Archive for the ‘Career’ Category

Thursdays with Amanda: 5 Steps to Create an Author Brand

December 4th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments

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

The past few Thursdays we’ve been talking about creating an author brand. The main points of the posts have been:

1. Your books are not your brand. YOU are your brand. Your brand infuses your books and not the other way around.

2. You can be the one to determine what your brand is.

3. If you don’t determine your brand, others will do it for you…and you probably won’t like the result (after all, most of us want to be known for more than physical traits such as “blond” or “tall” or “old” or … you get the picture).

We touched on a few of the questions that you need to ask in order to discover what kind of an author brand will work for you, such as:

– What are my hobbies?

– What is my personality? Am I sassy? Contemplative? Old-fashioned? Radical?

– In what areas am I an expert? What are things that I know more of or do better than others?

– What life experiences have I had that stand out?

Once you’ve identified what kind of a brand you want to give yourself, how do you implement it? How do you go from being an author, to a brand?

1. Look your brand. Let’s say that you have skills in refurbishing and decorating vintage pieces. Your fiction always tends to be set in vintage eras (or it focuses on characters who appreciate that style) and so you feel having a vintage brand will carry throughout your career. Now, you could go around living life as normal. OR you could replace your professional wardrobe with vintage clothing, update your online spaces to have clear vintage themes, adopt some vintage phrases, and so on. By doing this you are connecting the dots for your readers, and you’re also making it easy for fans of all things vintage to gravitate toward you.

2. Talk your brand. In the above example I mentioned that someone with a vintage brand could adopt some vintage sayings. But “talking your brand” goes beyond that. In interviews, on panels, and in discussions with readers, you want to drive your brand home. So let’s say your brand is “the MMA pastor.” In interviews and conversations, you don’t want to just talk about your book or your career, you want to talk about MMA! Talk about your favorite matches and share experiences you’ve had in the ring (do MMA matches happen inside a ring??).

3. Expand your brand. Let’s say you’ve started talking and looking the part, but thanks to social media, readers are looking for an experience. There is a huge opportunity to make your brand bigger than you and your career. Instead of always focusing on you and your life and how it ties into your brand, you want to be aware of the lifestyle that is associated with your brand.

There is a very specific lifestyle (a set of likes, dislikes, events, groups, blogs, etc) associated with “vintage.” There’s another lifestyle associated with “MMA.” Let’s say that the brand you’ve given yourself is the “Fashionista author”. There is an entire world of fashion that goes way beyond your books and career and small corner of the Web. You want to be aware of this bigger world and take part in it. You want to share pertinent news about this world with your followers. You want to know what’s going on. And you want to connect with those who are also influencers within that corner of the web. By doing this, you’re expanding your brand into something much greater, and that’s a powerful thing!

4. Develop brand standards. Every company worth its weight has a set of brand standards, which is literally a book or document that details out what’s okay and what’s not when it comes to marketing, logo, communications, etc. These things are usually super detailed, going so far as to identify which fonts can be used on various publications. While you don’t need to go that far, you should have a set of rules for yourself. A system of checks and balances so that you don’t find yourself straying from your brand. Because believe me, when life takes a turn, it’s so easy to start blogging and Tweeting about those personal things when it’s all you can think of. But your audience doesn’t care about those things! So you want to limit the amount of time spent talking about the “randoms” of life or things non associated with your brand and balance that with plenty of content that provides the takeaway your readers are looking for.

5. Have fun with your brand. Your brand should be something that feels comfortable. Natural. And yes, while we talked about changing your look and online approach to better embody your brand, it shouldn’t be a fish-out-of-water experience. Your brand is built from YOU. So it should be fun! And spending time in your brand’s world should in a sense be a natural extension of who you are. So, don’t sweat the small stuff. Be yourself. Be your brand. And it’ll come together!

Any questions?! Let me know!

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Change Your Author Brand

November 20th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms | 1 Comment

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

Last week, we had some great discussion on author brand and how to get started with creating one. The driving idea behind the post was to think about who you are, your likes, interests, hobbies, experiences, etc. and to turn that into a brand. We will eventually talk about HOW to turn that into a brand, but in the meantime I want to address an issue that was raised by fellow literary agent…I don’t know if she wants to remain anonymous, so we’ll call her Agent Example.

