Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Books about Books (a guest blog)

August 22nd, 2014 | Books | 8 Comments

Landscape, language, arts, culture, current events—these are some things a novelist must research before writing her novel. When I was researching my Ellis Island series, one thing I looked at was what people were reading at the turn of the twentieth century. You can discern a lot about a person by observing his/her reading choices, so why not do this for the characters in a novel?

 

It doesn’t matter if you are writing historical or contemporary, but books were far more valuable and treasured in years past, so I think historical novels ought to include them. It’s not only fun for the writer but also for the reader who most likely enjoys books as much as you do.

 

In my series I wanted to have my characters read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz because it was taking the country by storm. Everyone was reading it. It’s no wonder because so many people related to Dorothy Gale—displaced in the strange new world that America was becoming. My Irish characters had be emerged in the storytelling tradition that the Irish are known for. My American characters had to be enthralled with the futuristic tales of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Public libraries were not as accessible back then so I imagined people traded books, talked about them, and looked forward to new ones coming out, perhaps even more than people do today.

 

My advice for novelists is to research what people were reading at the time of your setting, and also look at what the newspapers were saying about the books being released. I’ve been hearing how much my readers are enjoying learning about my characters’reading tastes.

 

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Cindy Thomson’s newest novel is Annie’s Stories (Tyndale House Publishers, July 2014,) the second in her Ellis Island series. She is also the author of Brigid of Ireland, Celtic Wisdom: Treasures From Ireland, and co-author of a baseball hall of famer biography Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story. She has written numerous magazine articles mostly on Irish genealogy, and blogs at www.cindyswriting.com.

If you’re new to the world of publishing…

July 7th, 2014 | Books, Publishing | 7 Comments

I’m a big supporter of authors trying to self-publish their out-of-print works (and sometimes their new works, depending on the author and situation), and I’ve had a number of authors write to ask questions about publishing terms and traditions. I thought you might find it helpful to know some of the official nomenclature we use in the industry:

The FRONT MATTER is all of the information that goes in the front of the book, between the cover and the actual text. It usually contains a bunch of legal and technical information about the book, and the pages are all numbered, but they often don’t have actual page numbers showing up (at least not on what are called the “display” pages — the title page, the half title page, the copyright page, the dedication page, any blank pages, etc).

There are a number of elements to the Front Matter that require special terms: the title page (which has the complete title, subtitle, author name, and publisher) the half-titlte page (which just has the book’s title), the copyright page, the legal or copyright acknowledgements (if you needed permission for anything in your text), the dedication, acknowledgements, and table of contents. There will also be a colophon, a more recent development in publishing a book that details the font, the printer, and any special production notes about the book.

There are also a number of additional Front Matter pieces that are used less often: a foreword (written by someone other than the author, to introduce the topic), a preface (written by the author to explain HOW the book was written), an introduction (written by the author to explain WHY the book was written), a prologue (written by the narrator or a character in the novel to set the scene or give important background information), an epigraph (usually a poem or quote pertinent to the story), and the author’s acknowledgements (so you can tell everyone how great your editor and agent have been in the process). The fact is, in recent days we’ve seen a decline in much of these. There’s nothing more boring that picking up a book that has a foreword, a prologue, and introduction, and three pages of acknowledgments. By then, the reader has already fallen asleep.

The BODY MATTER is the text of the book — that is, the manuscript created by the author. These pages are all numbered, and the numbers normally show on most every page. Special pages in between for chapter breaks, section breaks, book breaks, or part breaks (that is, a page that says “Part One,” for example) normally don’t have a number on them. Sometimes a publisher will make an artistic decision to leave the page numbers off of blank pages within the text or the first page of each chapter, but that’s not the norm.

The BACK MATTER contains any content that is additional or subsidiary to the text. Examples include footnotes, an index, a glossary, an appendix, or a bibliography. Occasionally the Back Matter will also include an afterword (where the author says something about the creation of the book) or an epilogue (where the author brings closure to the story or explains what happened after the book was written). Other elements of Back Matter include an author bio and a list of other titles from the author. In recent years we’ve seen some of these elements move around — with author titles moved to the Front, or acknowledgements moved to the back, but for the most part this is where the various pieces fit.

The COVER COPY is simply the text that will appear on your front cover — the title, subtitle (even if it is simply the words “a novel”), and author name. Some nonfiction books will have additional information on the topic or the author to buttress the book’s validity.

The BACK COVER COPY is everything that appears on the back cover. For most novels, that’s a short elevator pitch to try and convince readers to get hooked on the story. For most nonfiction books, it’s a selling tool to get the potential reader to crack open the book and look at the table of contents. It may or may not contain a very brief author bio. Most publishers also lump the SPINE COPY in with back cover copy, and refer to it all as “BCC.” Your spine will be limited to the title, author last name, and publisher imprimatur.

If you’re releasing a hard cover book with a dust jacket, you will also have FRONT FLAP COPY and BACK FLAP COPY. The front flap of a novel offers a short synopsis for the story, and often replaces the back cover copy. The back flap of a hardcover novel will offer an author biography. With a nonfiction book, it’s common for the summary to start on the front flap and continue to the back flap, before presenting a very brief author bio.

What are the publishing terms you’d like to ask about? What about the production of book is unclear or do you have questions about?

Sitting down with a literary agent for a latte…

April 15th, 2014 | Agents, Books, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 8 Comments

So if you could sit down at Starbucks with a literary agent, and ask him any question you wanted, what would you ask? I’m taking the month of April to let you ask those questions you’ve always wanted to talk over with an agent…

Does being a self-published author with several books help or hurt your chances of getting an agent to read something?

