Archive for the ‘Agents’ Category

How do I create a great book proposal?

July 1st, 2015 | Agents, Books, Resources for Writing | 0 Comments

Your novel is ready to go. Your nonfiction book is fleshed out. NOW WHAT?

We’ve got a brand new book releasing to help all writers who are trying to create the best book proposal possible. Step by Step Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is the new book from longtime editor Holly Lorincz and me.

Pitch Book CoverThis book uses clear, detailed explanations, work-sheets, and annotated examples to walk you step-by-step through: industry terminology, querying, pitching, creating a proposal, and formatting the whole thing. You’ll find helpful information regarding what to say, who and when to query, and how to find contacts. Suggestions on how to create a pitch are offered, along with sample pitches, as well as advice from a speaking professional on how to deal with a face-to-face pitch.

Inside, there are detailed instructions for building professional, industry-standard proposals, both fiction and nonfiction, using plenty of examples and multiple samples of successful, real proposals. In fact, that’s one of the things that sets this apart from other books on proposals — I went back to authors whose books I had sold, and asked their permission to use the proposals we created. So the text offers real-world examples of proposals from books that actually sold in the market, including a couple bestselling books. There are also worksheets available in each section which readers have found extremely useful, walking the writer through their own material. There is even a section on how to format a manuscript before attaching it to a proposal. Here’s what some people in the industry have said:

“Chip MacGregor was my first literary agent and helped me get my very first book deal. I don’t know if there’s a better possible way for me to answer the question ‘Does Chip MacGregor know what he’s talking about?’ than that!”  – Jon Acuff, New York Times Bestselling author of Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work and Never Get Stuck
This book is clear, concise and well written. Although one might feel this is just a reference book on proposal writing, it is much more . . . it is also a good basic primer instructing the reader in the art of selling your work and how to handle most any situation that you may encounter along the way.”
– Michael Hingson, New York Times bestselling author

“Chip MacGregor and Holly Lorincz’s Step by Step, Pitches and Proposals: A Workbook for Writers is a keeper, whether you’re a newbie or multi-published. Fiction and non-fiction proposals are covered in detail – all you need to do is fill in the blanks. I’ll definitely be referring to this power-packed book each time I draft a new proposal!”
– Leslie Gould, Christy Award winning and #1 bestselling author

You can order a print OR a Kindle copy here. Thanks — let me know what you think!

Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

June 29th, 2015 | Agents, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment

This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.

 

If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.

 

So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen it and said “no thanks.” (And I don’t want to be surprised by having an editor tell me, “Um, Chip… we already turned this down three months ago.” It makes me look stupid, and won’t win you any friends.) So just be open about it up front. Maybe I know of some houses that haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps I know of changes at a house, so the story might now be a fit. Maybe I know of an editor at a house who is looking for exactly this type of story, but we need to change the book’s title or the names of the characters to get a fresh review. Maybe I can suggest a smaller house for you to go to, where it might be a fit. Just be open about it. And understand that if everyone has seen the book, another agent probably isn’t going to help you land a deal. At that point, you may want to self-publish, or set it aside for a season.

Ask the Agent: What if my story doesn’t fit a genre?

June 22nd, 2015 | Agents, Current Affairs | 1 Comment

I’ve been getting all sorts of interesting (if sometimes random) questions from readers lately, and wanted to offer some notes on genres, writing style, and the contemporary publishing market. Here are some questions that came in recently:

What do you do when your story doesn’t fit into the box of any specified genre? For instance, if characters and/or objects in a story symbolize something deeper, but the story can also be taken as a literal story (e.g., The Le Petit Prince or Pilgrim’s Progress), is it going to be classified as inspirational, or drama, or children’s story? Is there some other genre out there that I’m missing?

If you have a story that uses characters or objects that symbolize something deeper, you’re probably writing an allegory. And right now there is very little market for allegory. A bit, perhaps, with “business fables” that teach organizational principles, or the occasional sci-fi novel, possibly with some children’s books. But for most part, allegories are one tough sell.

I am a freelance editor and writer, so editing is what (barely) pays the bills, but I have a couple of novel projects I feel need to come out of me. However, my writing style tends to reflect the style of books I love to read—the descriptive, long-sentence style of Dickens, for example. Dickens is one of the greats, but nowadays the passive construction has a bad rap and “show, don’t tell” seems to be the motto of the industry. My question is this: is there a market for descriptive writing anymore?