Agent Example said that she has suddenly realized she is being thought of as the “Picture Book Agent”…which really really really isn’t what you want if you’re hoping to make money at this any time soon. It’s like a career death sentence. Especially if you work in CBA.

How does this happen?! How do you end up with an author brand that you don’t want?

Remember, you give yourself a brand. You don’t sit back and wait for brand to happen. In Agent Example’s case, she probably wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been about her brand, and before she knew it, she was the picture book agent. Here’s how this works:

1. When you are a person of interest, the very group that is interested in you will look for ways to differentiate you from others like you. So when there’s a panel of agents on stage, authors in the audience are looking for ways to label each one so that they can process things, tell others about the agents, and determine whether or not said agents are worth their time.

The same is true with authors. When there are a gazillion romance novelists to love and follow, readers of that genre look for reasons to attach themselves to specific ones. If a novelist does not give them a reason to attach to HER specifically, then readers will attach themselves to others. Or, they’ll attach to a book. And like I said last week, books are fleeting. A reader who loves your book could easily move on to a different favorite author once that series is over. But a reader who loves YOU will stick with you for every book you release.

2. When you don’t provide that label for them, they will fill in the blank themselves. And that is scary, because…

3. When they fill in this blank, it will always point to what stands out the most to them. In Agent Example’s case, they latched on to the fact that she is open to considering picture books (few agents working in CBA are). This is a characteristic of her as an agent makes her unique. Plus, it’s a piece of information that is valuable to her clients and audience. So it was a clear choice.

4. When your brand is chosen for youchances are it’s not what you want to be known for. It will be something super specific to the point of driving potential followers away (like in Agent Example’s case), or it will be purely superficial. Like, “oh, that’s the author who wears hats” or “that’s the super young agent.”

Superficial brands are helpful to a point…they can get you noticed in a crowd, and they can help people remember who you are. But if they aren’t paired with something of substance, then you will never evolve past that one physical trait that defines you.

So what do you DO when you find yourself with an author brand that you don’t want?

There is a reason that people have given you whatever brand they’ve given you. They didn’t just make it up! They created your brand from what you offered them.

So, the best way to change the way people think about you is to stop promoting that very thing that you don’t want to be known for.

In Agent Example’s case, she should limit how much she talks about picture books. It may be tough! And it may feel like she is keeping a secret, but since that is what people are gleaning from her talks and from her panels and since it’s not what she wants them coming away with, then it needs to be downplayed.

Following this, she should FILL that picture book void with whatever it is she does want to be known for. Then, she needs to infuse this new thing in everything she does and says.

For example:

Let’s say she served in the military and wants a military agent brand. Whenever she talks or blogs, she needs to pull examples from her military service. She needs to talk about how she runs her business the way she would lead a squadron or how she is organized like a soldier. I realize these may seem silly! But I can’t tell you how clear and great of a picture this kind of brand would paint. She’d become the military agent. And frankly, I think that is a kick-butt brand.

I hope this is making sense! What questions do you have? Have you found yourself with a brand you don’t want? What is it, and what would you like it to be?

ASK THE AGENT: How can I make a book signing successful?

November 19th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms | 13 Comments

I just had an author friend write to say, “I’ve been asked to do a book signing party at our local bookstore. It seems like most booksignings I’ve been part of were a disaster. Do you have any tips for making a book signing successful?”

Anyone who has spent time in this industry has been to a dud of a book signing party. The author shows up, sits at a table by herself, and fidgets while a couple people wander by, ignoring her. Eventually an older woman hesitantly approaches, looking furtively around, and asks, “Hey… can you tell me where the ladies’ room is?”