If the books are well written and have a good track record of sales, that will improve your chances. If the books are poorly done, or if you can’t show that you’ve sold many copies (or worse, the Amazon numbers suggest you haven’t sold a bunch of books), it will hurt your chances. I guess that’s not a surprise to you. But understand that self-pubbed books don’t disqualify you from landing an agent, nor does having a printed book you did on Create Space help your cause very much. An agent is going to be looking for a great idea, expressed through great writing, from an author with a great platform who has a strong track record of sales.

What advice would you give a first-time author? I’ve been trying to network, but not sure what else to do.

Know your audience. Take charge of your marketing. Have goals. Talk with someone who really knows how to market. Go to everyone you know. Do everything the publisher asks you to do. Research where your likely readers are online — maybe make a list of the top 100 sites your potential readers are gathering — then find ways to get onto those sites and get your name and book title in front of those readers. Learn to talk about your story in a way that’s interesting, and find venues to do that. Solicit reviews. Use the Amazon tools. Figure out some strategies you are comfortable with, and which you think will be effective, then do them. Don’t expect miracles. Don’t give up after two months.

Do you see the possibility of “New Adult” ever working in CBA?

Yeah, I do. New Adult is the (relatively new) category in publishing that appeals to those just past YA fiction, but maybe not interested in the romances and suspense stories we consider “adult” fiction. NA appeals to those in the 17 to 25 age group, and it’s been all the rage in publishing circles — growing like crazy. The genre began by looking at the issues closely related to people that age: relationships, career choices, new jobs, new cities, new adult friendships, the freedom that comes with growing up, etc. But it’s slid into a sort of soft-porn-for-younger-women trough, so authors are complaining that they can’t get their books looked at unless they raise the slut factor. Will this genre make its way into CBA? Yeah, it will, since Christians tend to buy books. Trends often hit the general market first, then trail along a year or two later in CBA. I think it’s just a matter of time before we see more New Adult fiction at CBA publishers.

What is the impact of e-books on “out of print” status of books? Do books never go out of print, and thus an author’s rights to have book and artwork revert back to them never take place?

You pretty well summed it up. Publishers have changed the wording of contracts to include e-books as qualifying for a “book in print.” And, since e-books don’t require warehousing, it basically means a book need never be declared “out of print.” That’s why authors have to be very careful with what they sign — have a professional look over your contract, just to protect yourself. One publisher recently sent contracts to dozens of authors, telling them they wanted to include their out-of-print works into e-book collections. That sounded like a great idea to several writers, and they signed the contract and sent it back without checking with anyone. The problem? The document they were sent grants ALL book rights to the publisher, and once publishers have a right granted them, they rarely want to give it back. This is why agents are pushing for either sales thresholds (“if the book doesn’t sell 500 copies in a year”) or term limits (“this agreement is in force for five years”), so that an author will eventually be able to get his or her work back.

How long does it take, on average, from when you agree to take on a new novelist to when you sell their manuscript?

It’s unique with each book, of course, but I would say an average for a first-timer is less than a year. Still, I have a couple novelists I represent, whom I’ve worked with for almost two years, and I’ve not been able to sell their work. (Not proud of that fact, but being honest.) I believe in them as authors, and want to sell them, but the fiction market is in a state of revolution. So I preach patience, and sometimes self-publishing, and continue talking with them about the future. They’re good writers, but it’s tougher than ever to land a debut novel with a publisher.

I see you’re responding to email questions, but I sent you a query letter two weeks ago for a sure hit suspense book and you have yet to respond. How long should I wait for you (or any other agent) to get back to me?

I’m trying to think of a sensitive way to say this… Cry me a river. I’ve got authors I already represent who require my time — is it fair to ignore them (who I know) so that I can take care of you (who I don’t know)? I’ll get to it when I can — usually in a month or two. That’s about the norm in the industry. But whining at me about taking time to write my blog isn’t going to win you my friendship. Besides, where is it written that I owe you a response for your proposal? I didn’t ask you for it. My website basically discourages a lot of writers from sending in something cold. I do that because I can’t respond to everyone who decides they have a “sure hit book.” (And I’ve got a secret for you: There are no sure things in this business. I’ve seen great books fail completely.) Of course, a nicer, gentler agent would say to you, “Have patience, my friend. All in good time.” Unfortunately, you didn’t write to that nicer agent; you wrote to me. And my feeling is that you sound impatient and entitled. When I have time, I’ll get to it. If I feel it deserves a response, I’ll write one. If you don’t like my answer, you are free to withdraw your proposal and talk to someone else. I’ll cry all night.

Could you shed some light on the reality of “movie rights?” I read recently that a book to movie was finally beginning production—10 years after the contract was signed. And they say publishing is slow!

You have to learn to see movies as being completely different from the book world, just as dance performance is completely different from the world of costuming. I mean, every dancer onstage is wearing a costume, but the two things are unique businesses. If a book publisher offers you a contract for your completed manuscript, the odds are better than 90% that your book is going to come out. If a movie production company offers you a contract for your completed screenplay, the odds are less than 5% that it will come out. (As I said — different businesses.) If a book publisher contracts for the rights to your book, chances are very good you’ll eventually see that book on sale in a bookstore. If a movie production company contracts for the rights to your book, they are only buying an option to talk about it for a period of time, and the vast majority of those options will simply expire with nothing concrete ever happening to move the story toward a production in theaters. If a book publisher accepts your manuscript, you’ll probably see your book on store shelves in 12 to 24 months. If a movie production company accepts your manuscript, you might see your movie in theaters in four to ten years (but probably not, since they’re just going to cancel the project anyway). It’s fun to have a production company contract for the movie rights to your story, but the odds are long that they’ll ever make a film of it.