The truth? Not much of one. Maybe you could capture a new audience and re-start it, but no, the culture has moved on from that style. Remember, writing is art, and art needs its own new expressions in each generation. That’s why it’s hard to go back and read James Fenimore Cooper – his prose just doesn’t work in contemporary culture. (For that matter, try going back just fifty years and reading Jack Kerouac or Ernest Hemingway – great writers, but they feel dated to most contemporary readers.) The same is true in any art – most of us probably aren’t listening to a lot of Gregorian chants or hanging wall art of medieval paintings. You might do so occasionally, because you value the artistry of another age, but few people want a steady diet of art from another era. I’m a huge Dickens fan, and love reading his stuff, but I realize he’s a tough sell in our own generation.

Would you please tell about publishers who market only to the Library Market? 

There are some publishing houses that have a direct-to-library division. These imprints usually produce expensive (roughly $35) hardcover books with sturdy bindings – perfect for the rough handling many library books get. The printed books are not carried by bookstores, though sometimes print copies can be ordered from Amazon (again, they’re a bit pricey). The ebook was formerly not commonly available, but is now often made available not long after the print release. These imprints are usually looking for topics that might appeal to schools or enthusiasts, but which would not have a broad commercial appeal. I’ve done sports books, history, and memorabilia titles with library imprints.

What would be the average number of copies they would print for an average book, or print run?

That depends on the size of the publishing house and the projected sales of the book. A small house may only print 500 copies of a book that is seen as having limited sales potential, but may print as many as 2500 copies of a book they are hoping finds a readership. A medium sized house may print as few as 3000 copies of a debut novelist, but may print 10,000 copies of a book they think will have some breakout potential. A large house may start with as few as 5000 copies of a book, will often have two or three times that in the warehouse, and has been known to print hundreds of thousands of copies on a surefire hit.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Send it in, and we’ll try to get to it this month!

Ask the Agent: How long do I have to polish my manuscript after a conference?

May 26th, 2015 | Agents, Conferences | 0 Comments

I’ve had a bunch of questions come in recently, as people get ready for the conference season…

 

I have received a request for pages and a synopsis. However, I have also just went to a conference and had my head crammed full of ideas that I want to apply to my novel.  So, how long do I have to polish before I send my work out?  I don’t want to lose momentum or attention, but I so want to make sure that I have done my absolute best work.Questions Book Cover

If you attend a conference and an agent or editor asks to see more of your proposal, you want to get a polished chunk of your work into their hands as quickly as possible – I’d say within 30 days. Longer than that, and you’re running into the problem of the agent moving on. We see dozens of proposals, and it can be hard to remember one (even one that we liked at a conference meeting) for more than a few weeks. I’ve sometimes had emails that started with the words, “You asked to see this at a conference four years ago, but I’ve been polishing and revising my work…” Um, yeah. As though I’m going to remember that project years later. Or as though the market is the same as it was when we talked four years ago. Look, things change. All of us see a lot of projects. If you want to garner the attention of an agent or editor, have your piece ready, show it to them, then follow up fairly quickly after the meeting.

Can you give me your thoughts in regard to how and when authors should use editors vs. writing coaches/mentors as they progress through their writing project?

A mentor or writing coach is normally a long-term relationship, so that person is with you as you think through your stories, write your pieces, and prepare yourself for a career as a writer. An editor is most often someone you hire to make your completed manuscript as polished as it can be.

I’m curious about something: what makes a novel have movie potential? 

Most novels won’t work as movies because they are more complex, go more in depth, and have much more to share than can be captured on film in two hours. That’s why you rarely see a movie and think, “That was as good as the book.” (And it’s why it is a VERY rare thing for an author to be happy with the movie Hollywood made from her book.) But film companies are always looking for a few things in a novel: a straightforward story that touches emotions and has a lead character everyone wants to root for. They’re generally not looking for a bunch of subplots, or ruminations on the human condition, so much as a well-told tale that can be wrapped up in 90 to 120 minutes, and will keep us watching through to the end.