Nothing is as deflating to an author as throwing a party and having nobody show up. The fact is, if you want to do a book signing, the first rule is simple: Don’t rely on the bookseller to get people there. They might send out a flyer, or put it on the company website… or they might now. (I remember one A-level author who showed up with me for a book signing only to find the staff hadn’t been told, there was no signage, and her boxes of books were actually locked in the manager’s office, and he was away on vacation. True story.) So, like in everything else in marketing, don’t rely on someone else to do the work – YOU do it, and have a plan for succeeding. Some tips…

1. Invite people. Again, don’t sit and wait for people to show up. Go out and invite them. Make it a party. Tell your family they need to show up. Personally invite all your friends – call them, send them notes, check back with them and get some commitments to be there. Focus on inviting some groups, since groups of people will make it feel like more of an event. (So invite your co-workers, your neighbors, the people at church, the people at the gym or the civic groups you belong to.)

2. Call people. Remind them. Bug them. Get them to commit to showing up. Events like this are successful if people show up. If they don’t show up, you don’t have a party; you have an empty room.

3. Make it a party. In other words, don’t just have people show up to see you, especially if it’s near your home town. Those folks can see you anytime. Have a theme. Make some noise. Do a reading. Dress up. Ask the bookstore’s event person for suggestions – if you get the bookstore staff involved, they’re more apt to act supportive of the event.

4. Bring stuff to give away. You want to SELL books, but you can give away swag. Bookmarks. Pens. Buttons. I’ve known people who have had drawings for bigger prizes.

5. Talk to everyone who comes. As an author, you’re most likely an introvert – but at a book signing, you’re going to pretend you’re an extrovert. So walk up to everybody who shows up, smile, thank them for coming, ask their name. If you need to, have a couple questions in mind to ask people. Be able to talk about your book without sounding like you’re desperate to sell some copies. And by all means, let the bookstore staff hear you say, “If you like this, you should check out these other books while you’re in the store.” Let’s face it, the bookstore isn’t doing this to be nice to you – they’re doing it to bring in potential book-buyers.

6. Have a handler there to manage the line, if there is one, and to chat up people while they’re waiting to get you to sign a book. A friendly and attractive person who can smile and chat up people at a busy booksigning is a real help to you.

7. Contact your local TV and radio people. Get in touch with the local arts and entertainment reporter of the paper. Tell them it’s a “local girl makes good” story, and invite them to be there. Make sure to build in time for an interview, before or after the signing.

8. Have someone taking pictures. You can use them on your website later. Make sure to get one with the bookstore staff.

9. If there’s a crowd, read from the book and take questions. If you’ve invited the local book groups or the local writing groups, they’ll want to hear you read a bit, and they’ll want to ask about your writing techniques. In a setting like that, read three or four passages from your book, for maybe 20 minutes, then answer questions for 20 to 30.

10. Have candy for everyone. If possible, serve coffee or wine, since food and drink loosen people up and make it feel like more of a party and less of a sales pitch.

11. Again, talk about how great the bookstore is. Mention friend’s books that are in the store. Or, if you’re not doing this at a bookstore (let’s say you’re doing this at a country club or a community center or a restaurant), then make sure to invite people to do something there, or buy something, or be involved in some way. In other words, try to get the venue and its staff on your side.

12. Get there early. No matter how well you plan, the arrangements won’t be right.

13. Dress nice – the rule of thumb is to dress one level above where your audience is. (So if they’re in jeans, you’re in business casual. If they’re in business casual, you’re in something a bit more formal.)

14. Show your personality. Your book reveals who you are, so readers want to see you. If you’re funny, show some humor. If you’re dark, offer them a bit of mystery. But don’t just show up thinking you can sign books, shake hands, and walk away. People who are coming want to either support you (if they know you) or get to know you (if they’re simply fans of your work). So they all want to see the real you.

 

What other tips would you offer to someone doing a book signing?

ASK THE AGENT: How can I become a hybrid author?

November 17th, 2014 | Career, Self-Publishing | 0 Comments

Someone wrote to ask me, “How do you define a ‘hybrid’ author? (Isn’t it simply an author who is self-publishing but still has books with traditional publishers?) And do agents work with authors who are basically self-publishing?”

I’m frequently asked about the notion of working with “hybrid authors” because I seem to be a bit in the minority– a literary agent who actually encourages his authors to become hybrids. But you see, I used to make my living as a writer, so I understand what it’s like to try and make a living creating words. And the changes in the industry that have taken place means there are new opportunities available to writers that were never available in the past.