The numbers you shared in the blog the other day (about how many people we need to be connected to as authors if we are to do a good job marketing our books) seemed awfully high. What constitutes a good platform for a beginning novelist?

I’ll stick with what I said. Publishers like big platforms. A small publisher will be happy to see an author have connections to 10,000 people (they may contract a book with an author who has a smaller platform, but they LIKE to see 10k or larger). A mid-sized publisher is happy with 40k to 60k. A large publisher wants large numbers. Again, any publisher may do a book with an unknown author who has a small platform — but the odds of landing a deal increase as your platform increases.

I know you do some Christian or spirituality books, and that makes me wonder… Why aren’t there any books for men? “Wild at Heart” was published about fifteen years ago, and people still hold that up as a contemporary men’s book.

Yeah, that’s something CBA publishers tend to weep and wail and gnash their teeth over. The problem is that men don’t buy that many books in CBA stores, so it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy — “Men don’t buy much, so we’ll design stores that basically appeal to women, so men will buy even less.” I have no idea what the solution is, though I hope publishers don’t give up on male readers.

Is there any chance that Barnes & Noble and the Nook survive?

I’m always hoping, and I think the industry is better having a national bookseller, but realistically it’s hard to see. They are obviously squeezed by Amazon, and I think we can expect them to continue to shrink. But dang! I really want B&N to survive. Like you, I’ve heard nothing but negatives about Nook, what with executives leaving and staff shrinking — so let me just state here that I LOVE my Nook, and think it’s a great e-reader. And the Nook team just announced they’ve grown the international side, so they’re in 32 countries, and 19 languages, with hopes of being the leading international e-reader. Like the boys in Monty Python said, always look on the bright side of life.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Send it along to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary. I’ll do my best to get you an answer.

And the biggest successes of 2013 were…

March 25th, 2014 | Author News, Deals, Books, Career, Current Affairs, Publishing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 8 Comments

In this week’s issue of Publisher’s Weekly, they have their annual report on the bestsellers of the previous year. I always enjoy reading about it and discussing it with authors, because nothing gives perspective more than a number. You see, authors like to talk about having books “sell a million copies,” and I’ve frequently seen proposals in which writers make wild promises about selling millions, since the audience for a particular topic is considered huge. (“There are 246 million people with dandruff in this country! There’s a ginormous market for my book on hair care!”)

But then every spring PW releases its report, and everyone gets a dose of reality. How many hardcover novels sold a million copies in 2013? One — Dan Brown’s Inferno. How many hardcover nonfiction books sold a million copies? Three — Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus and two of the “Duck Commander” books, Happy, Happy, Happy and Si-Cology. How many trade paper books sold a million copies? One — and it was released decades ago… F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There was only one mass market book that sold a million copies, proving that this formerly big-number format is quickly dying off, replaced by digital books — George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

On the children’s side, there were a handful of books that passed the million mark. Jeff Kinney’s Hard Luck: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8 sold more than three million copies, and was the biggest seller in one format of any book sold last year. But Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Insurgent, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars also hit the mark. (Two other titles probably did: Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham, but the numbers are unclear because of several factors.) Still, when it comes to print copies, that means there were all of thirteen titles that sold a million copies last year. And there were roughly 250,000 books releasing in print last year, and approximately five million books in print for sale. Thirteen books. Makes one pause to think, doesn’t it?

On the positive side, more hardcover novels than ever (a total of 251 different titles) hit the bestseller lists than ever before. But on the negative side, the list of hardcover fiction that sold more than 100,000 copies comes to just 89 titles — the lowest I’ve ever seen. Also on the positive side, there were a bunch of Christian titles on the various lists. But on the negative side, of those 89 hardcover novels that sold more than 100,000 copies, only ONE was from a first-time author. In other words, the best way to be a bestselling author is to have been a bestselling author last year. Sigh…

The ebook sales in PW are harder to discover. PW relies on publishers to send them figures, so self-published books (and, let’s face it, most small e-publishers) simply aren’t included. There were only two ebook titles that, according to their study, sold more than a million copies: Dan Brown’s Inferno and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. With the proliferation of indie publishing (whether by the author, an author co-op, or by a small independent press) we’re in a state where getting complete numbers is nearly impossible. And, I’ll admit it, while I’m very supportive of indie publishing, I tend to discount what some of them report. For example, on Randy Ingermanson’s wonderful “Advanced Fiction Writing Blog,” during a discussion of Hugh Howey’s interesting “Author Earnings” article, Mr. Howey came onto the site to say that he knew of “several (indie) authors who sold multiple millions last year.” Um… I doubt that. Randy’s own analysis (the guy has a PhD in quantum physic) was that there could theoretically be two authors who sold a couple million ebooks, and another handful that sold a million. So the irrational exuberance of claiming to know a bunch of authors who all self-pubbed and sold “multiple millions” may be encouraging to author wannabe’s, but I don’t think it’s accurate.

That said, if you take a look at the article in PW, you’ll see some really good news: the overall number of ebooks reported, even though it’s basically from traditional publishers, reveals that more books are selling than ever before. The explosion of ebooks and self-publishing has been a fabulous step for authors, even though we’re all still trying to figure out how to track the numbers and understand the new systems. Sure, there’s been a migration away from mass market books to Kindles and Nooks and iPads, but the overall numbers of titles selling is greater (and hey, there are still a significant number of mass market titles sold). This is great news for authors — books are continuing to sell, more people are reading than ever before, there is a greater need for content, and there are more opportunities to publish and be read than ever before in the history of the world. What’s to complain about? This is the golden age of publishing, people.

