Archive for the ‘Career’ Category

After a Conference: Next Steps

March 3rd, 2015 | Career, Conferences, Resources for Writing, The Writing Craft, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

brick green no smile b:wI’ve talked before about the value of a good writer’s conference as a place to connect with mentors/writing partners and as a reward/motivating factor in meeting your writing deadlines. Since I just got back from a writer’s conference, I thought I’d talk about some post-conference steps you can take to make sure you get the most out of your experience, because as fun or as encouraging as writer’s conferences can be, you’re not getting the most out of your time and money if you don’t follow up on the new information and contacts you encountered there. Here are a few ways to maximize your conference experience after you get home.

  • Organize new contact info (before you lose it). Save email addresses and phone numbers, make notes about who was who while you still remember– if you’re keeping business cards, write some reminders on the card, such as “French parenting book” or “talked about Star Trek.” This will help you keep all your new acquaintances straight and give you a talking point to start from if you contact them in the future.
  • Compile new information/feedback. Go through your notes from workshops and meetings, look over the comments on any manuscripts you shared for critique, and highlight or copy the pieces of advice that resonated the most, as well as the pieces you have questions about or didn’t understand. This way, you have all your favorite advice in one place to look over and remind yourself of, and you have the things you need to think more about/ask more questions on in one spot for reference if you want to email the workshop teacher for clarification or decide explore a topic more at a future conference.
  • Compare advice. Between workshops, critique groups, and agent/editor meetings, you can come away from a writing conference with a whole bunch of suggestions for your work, and they’re not always going to agree! Before you can decide which advice to take, you’ll need to compare the different feedback you received. Make a list of each general piece of criticism you received– too many adjectives, voice not strong enough, pacing inconsistent, etc.– and add a check to the list for everything you heard more than once (additional checks for additional times). Don’t forget to track your positive feedback, too– if you receive multiple compliments on your characters or voice, make note of it. Anything you have more than one check mark for is probably worth some consideration, either as an area you need to work on, or as a strong point you want to continue to highlight. Consider also the source– if you were told one thing by a beginning writer in a critique group and another by a longtime editor in your genre, you should usually lend more weight to the opinion of the more experienced critic.
  • Take action. Once you’ve identified some areas for improvement or collected some strategies for improving your writing and writing habits, take specific action steps to work on those areas and implement those strategies. If your dialogue needs work, seek out some novels in your genre with great dialogue. If you got some helpful time management tips, buy a planner and revamp your schedule/goal list. If your characters are two-dimensional, find a writing partner who is great with character development.
  • Follow up with new contacts. If an agent or editor requested materials, send them. don’t wuss out! If you met a new friend who you might want to form a critique partnership with, follow up and feel them out on that possibility. If you took an especially helpful class from a faculty member, send them an email thank you– it’s always nice to hear.

Don’t let your conference experience be limited to the time you’re actually on-site. Review your new info, follow up on new connections, and take some steps to apply what you learned!

It’s “Ask an Agent” time!

March 2nd, 2015 | Agents, Career, Deep Thoughts, Questions from Beginners, The Writing Craft | 4 Comments

I’ve got a new book coming out very soon — How can I find an agent? (and 101 other questions asked by writers). In celebration of that, I thought we’d take the month of March and just answer the agent questions you’ve got. So if there’s something you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent, this is your chance. Drop a note in the “comments” section, or send me an email at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. I’ll try to get to as many questions as I can. So let’s get started with some of the questions people have already sent in…

A friend wrote to say, “I’ve noticed that agents at conferences will list several genres they’re interested in, but rarely see any specifications about the exact type of books that interest them. I write YA – can I pitch them ANY YA novel?”

 

The conference often asks agents to briefly list what we’re looking for. They usually don’t give us room to offer a lot of detail. So, for example, I represent romance novels, but there are some areas of romance I don’t really work with (paranormal, for example). There’s no method for offering much beyond a quick description, so I’m always happy to talk with any romance writer who stops by, and will try to help or steer him or her in the right direction, if I can. From my perspective, if an agent says he or she represents YA, then set up an appointment to go talk through your project and ask questions.

 

This came in on my Facebook page: “How do I get what’s in my head onto paper in a way that will grab the reader’s attention?”