Let’s define our terms: A hybrid author is one who is self-publishing AND traditionally publishing. There are plenty of people who insist one method or the other is the “right” way to have a writing career these days – that you either “get an advance and publish your books with a legacy press and ignore the badly-edited self-published crud on Amazon,” OR you “self-publish your title via Amazon and Smashwords, and reject those money-grubbing publishers in New York who only want to enslave you as a midlist author.” Um… I tend to think there’s another way.

A hybrid author gets the benefit of an occasional advance check, professional editing, great distribution, and access to marketing professionals from his or her publisher. PLUS there’s the benefit of having complete creative control, book price control, and the chance to do more titles that generate immediate earnings from his or her self-published titles.

Of course, there’s also a down side. A hybrid author really has to set up his or her writing life as a small business, since everything from cover choices to copyeditor payments are the responsibility of the author. He or she has to stay up on trends – which e-tailers are selling your books? What formats are selling best? What price points? What changes do you have to make to stay current? How do I line up my self-published books with my traditional releases? And for most hybrid authors, marketing becomes a full time job. With that sort of to-do list, simply finding time to write can be difficult.

So the decision to become a hybrid author is really the decision to start your own company – one where you’ll be making the decisions, handling the problems, and charting your own strategic direction.

And that’s where I see myself fitting in. I’m a multi-published author, a former publisher (with the old Time-Warner Book Group), and a longtime agent (16 years and counting). A hybrid author often needs help with the technical side of things (reading contracts, setting up release schedules), the business side of things (dealing with editors, arranging to get all the vendors paid), the selling side of things (contracting foreign rights, talking with Hollywood producers), and the marketing side of things (crafting a marketing plan, connecting with a magazine on a press release). Most importantly, a hybrid author needs an experienced person to go to for career advice. A good agent will probably offer some practical help with several of those issues, and free you up to focus on your writing.

Each author is different, so your needs won’t be the same as someone else’s, but some writers really need help with editing, others with managing the business, still others with handling all the marketing responsibilities. A good agent ought to be able to help an author manage relationships, coordinate with publishers, and troubleshoot the difficult issues you face. He or she may be able to help with vendor coordination or marketing planning. Most importantly, an agent really ought to be able to help you clarify your long-term goals and create a plan for reaching them.

But authors aren’t limited to simply publishing with a huge New York house or self-publishing their manuscript on their own. The changes in technology and the advent of ebooks has created a brand new world of indie publishers – smaller houses who are sometimes doing e-only titles, and sometimes doing ebook and print-on-demand books, often marketing them to a niche audience. This has greatly expanded the options available to authors, as companies step in to assist authors with reaching their readers.

If you’re a writer pondering what steps to take to become a hybrid author, let me suggest a few simple things to consider. First, look at the books you already have scheduled, and the manuscripts you’ve completed and want to self-publish. Begin to map out a schedule of releases that gets you out there on the market, but doesn’t have you competing with yourself. You’re going to do best as a hybrid author if you have several titles to sell to the same readership, in you can keep creating new works, and you decide to sell them at a price the market will support. So start by creating a publishing plan for your titles.

Second, begin to create a list of people in your world who can help you move forward – editors, marketing professionals, cover designers, and people with the technical experience to assist you in the process. You may need to be talking to someone who can help with foreign rights, or with someone who can help with dramatic rights. You may need to sit down with a business manager or accountant to assist with the financial picture.

Third, determine right now that you’re going to invest a lot of time into marketing. That’s the most important skill you’re going to need if you plan to set up a self-publishing business, so that could mean investing in some training or resources, or deciding to link up with some experienced marketing types who can assist you in this new venture. Most authors get into hybrid publishing having done some publicity, but with little experience mapping out a marketing plan, and almost none with advertising. To boning up on those areas by taking classes or talking with experts in the field can help you move forward.