And one last thought comes to mind as you look over the article… Publishing is very much like buying a lottery ticket. (Or, as Joe Konrath once put it, “Publishing is a carny game.”) Some people can work at it, study the probabilities, try their hardest, and never get anywhere. Others stop by 7/11 one day, drop a dollar on a lark, and find themselves living in Beverly Hills and driving a Maserati. Hey – life ain’t fair. But understand that’s the system. Writing is art, and I never knew anyone who felt the world of art was going to be easy. You pick up a paintbrush, take lessons, work with a mentor, practice, and work your way through a thousand canvases before you’re any good, and even then you still might not get noticed. Or you fall in love with the ballet, invest thousands in lessons, spend your life doing plies, and hope to latch on to a little dance company in Toledo. Or maybe you buy a used Stratocaster, invest in lessons, start a band in your garage, and play every school dance and grange hall in hopes of getting discovered. Occasionally something works — your band gets noticed and you’re offered a job as an opener for a headliner, or you get cast in a lead role that gets rave reviews, or your sculpture garners a headline in a major art magazine. You bust out. It happens. Sometimes it’s because of your great craft, your unique interpretation, or your artistic vision. Other times it’s dumb luck — your book hits the same time the culture happens to take an interest in your topic, or your title appeals to somebody at USA Today. That’s life — you do your best, and sometimes you hit the lottery. Or you don’t, in most cases, and you continue to work at it because it’s art and you enjoy it. But there’s no sure thing in publishing. Books are selling (more books than ever, thank God), and opportunities abound. I still think you’ll do better if you practice and get a mentor and learn something about the craft, no matter the success of Fifty Shades of Gray. But this year’s report once again shows there’s no guarantee to success — and some of our best writers may not be selling all that well. Still, there’s a chance of finding success, whether modest or great, and we do it because we love words. That, to me, is always the point of reading about the biggest successes in our industry.

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To see the blog post from J.A. Konrath that I referenced above, go here: http://jakonrath.blogspot.com/2014/02/eisler-publishing-is-lottery-konrath.html

Engineered Bestsellers, Rock Star Pastors, and Rosie Ruiz

March 21st, 2014 | Books, CBA, Collaborating and Ghosting, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 5 Comments

by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]

Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.

As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.

This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.

I know, I know…

You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.

I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.

So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero to 10,000 sales virtually overnight. I must confess that at this point I was kicking myself for not asking for a percentage of the royalties. I figured we had a runaway bestseller on our hands.

Since Amazon posts BookScan sales figures weekly, I spent a week eagerly looking forward to the next report. But when the stats were posted, not only was I disappointed, I was puzzled. In one week, the book’s sales crashed from 10,000 to about 200. The next week it dropped off even further—to about 50.

You read that correctly.

Fifty.

If you do the math, that amounts to about a 99.95% drop off in three weeks.

At first, I thought the church had purchased a bunch of books, maybe to sell in bookstores on their various campuses. But I checked the geographical sales figures, and they were literally all over the map. Ten copies here. Twenty-five copies there. Sixty in another place. Almost every state in the U.S. was represented. I was flummoxed — until I heard about Mars Hill Church’s arrangement with a marketing firm known as ResultSource. Then all the puzzle pieces fell into place.

The pastor I collaborated with had mentioned that he had a “consultant” who helped his previous book get on a major (not the NYT) bestseller list, and that he planned to use them again. In my naïveté, I assumed the consultant was a publicist who helped market the book. Now I believe it was either ResultSource or a similar company.

Like it or not, I am now the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

How does that make me feel? It makes me feel an uncomfortable kinship with an infamous long-distance runner named Rosie Ruiz.

Ms. Ruiz won the 1980 Boston Marathon in the women’s category with the fastest time in the history of the race. However, her celebration was short lived when it became clear that she did not run the entire race. She wanted the glory of winning the Boston Marathon, but she wasn’t willing to put in the hard work required to do it legitimately. Even if she had put in the work, she might not have been good enough to win. Rosie wasn’t willing to take that risk. She wanted glory and fame. She wanted a guaranteed win. So she took a shortcut — she cheated.

That’s what’s happening when megachurch pastors, conference speakers, and big organizations hire companies like ResultSource to “help” their books attain bestseller status. Like Rosie Ruiz, they want the glory. They want a guaranteed win. So they take a shortcut. They cheat.

Is this done all the time in the publishing industry? Chip MacGregor says no, and I agree with him. This is not a publishing industry problem. I believe engineered bestsellers are symptomatic of an evangelical Christian culture that worships success and elevates megachurch pastors to rock star status.

Boston Marathon officials disqualified Rosie Ruiz and stripped her of her title. Unfortunately, no one is going to strip these pastors and Christian leaders of their phony “bestselling author” status. However, one can hope that the embarrassment caused by the Mark Driscoll fiasco will make them think twice before paying for another engineered bestseller.

And maybe, just maybe, they will remove the phrase, “bestselling author,” from their bios and websites until they attain that status legitimately — through people actually buying, reading, and sharing their books.

Making sure I get the story straight…

March 19th, 2014 | Books, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 14 Comments

I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)

I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.

Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls from publishers after my last blog, and they led to share several thoughts…

1. Mark Driscoll, the Seattle pastor who I’ve had bad experiences with in the past, and who I raked over the coals on Monday for having bought his way onto the bestseller lists, offered up an apology yesterday. [You can find it here: http://tinyurl.com/nbajg67 ] I have mixed emotions about this… On the one hand, I tend to roll my eyes at the fact he didn’t own up to plagiarism. He preferred to reference things “we” did, instead of just taking responsibility for books with his own name on them. His solution (to stay away from social media and not do many conferences this year) sounds, to me, like an effort to simply stay out of the limelight. And the concept of sending a private letter to church members only, taking it down so it doesn’t get passed around to news sources, and simply trying to make a private statement about a public error is TERRIBLE. For crying out loud, who is giving this guy advice?

2. BUT, on the other hand, the guy seems to have made an effort to make things right. A couple of people who know him well told me he’s actually been changed by this. That he’s considerably less full of himself than he used to be. That he really does want to make an effort to be more of a pastor and less of a celebrity. And you know what? I think making a good-faith effort deserves respect.

3. One publisher who called me said that, in his mind, the plagiarism was inadvertent — research assistants had done it, and Mark never purposefully intended to steal anyone’s words. So that publisher said it wasn’t really “plagiarism,” but a simple error. I tend to disagree with that notion — not because I think Mark Driscoll was actually trying to get away with stealing someone’s words, but because the book had his name on it. Um… this is MY blog. I type the words. When somebody else blogs, their name goes on the post (for example, yesterday’s excellent blog by Erin Buterbaugh). So if I hire somebody, and they steal some words and post them as mine, then it’s ME who is responsible, not some unnamed assistant. My intention may not be to harm anyone, but when it happens, I’m the one who has to come out, tell the truth, and apologize. If I’m too big and famous to write, or too busy with work to actually check the words, then perhaps I ought not to have my name on the cover, since I didn’t actually write it. All that said, I understand that the plagiarism was probably inadvertent. But, in my view, it’s still plagiarism, no matter the intent, and still requires an author to take responsibility and apologize.

4. Another publisher called to say that ResultSource is a good marketing company, who has worked with numerous bestselling authors, and they do a good job. He noted their speciality is helping speakers get a bunch of books sold by targeting their list of followers, and encouraging them to all purchase the book the week it launches. JUST SO WE’RE CLEAR, I’m all for that approach. I think any marketing an author does is aimed at selling books. An author does a bunch of radio shows, or does a blog tour, or speaks at conferences, and says to everyone, “Go buy my book!” That’s just marketing — getting in front of one’s potential audience and trying to convince them to buy your product. So let’s be clear: I have no problem with an author marketing his or her book. ResultSource apparently does this very well. But I was told, by two different people, that what was unique about this campaign was that those outside of Mark Driscoll’s following were used to purchase copies of the book, and World Magazine reported that numerous credit cards were used to purchase the copies specifically to get around the reporting strategies of the New York Times bestseller list. In other words, it wasn’t the core group, who you would expect to be encouraged to purchase the book, but outsiders who would not normally have bought it. That’s why I said this was a case, in my view, of gaming the system.

5. And that leads to another thing I heard from publishers — that the New York Times is so tight-lipped about what “the system” actually is for getting on the bestseller list, they have no idea how to manipulate it. Nobody really knows what numbers the NYT uses to actually create their list, and publishers complained to me that frequently a book selling particularly well but with an unpopular topic (such as a book featuring conservative politics, or a book about conservative Christianity) won’t make the list, while a book that obviously sold far fewer copies but with a more liberal perspective will make the list. Please understand I’m not arguing, only reporting what more than one publisher told me.

6. And that in turn means that the only way to insure a book sells the required number of copies to guarantee a spot on the list (in current terms, that means selling roughly 11,000 copies in a week), is to have some sort of marketing plan that focuses on selling a bunch of copies all at once. Again, I’m all for marketing books, as evidenced by the content of this blog. Every publisher I talked to said they want to hit the NYT list, and they’ll do all they can to hit it, but they also insisted they would never work with a company that tried to cheat their way on by basically hiring strangers to go purchase copies. I thought I’d mention that, since a lot of people have maintained that “everybody does that.” I made it clear in my previous post, and I still hold to the statement, that NOT everybody is doing this to try and cheat their way onto the list. I stand by these words: “I’ve never known one of the respectable legacy publishers to pull this sort of schtick.”

7. That said, it’s also clear nearly every publishing house is working with ResultSource. Not to have them buy copies via strangers, but to have them work with an author’s platform in order to encourage everyone to purchase a copy the same week. Again, for the record, I don’t have a problem with that. And I’m not here to bash ResultSource, who is clearly doing some good things, since every single publisher I spoke with works with them. (I sent a note to the president of ResultSource about all of this, by the way. I want to make sure the facts are correct. But their website is shut down and the phone not working. Um… I have no idea if this is related to the controversy or not.)

8. Finally, one publisher who is well-acquainted with the situation told me that the financial figure that was reported in the World article (“more than $200,000″) was not accurate. I don’t have any way of corroborating that, but it’s a source I consider reliable, and someone who was not the publisher of the book in question, so this person doesn’t have a dog in the hunt. I think it’s only fair to mention that this individual told me the actual number paid by Mark Driscoll was considerably lower than the number reported in the story.

