you, and move on. We all get bad reviews, we all get some personal attacks, we’re all going to face readers or reviewers who sometimes JUST DON’T LIKE US. That’s life.

That’s especially true with books, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might write something you think is deep and thoughtful — but a reader might find it silly and turgid. Guess what? That’s the life of the writer. If you can’t live with it, pick a different career. NOBODY is universally beloved in this business. (There were people who hated Mark Twain. There are people who buy the silly horror-porn written by Joe Konrath and think it’s enjoyable. Different strokes for different folks.)

Look, when someone attacked me, I should have brushed it off. When I responded negatively to her, SHE should have brushed it off. The fact is, none of us can read the minds of others. I don’t really know what she was thinking — maybe I really AM a heretic. Maybe she really doesn’t like me (hard to believe, since I’m so wonderful, but it’s happened to me before). Or maybe, just maybe, hers was an honest response, and I should just shut up about it. There’s something to be said for keeping your mouth shut and not whining.

Kurt Vonnegut once talked about the unfairness of personal attacks in bad reviews, claiming rage and loathing for a novel is “preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” When you get a bad review, recognize the attack for what it is (small-mindedness, misunderstanding, a chance for the attacker to make herself feel better, or, perhaps most commonly, an honest response to something not suited to the reviewer’s tastes). Then forget about it. Go read a positive review to make up for it, forget the bad one, and move on to something else.

 
-Yes, you’ve read this before! I pulled it out from the 2012 files because I got the question a couple more times!

Posted in Current Affairs, Publishing | 18 Comments »