One author I represent, Vincent Zandri, decided several years ago he was going to become a hybrid author. He has worked with traditional publishers, and currently has created a handful of bestselling books with Amazon Publishing’s Thomas & Mercer imprint. But he has also worked with some smaller houses (his latest release is with Down & Out Books), and has successfully self-published some titles, so that he has maximum exposure to readers. The result? Over the past four years, Vince has sold hundreds of thousands of books, landed on the New York Times bestseller list, and made a good living as a writer.

Hybrid publishing isn’t for everyone, but it might be an avenue to consider if you’re an entrepreneurial and prolific writer with a knack for marketing.

Thursdays with Amanda: Creating an Author Brand

November 13th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms | 16 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.

In response to last week’s post on author brand, some of you admitted that you didn’t really know how to answer the question of “who am I?”

This is one of the many questions that a company or individual will ask when on the hunt for a clear brand identity. They may also ask:

“What comes to mind when hearing my name (or company name or product, etc)?”

“What feelings do people have when thinking about my name/my company/my product?”

“What do they associate with my name/company/product/etc.?”

“What do I want them to feel or think or associate with my brand/company/name/etc?”

Many companies will pay tens of thousands for answers to questions like these. They end up with lengthy research reports on their brand, the image it conveys, the climate of their client base, etc.

But authors don’t usually have tens of thousands of dollars, do they?

So let’s try a back door approach.

EXAMPLES OF AGENT BRANDS

You may think that agents are just agents. That we have no use for a brand, and that there isn’t really anything that defines us as individuals aside from the deals we do and the authors/genres we represent.

But let me show you something…

CHIP MACGREGOR

If you’ve met or are familiar with our agency president, chances are you didn’t just think “agent” when reading his name.

Instead, you probably thought of his Scottish heritage and penchant for wearing a kilt. You probably thought about how he is blunt and intimidating (things I’ve heard him described as), or how he has a strong personality but a kind, generous heart if you get to know him.

Chip isn’t just an agent. Chip has a brand. His name or picture evokes a reaction that is more than his job title. Authors who want to work with him want to be part of that brand. And conversely, authors who don’t want to be part of his brand, don’t want to work with him.

AMANDA LUEDEKE

When reading my name, do you just think “agent?”

Maybe…I mean I’m not really around when people are talking about me. But I do know that folks have described me as “young,” “funny,” a “straight-shooter.” But those things don’t really stand out, do they? At least not in the agent realm, because there are tons of young, funny, honest agents out there.

When I first became an agent, I knew I needed a brand. I needed to capitalize on something that I possessed that most agents didn’t. Sadly, I couldn’t choose “former model” as my brand or “heiress” or “moonlights as circus performer.” But I did manage to find an angle…

I’m the “marketing agent.” The agent who used to work for a real life marketing firm. The agent who has been part of big marketing campaigns with national brands. The agent who has done market research and launched YouTube channels and Facebook pages and taken risks with large clients. The agent who is willing to share with authors all she knows about marketing and who strives to communicate these things in a practical way.

This is the brand I gave myself. Did you hear me? I GAVE MYSELF A BRAND. It happened in an afternoon. I spent a bit of time thinking about what would set me apart and what skills I had to pull from, and BAM. My brand was born.

I put this brand everywhere. In my bio and in my conference workshops (you’ll never see me offer a class on craft). I started blogging about marketing every Thursday (and years later, we’re still trucking!). I embraced the “marketing agent brand” because it allowed me to stand out. It was something that other agents weren’t doing, and it was something that authors craved.

If I gave myself an agent brand, then you can give yourself an author brand.

When we approach this question of “who am I?” I want you to couple it with the question: “what do I have or what is it about me that others want/like/need?”

Think about your hobbies.

Think about areas in which you’re an expert.

Think about your job experience.

Think about the volunteer work you do or the causes in which you’re active.

Maybe you’re awesome at genealogy research or scrapbooking or cooking. Maybe you used to be or are a psychologist. Maybe you worked in television or news. Maybe you love animals and volunteer at a shelter. Or maybe you’re into local politics and give your time that way.

Each of these things could be the start of a brand. The key is to think about who you are. Who you want to be. 

This isn’t about your books. Books are so…fleeting. But your brand should stay with you forever.