Again, I once had a bad situation with Mr. Driscoll. He said something to me that I discovered was patently untrue, I’ve not been a fan of his macho crap in the pulpit, I’ve grown weary of the mindless hero-worship I have detected in his followers, so I have tended to be a critic and look with doubt on some of his words. But… well, I want to make sure I have my facts straight, so I’m not doing exactly the thing I have been critical of others doing to me. And if a guy says he wants to change, I need to have the grace to take him at his word. Sure, I’d prefer Mr. Driscoll owned up to the plagiarism in his works, whether he did it deliberately or not. I’d prefer he took responsibility for the problems, and not blamed unnamed assistants, or outside counsel, or anyone other than himself, whose name is on the books. I’d prefer if he were going to apologize, he did so publicly, since the errors were made publicly, instead of sort-of apologizing but then hiding the note away. I’d prefer his board didn’t look like a bunch of sycophants, praising him in the midst of obvious errors, instead of promising to ensure this never happens again. And I’d prefer he was more forthcoming about the whole affair, since Americans have a tremendous ability to forgive when a public person is up-front about his or her errors (but they’ll go after someone who waffles like a reporter digging for a story). So there are things I’d prefer. But most of all, I’d prefer to be correct in the things I share on this blog. I hope I got all of them correct today.

What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list?

March 14th, 2014 | Author News, Deals, Books, CBA, Collaborating and Ghosting, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Religion, The Business of Writing, Trends | 113 Comments

Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…

Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated  word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.

Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use more than 1000 different payment methods, so BookScan couldn’t track all the purchases back to a single source. In other words, they cheated to manipulate the system, got the book onto the list (for that one week), and did it so that Driscoll can refer to himself as “a New York Times bestselling author.”

I was critical of him for doing it, since I don’t think gaming the system is the right thing to do. It’s unfair. It’s lazy. It’s dishonest. And it’s basically nothing more than rampant egotism. But I had several people write to me, or post on Facebook, that this is common practice. A couple people said “everybody is doing it,” and some claimed “publishers are doing that all the time.” My response: Bullshit. Sorry if that offends, but we need to call it what it is. This is NOT standard practice. Everybody is NOT doing it. I used to be an associate publisher with Time-Warner, and this is not something we ever did, nor could I conceive of us doing it. I’ve also worked with every one of the Big Six publishers, as well as dozens of smaller publishers and every CBA publishing house, and I’ve never known one of the respectable legacy publishers to pull this sort of schtick.

Are the bestseller lists rigged? Perhaps, to a small degree — certainly Amazon seems to include an inordinate number of their own titles on the Amazon bestseller lists, and occasionally we’ll all be surprised at how a book with modest sales somehow wound up on a bestseller list because of the strange (and secret) way some of them account for the books. But for the most part, the books showing up on the lists are there because of sales. Honest, straightforward sales. Sometimes we get shocked when a crappy book (say, for example, Fifty Shades of Gray) suddenly starts showing up everywhere — but it showed up because, in spite of the boring story and fourth-grade writing ability, the book SOLD. Like it or not, that book wasn’t snuck onto a list dishonestly. Um… do we really want a PASTOR cheating his way onto the NYT list? And, matched with the fact that his name was on books that he now claims he didn’t actually write, what does that say about the guy? 

I find the whole thing incredibly lazy, and was shocked to discover the church itself admitted they didn’t know if church funds had been used to pay the bill. (Really? They spent nearly a quarter of a million dollars to stroke the author’s ego, and they don’t know where the money came from? Let’s just say that stretches the bounds of credulity.) This is the sort of news that is bound to come out, and will hurt you, since it demonstrates your laziness and need for attention. So no, I’m not one of those in the “he’s just spreading the Good News camp.” That’s baloney. If Mark Driscoll just wanted to spread the good news, he could have purchased $200,000 worth of books and given them away. This was done to make himself feel important, and in doing so, he does potential damage to honest authors, who work to write and market their books.

So today Mark Driscoll admits, in an interview in Charisma, the scheme was cooked up and a bad idea… but, of course, he’s not to blame. Nope. He explained that “outside counsel advised us to use ResultSource.” So those pesky outside counselors are to blame, like that pesky unnamed research assistant who plagiarized is to blame. Not Mark. Not the guy with his name all over stuff. Huh-uh. Instead, his board made a statement that they appreciate his “endurance through false accusation.” Um… excuse me, but what exactly was the FALSE part? His book contains the un-cited work of another writer, which his own publisher acknowledged was inappropriate  He had clearly plagiarized materials with his name on it. A company was paid a pile of money to pump his book and dishonestly get it onto bestseller lists. Those are all facts. What exactly is the “false” part? Well, except for the part where Mark claims he actually wrote any of this, I mean. I’m fairly certain that part is false. 

What’s wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list? It’s an expensive, short-term ego stroke for the lazy and dishonest, and it excludes real writers from actually making the list. My two cents.

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You can find out more information on Mark Driscoll, plagiarism, and buying your way onto a bestseller list by going to World Magazine, Slate, the blaze.com, and the writings of Warren Throckmorton. You could probably also go to Mark Driscoll’s site, but be aware that, even though it has his name on it, he probably didn’t write it, and if there are errors it’s somebody else’s fault. 

 

A Workshop on Getting Published

January 7th, 2014 | Agents, Books, Career, Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, The Writing Craft | 0 Comments

BY CHIP MACGREGOR

 

A new writing conference is fast approaching — and you’re invited.

On Saturday, February 15, I will be speaking at the Dallas Writers’ University. It’s a one-day event, with a rather intensive agenda:

  • I’ll speak on “developing a book proposal that sells,” and the focus will be on giving practical, hands-on help to writers who want to create a proposal that will get noticed.
  • I’ll also be speaking on “creating your long-term publishing strategy,” with an emphasis on traditional publishing, niche publishing, self-publishing, and alternative strategies for writers to make a living.
  • Michelle Borquez, bestselling author and entrepreneur, will explore “building a platform around your concept.”
  • There will be a Q&A time, and everybody there will have a face to face meeting with me sometime during the day.
  • Finally, Michelle and I will be talking about the secret to success in contemporary publishing.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I’ve largely taken time away from conferences the past couple years, but I love talking to authors about proposals and strategy. And you’re invited. Again, every participant gets face time with me, where we’ll be reviewing proposals and talking about next steps in a one-on-one setting. That means our space is limited to just 30 people.