Do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send me your question, and I’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

Ask the Agent: What’s the protocol with agents?

May 21st, 2015 | Agents | 1 Comment

A bunch of questions recently about author/agent protocol…

Chip, could you talk about writers who change agents? Many of them seem to think that when they break the relationship, the agent no longer receives royalties on books they brokered.

Well, they would be mistaken. Your agency is on the contracts for the books they represented. That’s a legal document, that will guide the book for as long as the contract is in force. If you fire the agent, the contract is still in force, so the agent is still paid a commission.

This question also gets raised when an agent leaves an agency. When I left Alive after all those years, I didn’t get to take the commissions with me – the agency was on the contract, and I was no longer with the agency, so I didn’t get one penny to take with me. (I’m not complaining, by the way. Just explaining the situation.)

 

Following a writer’s conference, I sent out proposals to agents as requested. Since I don’t quite trust technology, I followed up the next day with an e-mail asking if my proposals arrived. Most agents/editors responded with a quick “Got it,” and some added a note about when I could expect a response. But one went on to say he didn’t have time to respond to every query that comes in, etc., and he made me feel I was out of order to have checked. Was I?

I doubt you were out of order. If you sent it, I think it’s fine to check on it. Just be polite about it. And it’s possible you’re reading too much into the response – some agents automatically tell anyone sending them a submission that they just can’t respond to everything. I can’t. I mean, I’d love to, but look at this from my perspective – I’m an agent, who makes his living selling books to publishers. If I don’t know you, there’s no law that says your sending me a proposal automatically requires a response. What if you send me something I don’t represent? What if you send me something that’s awful? I don’t feel guilty about not responding to cold queries, since I could spend hours every week on them, and they rarely Questions Book Covergenerate income for me. So maybe the agent was just saying, “I’ll have a look, but I may or may not respond.” Or he could have been saying, “It takes me a while to read stuff, so don’t be in a hurry.” That, to me, seems reasonable.

 

If and agent’s guidelines do not specify that proposals be sent as attachments or within the e-mail, how should they be sent?

Nearly everyone wants proposals sent as Word documents, attached to emails.

 

The manuscript that I have completed is likely not as marketable as some of my other ideas.  Do you ever recommend someone pitching several ideas to agents at a conference? This would allow the agent to see there is potential for more than one book and to pick the one that is most marketable.

Generally, no. I would probably advise you to pick ONE idea, your strongest, most salable idea, and pitch it to an agent. You can mention the other ideas at some point, but normally you want to lead with one great book.

Look at it this way: What’s easier to sell — a car, or a fleet of cars? Having one great project will push you forward faster than having six pretty good ideas.

Hey, do you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here’s your chance — send us your question, and we’ll take a crack at an answer. And if you’re interested in questions and answers with agents, you might enjoy my new book — How can I find a literary agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers)

What have you wanted to Ask An Agent?

May 18th, 2015 | Agents | 8 Comments

I’ve been getting a lot of questions from writers about the author/agent relationship…

I’m a published nonfiction author, looking for an agent to represent my fiction work. How do agents view writers looking for a “new” agent, given my change in genres?

I tend to ask a lot of questions. I’d want to know if your nonfiction agent is on board with you working with someone else on your fiction. I would want expectations to be very clear. It’s true that most agents work predominantly in fiction or nonfiction, but it’s also true that most authors work with ONE agent for the bulk of their work.

I’ve noticed that many agent websites state they hope to have a long-term relationship with their authors and help them publish for many years. On the one hand, this is very encouraging and certainly a desirable goal. But it does raise a question for those writers who are… less young than they once were. How have you found that agents/editors respond to a newer writer who is chronologically older? Is there still a willingness to work with these folks as well as the younger writers?

Hmmm… I like the question, because it makes me think through the issue. Yes, I prefer to work with an author for several years and manage his or her career. But no, I don’t think I would normally say to myself, “This author is older, so I’m not going to choose to work with her.” The fact is, we’re all looking for great ideas and great writing, no matter what the age of the author is. I’ve taken on some writers who retired from their day jobs in order to focus their energies on writing.

My question is whether a writer who is new to fiction, but who has written several non-fiction books needs to have the book completed before submitting proposals?

