Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

The Journey of my First Publishing Contract (A Guest Blog by Jill Lynn)

February 6th, 2015 | Books, Career, Publishing | 3 Comments

Jill Lynn HeadshotI’m a newbie to the publishing world. In early 2014, I received my first publishing offer from Harlequin Love Inspired. I accepted it with excitement, ready for the words hidden on my computer to be seen by all the world.

Then I received my first edits.

After hyperventilating, I read them again. I could tell my editor was right… she was brilliant, seeing things I hadn’t seen. But the changes… I didn’t have a clue where to begin. The task felt insurmountable. I wrote and wrote, and my family didn’t see me for a period of time.

When we reached the end of edits, then came an entirely new problem. They wanted me to hand the book over to them. What? When did we agree to this? Oh, yeah. When I signed the contract. But still, they actually wanted me to fork over my words. They were going to let people read them. But… but… but I’m not done yet!

I quickly realized I would never feel ready.

Part of being creative is that there’s always something more that can be changed or tweaked or deleted. That’s what deadlines are for. Someone has to pry the book from your hands. I naively thought I would have a book done before the deadline. I’m not a procrastinator and I don’t do things last minute. But I never realized that I wouldn’t feel ready to give it up. I did send it in on time, and then I wandered around my house for a week wondering what to do with myself. Laundry would have been a good option.

Next came the request for titles. I went round and round on those, bugging my friends, my poor agent Amanda, and my husband until people were texting me random title ideas at all hours of the day.

Once a title was picked, we moved on to line edits.

Oh, wait. You thought the edits were done? Those were content edits. These are line edits. Much smaller (not as much to freak out about, though I’m sure I still put up a fair effort.)

Handing the book in this time was even harder because it was the last time I would be able to make any changes. THE LAST TIME.

No problem. I was cool as could be. Pretty sure I cried, prayed, and then hit send on the email. This all sounds very dramatic, and I might be exaggerating just a titch, but there’s truth to it also. Handing over your first book baby isn’t easy.

In December, a box of books arrived on my front step.

SavingTexas

There’s my newborn right there. Isn’t she cute?

The journey of writing might not be easy, but if you asked me if it’s worth it, I would say…

When can we do it again? :)

Jill Lynn lives near the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children who make her laugh on a daily basis. Her first novel, Falling for Texas, is available in stores and online. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Jill won the ACFW Genesis award in 2013. She has a penchant for great books, boots, and thrift stores. Find her online at www.Jill-Lynn.com.

Thursdays with Amanda: Winner Chosen! (2015 writing project challenge)

January 8th, 2015 | Books, The Writing Craft | 28 Comments

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

PLEASE READ THROUGH TO THE END… EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T WIN I HAVE SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR YOU…

Last week I invited you to share with me the various projects you’ll be working in 2015. I believe there is something inspiring about writers sharing ideas with others. There is something about making a public commitment to PURSUE a project that makes it so much more real (and we all know how working on a book alone, on your own, can many times feel like you’re pretending at this whole writer thing). So I’m very glad that we got a good response to my post. I’m glad for the thirty-some of you who took me up on my challenge and made your 2015 goal project public.

And as promised, I’ve chosen a favorite! Here are some things that I considered when reading through the submissions:

  1. Does the project have a strong external plot? It’s easy to focus on the internal arc (what are their fears and how do the characters change on the inside?), but a pitch is all about the external. What happens TO these characters? That’s what I’m more concerned about at this stage in the game.
  2. Does the project sound different? I see a lot of pitches, a lot of story ideas, and so I’m alway on the lookout for a book that is unique. Something that either I haven’t heard before or something that is different enough from the status quo.
  3. Do I want to know more? This is probably the most important question. Because a book can lack an external plot and sound just like everything else, but if it gets me to want to turn the page…we’re golden.

FINALISTS

  • ALICIA TUBBS: DR. VIRGIL’S AFTERLIFE RECORDINGS – Dr. Santos Virgil has been entrusted with a device that records a person’s life review upon the moment of death. In the wrong hands, the secrets revealed in these life reviews could destroy the world. When a cold-blooded mobster holds Santos’ friends hostage in exchange for the device, Santos embarks upon a suicidal rescue mission. If his mission fails, his friends will die, and the device will fall into the mobster’s possession. No secret will be safe from the grave.
  • SCOTT KEDERSHA: The Best Seat in the Chapel: Lessons Learned From Over 2500 Premarried Couples – When you attend a wedding, most of the ceremony, all you see is the backside of the bride and groom. You see his face when the bridal party processes and you see her’s as she walks down the aisle. For most of the ceremony, however, you cannot see their faces, the excitement and anticipation of becoming one with each other. Only one person has the privilege of seeing in their faces most of the ceremony. The pastor has the Best Seat in the Chapel. In this book, I will share what God’s Word says about marriage and stories of real couples and the challenges they have walked through in preparing for marriage. The Best Seat in the Chapel is the culmination of what I have learned from over 2500 premarried couples as a marriage pastor over a thriving premarried church ministry.
  • KELLY COLLINS HOPKINS: Goode Music – Engaged to a controlling school superintendent, Kyra Goode is an ambitious, gifted music teacher in Pennsylvania until she loses her job to a budget cut. Packing up what’s left of her pride, Kyra heads for South Carolina and a spot in her brother’s tavern band. Playing in public again sounds like a great idea until she meets the band’s handsome lead singer—her former college flame, Mel Farr. The last thing Kyra wants is a new romantic entanglement, but she can’t resist the grip Mel still holds on her heart and sparks fly. While Kyra loses herself in her music and new love, her former fiancé fakes his own death to stalk her, plotting to destroy Kyra and everyone she loves.
  • KRISTEN JOY WILKS – Ten-year-old triplets finally escape their mother’s smothering to enjoy a week of summer camp. But every 100 years something impossible comes to Camp CastleSnag. An ancient castle appears for an hour at twilight. Its gate leads into The Wandering Wood, a primeval forest populated with extinct monsters from earth’s distant past. However, trouble soon follows their discovery. Someone is releasing creatures from the Wandering Wood. God may have provided a sanctuary for the animal wonders of long ago, but will He provide a way for the boys to avoid being trampled or accidentally devoured? Is guarding the Wandering Wood their destiny, or just a handy way for God to be rid of three pesky boys?