Here’s the thing . . . there are a hundred conferences you can go to in order to get some basic information on writing. But if you really want to join a small group and find out how to create a book that will sell, make some money, and gain entry into the world of publishing by talking to some experienced people in the industry, I hope you’ll consider joining us. I don’t do many conferences anymore (and rarely do a writing conference), so I’m excited to be asked to be part of this one.

The event is going to be in the Dallas area, at a church in White Settlement. The cost is $225 and includes lunch – but if you mention this blog when you sign up, you can attend for $199. You can find out all you need to know by clicking here.

If you live anywhere in the area, I would love to have you come and introduce yourself to me.

Feel free to ask me questions — happy to be doing this!

My Publishing Predictions for 2014

January 1st, 2014 | Agents, Books, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 29 Comments

I sometimes hate reading people’s predictions for the new year, since they tend to be incredibly safe (“a new author will arise and start selling well”) or so obvious a moron could have guessed it (“it will rain a lot in Oregon”). But I enjoy the notion of trying to guess what will happen, since I’ve spent my life in this business, and I tend to try and stay ahead of the curve. So here are my un-safe, non-obvious thoughts on what may happen this year…

1. Amazon is going to start a chain of stores. Maybe it’ll be in airports, maybe they’ll start micro-stores like the kiosks you see selling headphones and chargers in airport terminals, but Amazon NEEDS to find an outlet for their Amazon-branded books. No brick and mortar store will touch them, and they need a presence in paper somewhere.

2. Barnes & Noble is going to be sold but remain in business. Okay, I don’t have ANY insider information, even though my wife worked for them for years. We all know B&N is struggling. They may sell off their Nook business (and I’m a huge fan of my Nook, as I’ve noted on this blog several times), but I don’t think America’s largest book retailer will go under. Instead, I’m wondering if the good folks at Microsoft (who propped up the Nook with an infusion of cash two years ago) might buy the entire chain. Someone will.

3. We’re going to see a bunch of publisher mergers. Hear me out: the rise of ebook readers led to a flood of category novels. That in turn led to the creation of countless smaller publishing houses — start-up companies that focused on one genre. But with ebook sales gone flat, and dedicated e-readers failing due to tablets, a bunch of those semi-successful smaller houses are about to be taken over by the Random Houses and HarperCollins of the world.

4. There will be huge growth in book subscription services. You may not know much about Oyster or Scribd yet, but you will. When you turn on your TV, you don’t want to pay money every time you want to watch a movie, so you subscribe to TCM or HBO or Starz — a bunch of movies for one relatively low price per month. Translate that to books — you pay one low price per month, and a streaming service offers you a huge array of titles you can read that month. Bang: winner!

5. Libraries are finally going to resolve their tiresome debate with publishers. Look, we all agree that having public libraries is a good thing for our country. But they’ve not had the money to buy the books they need, and they’ve been kept from purchasing vast amounts of digital content from publishers who didn’t want library users to get their hands on a bunch of backlist books for free. But publishers are looking for new revenues, so… I predict that this year some of the mega publishers are simply going to say to libraries, “Okay, for $$$ you can have access to our entire backlist of titles.” It’s “rent-a-library.” Problem solved.

6. Ebook prices will drop again, and remain low. I hate to see it, since I think we’re telling readers that words don’t have much value, but consumers have a Wal-Mart mindset — they want a LOT of words for a LITTLE money. So the price of ebooks will come down, meaning authors won’t be making as much money on their work. Sorry

7. Publishing co-ops will pop up. With so many authors self-publishing, and with the rise of companies that specialize in book cover creation, or in ebook editing, or in book formatting, or in author marketing, we’re going to see publishing co-ops form — specialists coming together, with various skills and tools, and creating a new version  of what looks remarkably like a publishing house, except it won’t be owned by an entertainment conglomerate (or by Rupert Murdoch).

8. Legacy publishers will boost their author services. I think a lot of mainstream publishers are scared of indies and the self-publishing movement, and soon, instead of just bitching about it and blaming Amazon for their troubles, they’ll begin to strengthen their author services, to help remind writers that working with a traditional publisher is a GOOD thing. The mood toward the Big Six, New York houses in general, and most traditional publishers is largely negative these days — which might be unfair, but it’s there and we all need to acknowledge it. You overcome negativity by improving customer relations and offering better perks.

9. A bunch of agents are simply going to get out of the business. I’ve been doing this for 16 years now, and I can tell you the finances of agenting are becoming harder than ever. Literary agents have to grow and change, which means offering different services, changing the way they do business, and re-making their image as that of “hard to reach/know-it-all/patronizing pain-in-the-ass” to “business and artist career manager.”

10. We’re going to start seeing more content in surprising new places. Okay, I may be guilty of being too vague here, but I think some companies are going to find new ways of offering written content to readers. I’m just not sure how yet. I was at Best Buy recently and saw a refrigerator with a TV built into the door, noticed at the Verizon store that the guy beside me was reading a book on his phone, got an automatic tweet on my iPad when a friend shared a new message… and I started thinking about convergence — how we like to blend tools we need for everyday living. In days past I had a camera, a date book, a rolodex, a “to do” list, and a telephone. Now all of those tools exist on my iPhone. So I don’t know how this happens, but in some unique way I think we’re going to see some (probably young, enterprising) company surprise us by delivering book content in new ways. And, of course, the result will be that everyone in publishing will declare it as a sign of the apocalypse.