An excellent question. Yes – if you’re writing your first novel, you’ll find it just won’t sell unless the manuscript is complete. (Okay… maybe it will sell if you’re Ellen Degeneres, or Lady Gaga, but aside from being an iconic cultural personality, your novel won’t sell unless the manuscript is complete.) Nonfiction is different – we can still sell a nonfiction book based on a proposal and sample chapters. But fiction? Very tough to sell a book without a completed manuscript.

More soon. And if you have a question you’d like to ask an agent, send it to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. 

Ask the Agent: How can I know if this is the agent for me?

May 1st, 2015 | Agents | 0 Comments

I’ve recently had a bunch of agenty questions cross my desk…

I understand the need to sell an agent on me and my work, but I also want an agent who I can work with long term.  At what point in the process is it appropriate for me to explore if we are compatible?  I’d hate to sell an agent on a proposal and then need to turn him or her down.

But that happens all the time. It’s why I encourage authors to research agents, talk to them if at all possible, and see if the two of you are a fit. This is in many ways a business partnership, so you don’t want to be linked up with someone you don’t like, or don’t trust, or you just don’t feel on the same page with. Think of it this way: You don’t want to start a business with someone you have doubts about; you don’t want to be seeing a doctor that you don’t believe knows what he is doing; you don’t want to invest money with a fund manager you feel may be incompetent. This is why I frequently tell authors that I’m not the agent for everybody – writers sometime will hear me speak at a conference and think I’m the guy they want as an agent, but if we haven’t met and talked, I may be exactly the wrong type of match for them.

So what to do? First, make sure you know what YOU need in an agent. Second, take some time to research the agents you’re talking to. Third, get a chance to talk with the agent for longer than a ten minute pitch session, so you can find out what he or she is like. Fourth, if at all possible, get a chance to meet the agent face to face, so you really get a feel for strengths, weaknesses, personal style, and match.

 

How important is location when selecting an agent? I’ve been told by some authors that it’s best if your agent is in NY, where they can casually trade info over drinks. Yet I’ve seen a number of agents who seem excellent except they are located in North Carolina or California. How important is it really to be in the hub of the Big Apple?

I hear this all the time – “You can’t really make a living as an agent unless you’re in New York.” Uh-huh. I used to be an associate publisher with a New York-based publishing house. Over the past eight years, I’ve done more book deals than any other agent in the US. And I live on the Oregon coast. Jane Dystel has done the next most. She lives in California. Natasha Kern has done the next most. She lives in Washington state. Laura Bradford is probably in the top five or six. She lives in San Diego. So does Sandy Dijkstra. Roberta Brown lives in Florida. Steve Laube lives in Phoenix.

Look, I’m not saying that spending time in New York isn’t important – I go back a few times each year, so I can be face to face with editors and keep the relationships fresh. But the days of wandering around the city and having three martini lunches on a regular basis? They’re done. There are great literary agencies in New York – Foundry, Trident, Inkwell, Writers House, DeFiore, Janklow and Nesbit, Greenburger, Danny Baror, etc. But there are great literary agents spread all over the country. Living in New York has not kept me from staying busy and being successful at this job.

 

How important is the size of the agency? Many of the agents I’m looking at seem great, however they have a staff of two or three. What happens when an agent has a personal crisis, death in the family or coma-inducing fifty-car pileup? Who takes up the slack in a tiny agency? Is it better to go mid-size or are my concerns unrealistic?

A great question. Disasters can happen with anyone, and if your agent suddenly faces problems, it can slow things down for you. But I’ve found that publishers tend to be understanding – I went through this situation several years ago when my mom had her stroke (and passed away a few days later). Obviously, stuff with most writers and publishers took a back seat while I was dealing with hospitals and funeral homes. Everyone was accommodating and understanding. The fact that I was working for a multi-person agency might have helped a bit, but not much, since other agents didn’t really have much contact with the authors I represented. There are several other agents working at MacGregor Literary, and I’m sure they’d all step in to assist if I were hit by a bus… though their knowledge of the authors and projects would be limited. Perhaps this could be a concern at a one-person agency, since there is nobody to help pick up the slack.

