Archive for the ‘Current Affairs’ Category

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

October 13th, 2014 | Career, Current Affairs | 1 Comment

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.

My name is Jenny, and I’m an indie author (a guest blog)

October 3rd, 2014 | Current Affairs, Self-Publishing | 27 Comments

Hi, I’m Jenny B. Jones, and I’m an indie author. It feels weird to say. Even weirder to say it on a literary agent’s blog. Chip (who is the literary agent who helped me land my traditional publishing deals) asked me to stop by and share a bit of my story. I asked him if I could share my Worst Date Ever Story, but he convinced me this one was more relevant. Before I jump into a discussion about why I went rogue, let me say this is just my story. For every point I make, you can find an author who can disprove it with her own experience. Traditional publishing has done a lot of things right by me, and I’m grateful for most of that season, cow book covers notwithstanding.


I wrote nine books in traditional publishing. It’s humbling to admit, but I was not the queen of the bestsellers. I was more like the lady’s maid who helps the queen get into her corset and says things like, “No, that bustle does not make your butt look big.” I once heard Debbie Macomber say something to the effect of, “I’m not called to preach. I’m called to write.” Amen and testify. My gift is not in delivering spiritual messages, but in creating a story often about Christian characters and always from a Christian world view. I was always too secular for CBA and too sweet for secular. I heard this so often, I thought about working it into my next tattoo.

Almost four years ago I left publishing. I thought at first I would take a year’s absence, then that year turned into “probably forever.” I had a full-time day job, and years of doing both gigs just wore me out. The last few years of traditional publishing wore me out. The return just wasn’t enough, and I was swimming in the wrong pool.

My “forever break” ended when I got the rights back to my very first series. Not only did this mean I had instant indie income if I wanted, but it coincided with the indie information boom. There has never been more information out there for indies like now. Being a total nerd, this info was all I needed to motivate me and inspire some hope. It was the perfect time to jump in.


1. Indie allows me to write like me, while finding my ideal reader. My writing style does not really reach out and grab the typical female shopper in a Lifeway store. Traditional publishing had told me for years the problem was me. That I needed to change my brand, my characters, my voice. These are lovely things to ponder when you’re putting in seventy hours a week, just gained ten pounds from binge M&M consumption, and you cannot remember the last time you mowed the cat or fed the yard. With indie, the lower price point gets the reader’s attention, while the content will hopefully make them come back for more. After re-releasing my first series, the review and email comment I heard the most was “Where have you been?” What brought these new readers to me? Setting my first book in a series free, which gives readers a gentle push into purchasing your other books. If you’ve heard permafree has lost its luster, you are listening to the wrong people. Permafree works for series, and it works very, very well (whether indie or traditional).

2. I’m in control. What am I in control of? Cover design. Release date. Who edits. Pricing options. Pricing promos. Metadata. Distribution channels. Content. I want someone with an eye on my metadata FOREVER. (Do you think traditional publishing has the man-power to do that for every book they own the rights to?) I want a cover that is relevant to its reader and genre and doesn’t make me want to cry. For my personality type, I want an editor who is kind and encouraging, yet will not let me write crap no matter how tough she has to get. I want books priced competitively so they move and don’t sit and gather dust, no matter their age.

3. I own the rights forever. In traditional publishing, your book is pretty much dead after three to six months, and that’s being generous. (Again, this is my experience and might not be yours.) Nobody gains when a publisher hangs onto old books, keeps ugly or dated covers on them, and they’re priced the same as a new release from Stephen King. In the indie world, my book, much like Edward Cullen, lives forever. Dated references? I’ll revamp the content. Is the cover three years old? I’ll give it a new one. Is the price stalling the book? I’ll run a promotion. Does the metadata need to be changed? I’ll add some new descriptors. If taken care of, indie books can live forever, and even do so profitably. And nobody is performing Last Rites at the six month mark and chalking it up to a lame book/author/season of El Nino.

4. I get data. I have two masters degrees, but let me confess that I have no flipping idea how to read a royalty report. There is one publisher who sends a report I don’t even bother opening because it involves too many pages, too many numbers, too many abbreviations, and what I think is subliminal code that makes me want to listen to Beetles records backwards. The data is not only old by the time I get it, but it’s limited in the picture it shows. E-tailers like Amazon give me the closest thing to real time data. I can watch my stats by the hour or by the day. If I release a book this week, I can watch the sales, and that gives me information I need to make decisions about that book for next week or decisions for the next release. I can watch sales during the summer, sales on Sundays, sales on holidays, sales on the YA, sales on the women’s fiction, the new titles, the book that just got retitled, and so on. As an author (or book seller), you need data, and you need it now. And not only do I get all that, but folks like Amazon put it in a format I can actually read and understand. It’s like they know I’m Royalty Report Challenged and love me anyway. In all seriousness, this access to data is a GAME CHANGER.