 

Great voice… and that’s easier said than done. I’ve never been sure if we can teach an author how to have great voice. We can help writers improve, help them use better technique, better structure, a more active voice. We can help them come up with a stronger story, more interesting characters, and a better setting. But what sets a book apart in my view is usually the voice of the writer, and I’m just not sure we can make an author sound different (though I do think that, with practice, we can sometimes help an author discover his or her voice). To get a better handle on this, think about American Idol, which, as I write this, has just started to shrink their list of singers. All of the singers in the current 24 can sing. But some have a more interesting, more powerful, or more unique voices. God just made them that way. They all can train to improve their sound, or use better breathing technique or something, but the basic quality of their voice is God-given. I’ve often wondered if writers are the same way.

 

This also came in on Facebook: “What makes a ‘killer’ One Sheet?”

 

You may not like my answer: I’m not sure there is such a thing as a “killer” one-sheet. That is, they don’t land you a deal, they just help you take the next step. For those who don’t know, a one-sheet is a one page overview of your novel. It offers a brief description of your story, gives some detail on genre, word count, and audience, and tells something about the author. Often it’ll have some sort of graphic element to make it visually interesting. They tend to be used as a means of introducing a novel to an editor or agent at a conference. But they’re just an introduction – if they’re good, they will encourage the editor to look at the formal proposal. So I guess the best one-sheets are the ones that make the story sound interesting enough they get me to take the next step.

 

And this question was asked on my Facebook page: “Every agent I talk to says they can’t sell what I write. How do I overcome that?”

 

Um… write something else? I’m not trying to sound snotty, but if you keep hearing people say they can’t sell it, you’re either going to have to self-publish it, wait and hope to meet someone else, or write something they CAN sell.

 

Someone sent me this: “As an avid reader–about two thrillers a week–I am curious what your thoughts are about something. How does a poorly written book make it to the NY Times bestseller list, and riveting page-turners languish in obscurity? I just read a so called ‘thriller’ that has garnered close to 400 good reviews on Amazon and is on the NYT bestseller list. Besides the fact that the book reads like a rough first draft, as an ex-NYC cop I can attest to the fact that the author knows absolutely nothing about his subject matter, and even less about how police officers interact with the public and each other. On the other hand, I recently read two great thrillers by a new author who has garnered about 50 reviews on Amazon but no one seems to have heard of him. This sort of thing puzzles me. Thoughts?”cartoon

 

Life ain’t fair. Every agent can tell you of great authors he or she has represented that languished, and of weak writers who surprised us all by hitting a bestseller list. EL James sold millions of copies of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book I felt could have been written by a world-wise fifth grader, while Abha Dawesar’s fabulous Family Values is far more interesting and entertaining, written with polish and grace, and, while recognized by reviewers as a wonderfully written piece, has never hit a bestseller list. Like I said, life ain’t fair. Or, as the wonderful essayist HL Mencken once said, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.”

 

 

.

Thursdays with Amanda: Is Your Nonfiction Book Idea Viable?

February 26th, 2015 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 9 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.

When I first met Chip, we were working at a college (me in admissions and he as a visiting professor). I had a BA in writing and a love for books, so naturally, I pitched him some ideas. I mean, why not?!

I’ll never forget his reaction to the only nonfiction book I ever ran by him…

Now mind you, I had this GREAT book idea. I was in the midst of planning my wedding, and I was super inspired by this strong desire I had to make my wedding feel like me. What did that mean? It meant embracing the traditions that fit, while ignoring the ones that didn’t–and replacing them with things that were more Amanda & Tad and less standard wedding.

This whole concept exploded in my mind. I mean, what if you have two sports-lovers getting married?! They could plan their wedding around a particular sports event and have a reception in which they serve wings and beer while watching the game! Or what if the couple is really into theatre? They could do a murder mystery reception that is super interactive and even includes clues from the invitations and programs!

I went crazy. I started jotting things down and obsessing and then one day I casually pitched my wedding planning book idea to Chip. (And when I say casually I mean totally on the fly…you may as well envision us walking through campus and me dropping this bomb on him. Poor guy.)

And you know what he said?

He said no.

He said it in a very nice way…in a way that probably had me thanking him for turning me down as conversation shifted. And he also said this: “You don’t have a wedding-planning platform, Amanda. So who would buy this? It should be an article instead.”