Questions Book Cover

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Hey, do you have a question you want to ask a literary agent? You can send it to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. OR you could pick up a copy of my new book — How can I find a Literary Agent? (and 101 other questions writers ask), hot off the presses from The Benchmark Press. Find it in print or as an ebook at Amazon.com. 

Announcing the Latest Addition to the MacGregor Literary Team

April 1st, 2015 | Agents | 8 Comments

Meet our newest literary agent, Brian Tibbetts.BRT-Headshot

Brian will be representing subsidiary rights for the MacGregor Literary catalog, as well as new works of fiction and nonfiction for the general market. His areas of interest include literary fiction, young adult titles, new adult titles, science fiction, fantasy, horror, art and music memoirs, natural foods, alternative healing, and sustainability issues. He will be writing for the blog on publishing trends and the relationship between traditional book publishing and emerging technologies.

He lives in Portland, Oregon with the world’s most neurotic pitbull, a near-blind, toothless, fifteen-year old chihuahua, and his two children. He is an avid cook, a wood and linoleum block print artist, a musician, and a published author of poetry, fiction, and personal essays.

Brian was born into a military family and spent the first ten years of his life in various exotic locations throughout the world before settling down in a sleepy college town in the Willamette Valley. It was while his family was stationed at San Vito dei Normanni air base, near Brindisi, Italy that Brian published his first piece of short fiction in the base newspaper.

He earned his BA in English with high honors in 2000. He spent the following twelve years working in sales and marketing in the natural products industry. During this time, Brian wrote whenever he could, publishing a number of short works of fiction, and completing his first novel. He also managed submissions for a handful of clients, and edited fiction for a handful of small literary journals in his spare time.

In 2013 Brian made the decision to move fully into working with words, taking on freelance writing and editing work for an editing service and several independent clients while beginning coursework toward an MA in Book Publishing at Portland State University. While at Portland State, Brian took on the management of Portland Review as Editor-in-Chief and worked as the Acquisitions Manager for Ooligan Press. He also completed internships with Hawthorne Books and MacGregor Literary, the latter transitioning into marketing consultancy work and an eventual offer to come onboard as an agent.

 

Ask the Agent: If I have a contract in hand…

March 25th, 2015 | Agents, Current Affairs, The Business of Writing | 2 Comments

Some fascinating questions have come in recently…

“I know of several agents who edit or write on the side. Is there anything wrong with that?”

I’m on record as having said, “You’ll do best if you find a full-time agent.” But I also recognize the times are changing – now we’re seeing agents help authors self-publish, or help with marketing plans, or have some other part-time position, so I know our role has changed. An agent who also edits or writes on the side has become fairly common. My feeling is that those agents need to be careful not to mix the two – and I’ll use myself as an example. While I will always go through a proposal and make sure it’s strong, editing and tweaking as necessary, I don’t freelance edit. I tell authors that my company is not an editorial service, so if they need a full-blown developmental edit, they’re better off hiring a freelance editor. I generally will give authors three or four names of editors who I like and trust… but I always explain that I don’t care which editor the author approaches, and I’m always quick to say these people don’t work for me, and I don’t get a kickback for recommending any particular editor. So if an agent wants to do some freelance editing, I think they have to create a bright line about separating the two aspects of their business (I recently saw one agent tell authors, “I’ll represent this if you’ll hire me to edit it first”). They have to be very careful that they don’t try to sell their editorial services to clients, which will get them kicked out of the AAR. Similarly, I know of a few agents who also work as freelance writers. So long as they’re not selling their writing services to clients, and basically running two separate businesses, I think they can make that work. I understand why they need to do that financially, but I think they have to be very careful that the two services don’t sell each other. The same holds true for an agent who works part time as a publicist – you don’t try to sell your marketing services to your agency clients. The bottom line seems clear to me: If I am paid to edit or write it, I shouldn’t also try to represent it. To do so is unethical.

 

“I’ve heard it said that one way to get an agent is to get a contract. Let’s say an agent was willing to look at a contract and offered representation. Am I correct in assuming the agent would take the usual cut on that first contract, although the agent didn’t shop the manuscript? Or does this type of thing even happen?”