So, consider the prompts above… what are some things that define you? Share your thoughts in the comments below. Be detailed. I want to know what you’ve come up with!

What does a Good Agent/Author Relationship Look Like?

November 10th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Questions from Beginners | 5 Comments

Someone wrote to ask, “Can you tell me what a good author/agent relationship should look like?”

I can try. Keep in mind that there’s no “perfect agent style” that suits everyone. One writer needs an agent who is a strong editor-and-story-idea person, another writer needs an agent who is a contracts-and-negotiation person, and a third writer needs an agent who is counselor-and-chief-supporter. It’s why I always encourage authors to think carefully about what they need in a literary agent. I consider myself a good agent, having done this job for a long time, contracted a lot of books, and developed a good track record of success. But I’ll be the first to say I’m not the agent for everybody. My style doesn’t fit every author, nor can I provide everything each author needs. So sometimes I’ll meet a writer whose work I like, but we’ll both feel the vibe is wrong. We have to get along personally as well as professionally. Other times the author has expectations I know I can’t meet (such as wanting me to edit their entire manuscript). So finding a good agent is like finding a good friend — what works for you might not work for your neighbor.

A good author/agent relationship is usually one in which expectations are clear, and the agent helps the author succeed in those areas they’ve decided to focus on. It might be story development, or editing and fine-tuning a manuscript, or support and encouragement, or career management, or contract advice, or… the list is as varied as authors want to make it. If you don’t really know what you need, you’ll find yourself just going with someone you like, or someone your friends like.

Keep in mind that most working literary agents come from one of four backgrounds. They are either (1) a former editor, so they have strong words skills, or (2) a former writer, so they understand what it’s like to make a living with words, or (3) a lawyer or someone attached to a lawyer’s office, so they have good experience with contracts, or (4) a former agent assistant, who came up through the ranks of the agency and has never worked outside of the agency (this last category is relatively new, but over the last 15 or 20 years we’ve seen bright college grads hired as Junior Associates and work their way up to become a full-fledged literary agents). I suppose the most common type is “former editor” and the least common is “former writer.” I was a Senior Editor a couple places and an Associate Publisher with Time-Warner, but my real training for this job was as a freelance writer. Amanda Luedeke got her start in corporate marketing, which is a bit different, but at the same time, her marketing career was due to her way with words. You could say she made her living as a writer before becoming an agent. Erin Buterbaugh interned with an agency and then spent some years doing freelance writing for curriculum companies. So she would be a mix of numbers two and four.

So perhaps one of the uniquenesses of our agency is that we all made our living at writing, and we understand what it’s like to cobble together a living by writing. (I’m sorry if that sounds like a commercial — it’s not meant that way.) My point is that you’ll be better off if you’ve done some research and figured out what sort of skills you may be looking for in an agent, as well as what sort of relationship you expect to have.

Of course, each writer has strengths and weaknesses, and each agent has strengths and weaknesses, and you try to match things up so that you’re a fit. My style may be a bit too blunt for one author, and too laid-back for another. But that’s part of what picking friends is all about — finding someone who fits. This is a business relationship, in many ways almost a partnership, and you don’t want to partner with just anybody.

Planning, Scheduling, and Doing Author Talks (a guest blog)

November 7th, 2014 | Career | 11 Comments

When my first book, Why I Left the Amish had been accepted for publication, one of my sisters said to me, “I can just imagine that when you get up in front of an audience, you will be in your element.”WILtA cover 2.indd

My sister was right. My favorite way of interacting with people is in person. I get the feeling, as I’m standing in front of an audience, that I’ve lived my whole life to be at that place at that time.

Had I lived out the life I was taught, I would definitely not be speaking in front of an audience. When I was growing up in an Amish community, I often heard the statement, “You just want attention.” And this was not a compliment. To “want attention” meant that I was not demure, humble, and submissive — all qualities of a “good” Amish girl. So hearing this was the equivalent of someone telling me that I was a bad girl.

Suffice it to say that I have had to overcome a lot to be standing in front of any audience. And so I appreciate every one of them.
My very first audience was huge — 160 people at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont. The person who introduced me said the only other audience they’ve ever had that was bigger was for Ambassador Galbraith.