BUT! BUT! BUT! MY IDEA WAS GREAT! AND PEOPLE NEEDED MY WEDDING HELP! AND THERE WAS A HUGE VOID IN THE MARKET FOR A BOOK LIKE THIS!!!! AND ARTICLES ARE LAME!!!!!!!

All those buts meant squat. Because the biggest but was the “but you don’t have a platform” one.

I tell you this painful and funny story because there are so many people out there who are just like I was. You have a great idea. Or you have a great personal story. Or you have this or that. BUT that doesn’t mean you can also have a book.

Nonfiction needs a platform. Think about it! If you need some advice on finances, are you going to buy a book from Joe Schmoe CPA or from Dave Ramsey or Suze Orman?!

Because nonfiction promises to solve a problem or provide answers or information we care about, it MUST come from an author that the readers view as an expert on the topic.

This is why books about cancer only succeed when they are celebrity stories or tied to well-known bloggers. And this is why my wedding book would have failed failed failed. I was and am a nobody on the topic of wedding-planning. And I had and have ZERO plans to become a somebody.

In nonfiction it’s very rare that a book comes before platform. So rare, that it’s not even worth considering as a “what-if” scenario.

So what do you do with this information? If you have a nonfiction book idea and no platform, consider whether you’re willing to spend the time, energy, and resources needed to develop a platform for that book topic. Because that is what it’ll take to give your book idea a shot at publication. It’ll take time and dedication. It’ll take effort on your part to become an expert. You don’t need to be as big of an expert as Dave or Suze! But you DO need to be an expert to some people. And the more people who view you as an expert, the more likely you’ll get that deal…and the bigger that deal will be.

Ask the Agent: Should I write for a specific publisher?

February 23rd, 2015 | Career | 0 Comments

Questions from around the world today, in our International Version of Ask the Agent…

Someone from the UK wrote in to ask me, “Should I write my proposal for a specific publisher? I was at a conference recently and an agent suggested we identify and target one publishing house for our manuscripts. Do you agree?” 

I think that’s one way for a category writer to get ahead of most other writers who are submitting proposals. If you research a publisher, you can often find out things like the word count they want, the types of stories they prefer, the topics that interest or don’t interest them, etc. That allows you to shape your proposal specifically for the publisher. That may not work for literary fiction, but it certainly helps with romances, romantic suspense, thrillers, historical romances, cozy mysteries, westerns, and other “category” lines.

Someone from New Zealand (I just thought it was cool that someone in New Zealand was sending me a question) asked, “When I’m sending a query to an agent, should I tell him or her that this is a series?” 

The answer probably depends on the series. It’s always easier to sell one book than to sell a series, just as it’s easier to sell one car than a fleet of cars. But at the same time a publisher will often want to know if your novel idea, if successful, could be turned into a series of stories. So don’t pitch the series — pitch the book, but mention the series, probably at the end of your proposal. That answers the “sequel” question without making it seem like you’re trying to get someone to commit to an entire series of books.

And keeping on our foreign-soil theme, someone from Germany sent this: “What advice would you give to an author who self-published a book, only to realize later it was a mistake? I posted my novel on Amazon, then later was told about the problems with the manuscript, and now I wish I’d waited.”

Well, the immediate solution is easy: take the book down. If you’ve got something for sale that is replete with errors, or has structural problems, you’re not going to impress anyone. So take it down, get some editorial help, and fix it. Then you can choose to re-post it, or to pitch to an agent or editor. You may want to retitle it, to get some separation from the previous iteration of the book. But this gets into the larger question of self-publishing… While I’m a fan of authors self-pubbing their books, I remind then they should ONLY do that if they have the time, money, and know-how to market and sell the book. Just posting it and waiting for the Magical Money Fairies to show up is a mistake. All those stories you’ve read online from people claiming they posted their book and suddenly they’re making millions? They’re balderdash. The vast majority of writers posting a book on Amazon are selling fewer than a hundred copies and making almost nothing. If you’re going to self-pub, educate yourself on how to create a good book, invite the involvement of a good editor, invest in a great cover, and above all, learn to market your title so that it garners some attention and sells some copies. There’s money to made selling books on Amazon, certainly, but usually it’s for those who are investing resources into marketing their title.