This is a question that I am frequently asked at conferences, so I’m glad to see it come up on the blog. Yes, there are agents who will step into a deal that’s already in place. (In fact, I know of one agent who has publicly stated, “If you’ve got a contract offer, call me!”) Is that acceptable? Maybe… but if an author ever comes to me with a deal in hand, my first advice to him or her is to say, “Check out a good contract review service, or research getting an experienced publishing lawyer to review your contract.” You see, once you have a deal in hand, the hard work has been done. The agent didn’t help you concept the book; didn’t help shape your proposal; didn’t shop it to publishers. All they’re doing is stepping in to read the contract and get paid. So in my view the agent should not be taking a full 15% commission. Maybe the agent can help improve the deal, or help with the marketing of the book. Certainly he or she ought to help you with career choices. But I’ve regularly seen authors pay 15% to an agent who did almost nothing to earn the money, and that bugs me. I think authors need to check out other sources. (And I think agents need to have the integrity to recognize when they don’t deserve a full commission.)

 

“I need some advice about USA Book News Awards. Is this a legitimate contest or some sort of scam? I’m curious about them and other contests like this, where you have to pay a tidy sum to enter the contest, and there sure are a lot of finalists.”

I don’t know that the USA Book News Awards are a scam, but they are a vanity award. You pay a fee (I think it’s currently $69), you’re sent stickers to put on your book, and some unknown entity selects the winners. (For the record, the USA Book News Awards are owned by a PR firm, JPX Media.) There are a bunch of these, and have been criticized for creating numerous categories so that everyone who enters wins some sort of award. Just so we’re clear, there are certainly legitimate writing contests and awards. But if you’re paying a fee and are guaranteed an award, that’s a scam, not legitimate contest.

 

“I recently read somewhere that you don’t necessarily need an agent if you write for children, and that it might be better use of your time to submit directly to a publisher. Is that true?”

I’ve never been an agent evangelist – the type of person who insists that EVERY author have an agent. The fact is, you might be able to survive just fine as an author without an agent. Certainly there are children’s authors (as well as adult authors) who do. The children’s publishing market is its own world, quite separate from that of adult publishing. Right now it’s certainly possible to work directly with an editor with your children’s book… but in my view, it’s getting harder. If you’re simply talking to an agent to try and land a deal, you may want to simply go to a good Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors conference, and try pitching your idea to some editors. But if you’re looking for story help, editorial direction, career advice, contract experience, and connections to the industry, an agent may be what helps you move forward.

 

“With the novel I wrote, I took on the role of a packager and hired editors, illustrators, photographers, graphic artists, and then put it all together in Adobe Indesign. I was only thinking of myself as a self published author, but your blog makes me wonder if I should try to attract the attention of a publisher. Would a publisher consider this, particularly if my novel is similar to a recent hit movie?”

If the movie you’re referencing is already out, it’ll be too late to tie your novel to it – but you might be able to reference the movie as something trending in the culture, and therefore link your novel’s appeal to that same trend. But overall, interest in previously-published novels goes up and down. For a while you couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to a book that had already been released. Then things changed, and publishers were looking for novels that had been self-published and had some success. Now it’s turned again, and you’ll find it hard to have a publisher pay close attention to your self-pubbed novel, unless it’s done very well… and the problem with that is simple: If your self-published novel has done well, what’s your motivation for giving it over to a traditional publisher and making less money on each copy sold? To do that, you’ll need to think carefully over all the issues – can a traditional publisher reach people you’re not reaching? Can they improve the product? Can they take it off your hands, and thus free you to do more writing? If not, you may not have much incentive to go with a legacy publisher.

Ask the Agent: Piracy, Careers, and Marketing

March 23rd, 2015 | Agents, Career, Marketing and Platforms | 10 Comments

A bunch of interesting questions have come in, so let’s get to them…

“Every couple months I find one of my novels online illegally as a free download. I complain, they usually take it down, and then someone puts it back up soon after. My publisher says they’re sorry, but it’s part of the biz. (I assume that’s true because they’re losing money too.) Are there any tech innovations that might prevent this?”