My ten predictions. What do YOU think will happen in 2014? Would love to see your thoughts in the “comments” section. Happy New Year!

Thursdays with Amanda: My Favorite Authors and Books

December 5th, 2013 | Books, Favorite Books | 15 Comments

Amanda 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 taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).

 

They say (okay, maybe ‘they’ don’t say it, but I’ve heard it on occasion) that the best way to get to know what an agent or editor likes is to find out what they read. What books they cherish. What authors they drool over. The thought is that if you can find an agent or editor who loves books and authors that are similar to what you write, you’re that much closer to getting picked up.

I don’t know how much truth there is in this. Fact is, most industry professionals tend to enjoy literary fiction…and yet as an agent I’m lucky if I get to sell one lit fiction book a year. I think I had somewhere around twenty books come out last year that I had agented. None of them were literary fiction. In fact in my three-year career, I’ve sold one literary fiction title. One.

BUT still. The idea stands. I love literary fiction. I love great speculative fiction. I love gothic fiction. Show me a book that fits these categories and I’m that much more likely to consider it.

So with that being said, I thought I’d take today and go over my favorite authors and books of all time. These are the best of the best, in my humble opinion. And if what you write matches them…well, then. I’d suggest you introduce yourself the next time we’re at conference together.

 

THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald

This is quite possibly my favorite book of all time, because it changed me. I mean it really did. I read it in high school, and you have to understand that up to that point in my life I had primarily only read super old classics (Jane Eyre-style) and light childrens books (Goosebumps). Gatsby not only gave me a forever love of the 20s, but it showed me that prose doesn’t have to be long-winded and old-fashioned. It taught me about voice. It opened my eyes to how books…even “old” books…can sound and feel and be different. It made me want to write more than any other book ever had.

 

WUTHERING HEIGHTS by Emily Bronte

Best love story of all time. You can call me a creep. You can call me a psycho for thinking Heathcliff is awesome and dreamy, but I can’t help it. *swoon*

 

MIDDLESEX by Jeffrey Eugenides

I read this in college when I was fairly close-minded and judgmental. This book tore me open and made me rethink EVERYTHING. It took a subject that is so very black and white for some (it’s about a person who is born as both a male and a female due to some family incest years before), and it proved the gray. It forever changed the way I approach and view certain things and I am thankful for that. That’s what a great book does. It takes what you believe and challenges you to really think through it. Doesn’t matter whether you change your belief or not. It’s all about getting people to think through what they believe and why.

 

JOHN STEINBECK

I was gushing about The Grapes of Wrath once, and a friend of mine looked at me with the most confused expression and said, “He spent an entire chapter writing about a turtle that was trying to cross the road.” And this is true. Pages and pages are spent on what seems like nothingness in an attempt to take a break (but not a meaningless break!) from the main storyline. And I loved every minute of it. Steinbeck’s voice and approach grip me so much that he can write about a turtle crossing a road, and I’M RIGHT THERE WITH HIM.

 

JOE MENO

To say that Meno is the voice of a generation would be a bit over the top. But guys, he’s the voice of a generation. Or at least a decade. Hairstyles of the Damned is a hip lit punk rock piece of awesome. And The Boy Detective Fails, Meno’s follow-up full length novel, is so opposite in nature and yet similar at the same time. It follows a man who refuses to grow up, playing boy detective to unearth the mystery behind his sister’s death. I love Meno’s style. He’s one of my favorite contemporary authors. And, he’s super nice.

 

JONATHAN STRANGE AND MR. NORRILL by Suzanne Collins

I’m a slow reader. Painfully slow. I try to tell my authors this and they’re like “yeah, yeah” and then a week later they’re like “Have you read my book?” and I’m like “I’m only halfway done!” and they’re sad. Because I’m so slow, I tend to avoid big books (though my recent obsession with George Martin has thrown this out the window). And at the same time, I can’t ignore a challenge. A book-related challenge, that is. The only reason this book and Middlesex are on the list is because a friend of mine practically dared me to read them. And her dare had nothing to do with the content and everything to do with length. But I am so glad she did. Because of my love for old-timey books, Jonathan Strange will forever be one of my favorites. It’s like Harry Potter for adults… For Bronte-sister-reading, English literature-loving adults.

 

THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD by Zora Neale Hurston

I have a huge soft spot for Black Literary Fiction, and I owe it all to this amazing, amazing book. I don’t even have words for how much I love this book. It follows the main character’s relationships with three different men. Set in the south in the 20s or so, the setting also takes a strong role in the story. Of all the books on this list, this is the one I’d recommend first. It’s all in the voice and how REAL the main character comes across.

 

DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson

I have this strange love affair with Chicago. I grew up in the suburbs, which is NOT the same thing as the city, butI’ve always tried to position myself in a way that makes people think I’m from the city. This, of course, drives my friends nuts. But anyway, this book is the only bit of nonfiction on the list, but it’s probably the most epic of them all. Chicago World’s Fair. 1893. The city is rebuilding after the fire. Daniel Burnham, famous architect, is one of the key players in getting the city ready for what would turn it into a major player for top US cities. And just a few miles away in Englewood, H.H. Holmes is doing an architectural project of his own. He’s turning the building that holds his storefront into a hotel. But not just any hotel. This hotel has secret passageways, peepholes, an incinerator, a gas chamber, and more. Many of the guests who check in, won’t check out. Thus begins the story of America’s first serial killer.

 

This is what’s on my list. What’s on yours?

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