And an author in France sent me a very nice email, saying, “An agent that does not normally accept unsolicited manuscripts requested a work of mine at a conference. It’s been eight weeks, and I have not heard from her. Is it proper protocol to contact her?”

If she actually requested it (that is, if she said, “Yes, please send that to me — I’d like to take a look”), then I think it’s fair to write a polite note and ask for an update. I try to get back to people in three to six weeks on submissions, but it sometimes takes me longer. Just drop her a quick line and ask her what she thought. Don’t whine, don’t scold, and don’t threaten with “I’m going to talk to other agents.” Just check in, keep it positive, and ask if there’s any news. But be aware that some editors and agents at conferences can sometimes get fatigued and say, “yeah, okay, send it along” with resignation, not really wanting the proposal, but too tired to reject another author. I’ve often had authors at conferences get excited and say to me, “so-and-so REALLY wants to see this,” when in reality the editor simply said, “Look, I’m so tired I can’t see straight, the last woman with an appointment started crying when I told her I don’t publish epic poetry, so if you want to send me your manuscript, I’ll have a look when I get back to the office next month…”

And, to complete our world tour, an author who says he is from Addis Ababa said, “In your view is Facebook and Twitter vital to a writing career?” 

I think it’s essential for an author who wants to be successful in today’s culture to have some sort of online presence, since readers today want to be able to research and potentially connect with authors they like. But I’m not certain there is any one required social media outlet that all authors need to be on, nor am I convinced that one’s presence on social media will sell more books. What I AM convinced about (particularly for writers such as yourself, who don’t live in this country but want to sell books and build a readership here) is that the web offers the best opportunity for authors to connect to readers, so exploring the best method for you to do that is probably important.

Thursday with Amanda: Which Comes First? A Book Deal or Platform? (FICTION)

February 19th, 2015 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners | 3 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 the journey of publishing, what is the typical order of events? Does an author come out with a book first? Or do they develop a platform first?

I think many of us in the industry see this as an easy question to answer.

For fiction, the book comes first.

For nonfiction, the platform.

But it never fails that I’ll inevitably run into authors who either don’t understand this, don’t agree, or flat out don’t fit the mold. So here is some insight into the fiction side of this topic:

WHAT COMES FIRST FOR FICTION? A BOOK DEAL OR PLATFORM?

If you’ve ever tried to build a platform for your fiction career without actually having a novel, you’ll find it’s near-impossible. I mean, what do you blog about? What do you Tweet? You don’t have characters anyone knows, you don’t have product to push, and you certainly don’t have much reason to share when your next draft is done or when you’ve had a 10k writing marathon.

Marketing your fiction career without a product is HARD. So that’s why the general rule is that the book comes first, then the platform.

BUT! there are always exceptions to the rule. For fiction, a huge exception would be an author who has found an audience not for their fiction writing, but for some other hobby or focus. Let’s say Trina writes fiction. But she also bakes. She has a recipe blog with a decent following. So in a sense, Trina has a platform and this platform will actually help her get a book deal, provided her book is well-written and publishable. BUT her platform will only help when her book’s readership is similar to the readership of her blog.

For example, if she were to write military thrillers, I highly doubt a single one of her recipe blog followers would give her book a second thought. But if she wrote romantic comedies with a foodie theme, then she’d definitely tap into her platform.

So what does this mean for you? If you have a following or a platform already going, then consider how your fiction could appeal to them specifically. It may mean you have to switch genres. It may mean you have to think a bit more intentionally about characters and setting and themes, but it will be worth it if you can pull it off.

And if you don’t have a following and would like to start one, I highly recommend trying to get noticed for something other than your writing or the genre in which you write (In other words, if you write fantasy, don’t start a fantasy book review blog). Instead, create a blog or a Tumblr or Instagram or whatnot that hits your genre’s target audience for reasons other than your writing hobby. This could look like a “Nerd News” Twitter feed where you share Geek-related URLs or, if you’re into cosplay and creating costumes, a blog where you share tips and tricks and even a few sewing patterns. If you do these things well and market them well and start to see traction, it will pay off when it’s time to get that book deal.

If you write fiction, do you plan on having a book first or developing a platform first?

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: 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.