There are tech innovations that will locate a pirated manuscript, but I don’t know of any that will prevent it. And yes, this is a growing and annoying (and potentially expensive) problem in the industry. Pirated tracks helped kill the music business, and publishers tend to come down hard by threatening legal action against those who violate copyright. Publishers tried to protect themselves by using DRM with ebooks, but that has proven to be ineffective to stopping piracy. My guess is that the government will continue to seek out methods for strengthening copyright, just as pirates will continue to look for ways to cheat authors out of their rightful income. (I’m one of those who has no patience with people who want to illegally give away the artistic creations of others.)pen and ink

At the age of fifty I began writing professionally. I’m now past sixty, and over the last decade I have typically been able to bring in between $1500 and $12,000 a year via my writing, mostly through articles. I enjoy my full time job, and it fits well with my writing, so I do not foresee ever having a writing career or a platform sufficient to make an agent beg. Do I have a shot at getting an agent? If so, what can I do to improve the odds?”

If you are mainly writing articles, you don’t stand a great chance of landing an agent in today’s publishing world. But I know from your note to me that you’ve got a couple completed nonfiction books you are pitching, and for those I would say, “Of course you stand a chance of landing an agent.” Most agents are looking for writers who work hard, sell books, and have a track record. Your article writing has proven that. So I think you can significantly improve your odds if you were to craft a well-written book that offers insightful answers to a perceived need, demonstrate to the agent that you are the right person to be writing on the topic, and (most importantly) be able to show that you have a significant enough platform to reach the readers of that book. In my view, if you focus on those three things, you stand a very good chance to landing an agent.

“Do you think a Facebook tour can be useful for marketing your novel? I had a friend offer to post things on FB, because she doesn’t have a blog, and I wondered if it might be helpful.”

 I’ve seen a bunch of novelists market their book on Facebook, and it’s certainly one part of an overall strategy. You can use it to announce the book, to solicit participation, to get the team excited. So it can be effective, but there are limitations… It tends to only reach your friends. It can be annoying if it comes across as pushing too hard to sell a product. It’s usually not the type of thing that will be shared. But when taken as a part of the overall marketing plan, it can certainly useful.FB-f-Logo__blue_512

 I recently left my full-time job to follow my dream of becoming a freelance writer and author. The transition has been both thrilling and overwhelming. I’m working on a non-fiction, self-help book. So much of the information I read on publishing is for fiction. Where does a non-fiction author begin to network and find the right fit for representation?”

 There are a number of ways a nonfiction writer can network with other writers. First, you can hook up with a local writing group, which you may be able to find through friends or your local bookstore. Or you could see if there is a local writing class at a community college or a nearby university – such classes often see a lot of local writers participate. You can also check into national writing organizations, such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors or American Business Media (check out the list of national writing organizations at Writers Write). There are also many online writing groups for nonfiction writers, including The Writers Café, Absolute Write, The Write Idea, The Writers Beat, and a host of others. Just a bit of searching online will reveal more than a dozen. Another great way to hook up with other writers is via writing conferences, which you can easily find online. Some conferences focus on one type of writing or genre, but many are great for making connections with other nonfiction writers. As for finding representation, the process for a nonfiction writer isn’t much different from that of a novelist – you built your platform, create a great proposal, and seek out an agent either at a conference or by doing some research to see who represents works in your field. Again, with a nonfiction manuscript, the first two questions an editor is going to ask an agent are, “What’s the author’s platform?” and “What are the author’s qualifications for writing on this topic?”, so make sure you can answer those adequately before going to talk with an agent.

And a favorite question of mine: “What 10 editorial mistakes do most novice authors make?”

 I suppose if you asked this of ten agents, you’d probably get a hundred total answers, but here are my pet peeves with newbie authors:

  • Too many exclamation points!!!
  • A proposal that has not been proof-red
  • Overpromising, as in “This proposal will sell a billion copies!”
  • FEELING A NEED TO PUT LOTS OF WORDS IN ALL CAPS.coloredpencils
  • Random numbering in an outline.
  • I did this, I did that, I did this other thing, I, I, I.
  • Random commas, that make no, sense.
  • A failure to understand how to properly use “quotation” marks. (Also parentheses. And their attached punctuation).
  • Failing to understand the difference between its and it’s (or there and their and they’re).
  • The manuscript is passive due to the author.

 

Hint for the humor impaired: There are intentional errors in that list. If you see one, don’t send me a scolding note or you’ll be banned from the blog. It’s a joke. I know you don’t get it. Just trust me – others find it funny.