As I was listening to this introduction, I was just about to get stage fright. And right there, I had a stern talk with myself, “Saloma, you did not wait seventeen years to see your book in print to get the shakes now. You go out there and talk to the people who are waiting to hear what you have to say.”

It worked. I did go out and talk to that crowd. And I’ve talked to 170 audiences since then.

As all authors discover, much of the marketing of our books happens through us. It is a juggling act to simultaneously find time for the craft of writing and do a proper job of marketing our books too. And so we must choose the ways that best fit our talents and our temperament. Besides doing public speaking I blog regularly, maintain a website, I tweet, and have an author presence on Amazon and Goodreads.

I know what you’re thinking. “What about Facebook?” Here comes the confession. I don’t do Facebook. If you care to know why, you can read my blog post, Why I Am Leaving Facebook. Disclaimer: If you are an author, you probably should follow the advice of the marketing professionals and have a Facebook presence. I happen to sometimes take the hard road.

Finding, organizing, and doing speaking engagements is not an easy road. However, I will share some tips that I have learned, in case you are up for the adventure.

For me it all starts with Google Maps. Let’s say I want to do talks at libraries or bookstores along the coast of Maine. I pick a town, and I type it into Google Maps. Once that town pops up, there is a little button called “search nearby.” I type in “public libraries” and suddenly the map gets the measles. All those red dots are public libraries. And if I click on one of them, a little pop-up window will give me the option of visiting that library’s website (if they have a website, and believe it or not, some still don’t.) I look at several things: do they host author talks, does it look like a vibrant library community, and does their library building look like it has a good-sized community room. If it all looks good, I will either call them or send them an email, depending upon whether it’s clear from the website who to send the email to. If not, I will call and find out.

My email is short and to the point. I introduce my books and myself and let them know when I will be in their area, and I name my fee.

If someone responds to my email and wants to schedule an event, we work out a mutually agreeable date. Then I put it on my calendar, post it on the event page of my website, and send the coordinator a confirmation and an invoice. I also point that person towards my press kit page where I offer all kinds of helpful tools for them: a press release, an author photo, images of my book covers, a template for an event poster, and an introduction. I’ve had several hosts tell me how much they appreciated this kit.

At first I did local book talks for free. Some libraries offered a modest honorarium. And then as the word about my speaking program began to spread, I started asking for an honorarium and a stay at a local hotel or B&B.

Just like any other kind of networking, speaking builds on itself. One person tells another how much they liked your talk, and a new person will call you to invite you to speak. These people are silver. I had one librarian send a message out over his listserve that reached his whole state. He challenged them to host a larger audience than he had. This librarian was gold.

Three years ago, when I started doing this, it was a lot easier to get speaking engagements than it is now. Many libraries have had their budgets cut and can no longer offer an honorarium.

I will also contact bookstore owners near the libraries where I’m speaking to schedule something with them — a talk, a signing, or I go and meet the booksellers and sign their copies. The bookstores are important to visit for obvious reasons: they will be selling my book, long after I’ve left their town.

Getting media coverage in the areas where you speak is important. If you are working with a publicist, he or she can make the initial contacts for you. I’ve had great success with that.

During the times when I’m working without a publicist, I will ask the coordinator at the library for a list of media contacts in the area. About three weeks before the event, I will call and let the media know that I am going to be in the area, and I offer them the opportunity to do an interview.

When the day of the speaking event arrives, I make sure I’m well rested. I know what I am going to be talking about. And I arrive an hour in advance to set up my props and my book-selling table. I greet people as they come in. And then I put my all into the talk. The only audience that matters at that moment is the one in front of me. I always leave time for questions, and there are always plenty. There are not too many of us who leave the Amish and have a desire to share our story in front of an audience or in the Amish way of thinAmish Authorking “just want attention.”

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Saloma Miller Furlong graduated from Smith College with a major in German Studies and a minor in Philosophy. She is the author of two books, Why I Left the Amish and Bonnet Strings: An Amish Woman’s Ties to Two Worlds. Her story is featured in the PBS documentaries “The Amish” and “The Amish: Shunned” on American Experience. You can read more of Saloma Furlong’s biography by following the link.