WINNER!!

The winner is Kristen Joy Wilks and her Jumani-esque story about triplets and extinct monsters! I chose this blurb because, for me, it nailed my three main questions (above). And after reading it, I didn’t come away with any hesitations or concerns. Just positive vibes! So congrats, Kristen! Sorry I don’t have a prize…but maybe bragging rights are enough?

Now, for everyone else who entered and are either wondering why you didn’t final or what I thought of your blurb, I’m happy to answer questions about those very blurbs (this is not an invitation for you to post your first chapter or your synopsis, etc). So if you want to know x or y about your blurb and what I thought, feel free to leave a comment! I’ll be responding over the next few days.

 

Thursdays with Amanda: Share Your 2015 Writing Project

January 1st, 2015 | Books, The Writing Craft | 39 Comments

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

Instead of doing a list of resolutions or predictions or blah blah blah, we’re going to do something fun…

Let’s face it, if we’re serious about writing, we should be able to finish a book this year, right? So, let’s focus on THAT.

What book will you finish in 2015? It can be a novel. A nonfiction book. One you’ve been working on for years or one you’re starting today. Whatever it is, tell us about it! Give us a one-paragraph blurb. Really sell the thing. Make it shine. I’ll be reading the comments and will pick my personal favorite NEXT THURSDAY. Spread the word!

What was the best book you read in 2014?

December 29th, 2014 | Books | 19 Comments

So it’s the end of the year, and I always try to ask readers to participate in a couple of conversations with me. My question for you: What was the best book you read in 2014? 

It doesn’t have to be new, but I’m interested in what you read this past year. My list was pretty long — longer than normal, I think. I read through Abraham Erghese’s Cutting for Stone, Robert Kolker’s haunting Lost Girls, Ben Mezrich’s interesting Bringing Down the House, Douglas Preston’s fascinating The Monster of Florence, Robert Wittman’s Priceless (a fascinating book about the FBI’s art theft team), John Schiffman’s Operation Shakespeare (about the US government going after illegal arms traders), Les Edgerton’s The Genuine Imitation Plastic Kidnapping  (perhaps my favorite comic read this year), Alexandra Fuller’s Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight, Karen Prior’s Fierce Convictions, four books from Malcolm Gladwell, two from Bill Bryson, and two from thriller writer Joshua Graham. All of these would make my “suggested reading list.” I also re-read two from Charles Dickens, two by Mark Twain, two from Henry Nouwen, two from personal favorite Lauren Winner, and Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August (a favorite of mine).

Authors I represent also had several good titles release — and while it’s not fair to name all of them, a handful of favorites were Susan Meissner’s A Fall of Marigolds, Lisa Samson’s Runaway Saint, Maegan Beaumont’s Sacrificial Muse, Bonnie Gray’s Finding Whitespace, Emily Wierenga’s Atlas Girl, and Vince Zandri’s The Shroud Key. Les Edgerton’s Finding Your Voice came out in a special edition on Snippet, and it’s one of the best writing books I’ve ever read (plus you get to listen to Les telling stories in video clips). And Rob Brunet’s Stinking Rich is a hoot, if you like crime capers.

There were others I really liked. Anything from Jessica Dotta is going to be good, and her most recent, The Price of Privilege, doesn’t disappoint. David Thomas helped Mark Schultz create Foxcatcher, which turned into a movie with Steve Carrell that is going to make some noise at Oscar time. Susy Flory collaborated on a great book, Unbreakable Boy, that hasn’t received nearly the attention it deserves. Leslie Gould’s Becoming Bea is a good read in a genre series, and Rachel Hauck’s Princess Ever After shows off her burgeoning talent. And I think readers can look for Susan Sleeman and Dana Mentink and Janice Thompson to really bust out in 2015 — they’re all fine writers, telling good stories in 2014, and have the chops to do even bigger things in the next year.

So if I was going to pick a couple books to suggest everyone read… it would be awfully hard. If you like edgy novels that make you think, by all means pick up Les Edgerton’s The Bitch. (The title is about a “habitual” offender, so don’t be put off by it.) A very satisfying read. If, like me, you enjoy great, insightful nonfiction writing, pick up a copy of Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun, which will simply change you. (No, the book didn’t come out in 2014 — in came out a couple years ago, but I read it in 2014, and found it to be one of those eye-opening, table-pounding sort of experiences.) And, if like many readers who come to this blog, you’re looking for something spiritually moving, have a look at Bonnie Gray’s Finding Spiritual Whitespace, which I found helpful and insightful. Those would be my top picks for the year.

Your turn. What did you read in 2014 that you can recommend? Leave your suggestion in the comments section, with your thoughts as to why it’s good.

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.

 

___________________

 

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.

================
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.