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

October 24th, 2014 | Career, The Business of Writing | 10 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 20th, 2014 | Career | 1 Comment

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

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

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

Another writer asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?

Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor friend, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their opening web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent. There are too many scam agents who are basically trying to sell editorial or marketing services for a fee, rather than trying to help you place your book.

And another author  had this situation: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”

This is another one I can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork — let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about it, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with them within a year.

But I’ve seen this a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.

What have you always wanted to ask an agent? 

Ask the Agent: Is a speaker’s bureau worth it?

October 13th, 2014 | Career, Current Affairs | 2 Comments

I’ve recently had a couple people write to ask me about speaker bureaus — How do they work? What do they make? Are they worth it? 

Over the last sixteen years, I’ve worked with numerous speaker bureaus to try and get speaking engagements for authors. Like any other business, the quality varies greatly. Some have been good; others have been terrible. Let me offer some thoughts…

First, a good speaker’s bureau is pro-active, not re-active. This is really the biggest complaint people have about most speaker bureaus. An author will sign with them, give them permission to get them engagements, then wait. A good bureau will make calls, and try to find new places for an author to speak. A bad bureau sits and waits for the phone to ring. (And if that’s all your speaker’s bureau is doing, you can simply have your own phone ring.)

Second, a good speaker’s bureau provides support, not just basic information. A good bureau captures all the details. They tell the author where they are needed, when, how they’ll get there, and where they’ll be staying. They’ll offer to help with travel, offer details on how many times the author is expected to speak, on what topics, under what circumstances, and to how many people. A bad bureau simply gives the date and time.

Third, a good speaker’s bureau will work for their money. Most bureaus take 20% of the speaker fees. So if you’re being paid $1000 to speak at a conference, the speaker’s bureau will want $200 of it… and for that sort of money, you’d expect they would work hard for it, try hard to land new engagements, make sure the proposed gigs were a good fit, and spend some time negotiating the deal to try and maximize it. For the record, I rarely find that to be the case. Many wait for the phone to ring, tend to always give the engagements to the same small group of speakers, and provide minimal assistance to authors who are speaking. Twenty per cent is a steep price to pay for lazy service.

Fourth, a good speaker’s bureau will help build an author’s platform. That means they will take the time to figure out what the author does best, and try to find engagements where the author can shine. A bad agency simply looks for available dates. Several of the legacy publishers have set up their own in-house speaker bureaus, to try and boost the platforms of their A-level authors. That’s a good sign, since it means the publisher is trying to get their authors noticed. And, of course, I’d argue that author website have usurped most speaker bureaus, since those looking for speakers can often find authors who are writing on the topic they need.

Fifth, a good speaker’s bureau will focus on what they do best. I’m a literary agent, so I tend to spend my time on books and writing careers. But since we do a lot of work in the Christian market, I should note that nearly all the speaker bureaus working in CBA have also begun calling themselves literary agents — even if they don’t know anything about the publishing market, haven’t worked at a publishing house, or have any background for offering editorial or career advice. This is why I’ve lost all faith in most of the CBA speaker bureaus. They don’t know what they’re doing with books, yet they want to compete with me for authors. (And yes, on several occasions I’ve had people at speaker bureaus suddenly announce to an author that they’re becoming literary agents, and try to poach authors from me.)

So… is a speaker’s bureau worth it? Perhaps, if you can find someone who will take the time to understand what you do best, and pro-actively seek to place you in speaking engagements that will generate you income and boost your platform. So focus on that when evaluating anybody who invites you to join a speaker’s bureau. For some authors, I think a speaker’s bureau may not be that helpful. Before you sign with one, make sure to ask some hard questions: Who do they work with? What services do they offer? How many speakers do they work with? How many engagements did they place speakers with last year? What were the venues? What sort of marketing will they do? How often will they place you? How do they negotiate contracts? What do they do for their 20%? Getting answers to questions like that will help you figure out if the speaker bureau is a fit for you.