5. It’s more conducive to risk taking. The book I just released is a New Adult romance that picks up seven years after a previous YA series fictionally ended. I would have never sold this in traditional publishing. I would have never wanted to because you don’t beat an old, dead series horse, and New Adult is not a hot genre in CBA. But now that I’ve introduced tens of thousands of new folks to my YA book In Between, the conditions are perfect to resurrect these old characters and give them to new readers. And New Adult is hot in the general market, and now I can go find those readers. Indie folks are utilizing the novella, serialization, book bundling, writing in new-to-them genres, bending rules, genre-morphing, and finding success in areas we’d previously been told to leave alone.

6. I can sell foreign rights. Foreigners buy books, guys. And you can actually get paid for that. Like a lot. (Traditional folks, don’t give up those rights in contracts!)

7. There is information available. Another reason I like the indie life is because there is a huge trend of transparency. It might be like this forever, but I kind of doubt it, so take advantage of it now. Indie folks are big on sharing information, offering help, and occasionally even talking sales numbers. Some resources you might include:,, The Naked Truth about Self-Publishing (an ebook), The Indie Author Survival Guide (an ebook), The Creative Pen podcasts, and all the indie and marketing sessions from RWA 2014.

I have always held the day job tightly and the writing gig loosely. I’m not sure where I’ll be five years from now in terms of publishing, and five years ago, I would’ve laughed if you had told me I’d be self-publishing. But running my own business has kind of changed my life. It’s made writing (almost) fun, and it’s given me a hope and optimism I haven’t felt since I got my very first contract. Though I still eat way too many M&Ms.

Indie is not for everyone, and that’s okay. But this wave of self-publishing does offer some much-needed changes in the industry and lessons we can all learn from no matter who you’re writing for. Writers can now choose their own adventure, and that’s an exciting thing.


Jenny B. Jones is the award-winning author of the Katie Parker Production series, including the newly released romance Can’t Let You Go. She loves making people laugh, reading a good love story, and does not deny watching General Hospital. You can find her at and on Twitter at @JenBJones.

Ask the Agent: What are the new companies making a mark in publishing?

September 17th, 2014 | Current Affairs, The Business of Writing, Trends | 3 Comments

My recent blog posts on trends shaping the publishing industry has led to a number of people writing to as about other new companies that are doing significant things in the world of books. Several people simply asked, “Who are the new companies I need to know about in publishing?” I can think of several…

BookBub — This is a site that offers a daily deal for certain ebooks, and they have a huge database of readers they market to. Publishers and authors suggest titles and pay a fee to BookBub, and the company has an editorial team that selects the titles they want to offer. The price is usually very low (sometimes free), they send out an email advertisement to a couple million followers, and authors have been raving about the results. Another company, Riffle, is trying to do the same thing, only by offering more choices by letting the readers select the books they want to see discounted.

Oyster — A company that is the ebook version of NetFlix. You pay them a monthly fee, and you can read all the ebooks you want. They’ve recently signed a couple of deals with publishers, and their popularity is growing. (So much that recently Amazon created Kindle Unlimited, which does the same thing, only with a larger number of self-published books.) And, if you’re not familiar, Entitle is another company that does something similar. Right now these two and the company below are leading the way with ebook subscription services.

Scribd — They also offer a monthly subscription service to ebook titles, but they’re best known for document sharing and digital distribution. What you may not know is that Scribd does a nice job of working with authors, offering a bunch of analytics on who is reading what, which ebook device they’re using, which genres are most popular, etc. In my view, this is one of the key companies to watch. They think creatively, are nimble, and seem determined to make an impact on the world of books.

Librify — Just started a year ago, they’re basically a “Book of the Month Club” for ebook readers, and they are partnering with Target to sign up people and get them reading. I keep hearing they’re right on the verge of breaking out.

Atavist — I’m always surprised I don’t hear more from authors about this fabulous site. Started by a journalist, they offer great writing that is shorter form than books — most frequently journalistic pieces in the 10,000 to 20,000 word range, often including video and other visual elements. If you’re like me and enjoy great nonfiction writing, you should check them out. A similar company is Byliner, which has done short-form fiction as well as nonfiction projects, and has teamed with some headliner authors in the past year.

DailyLit — Almost ten years old, this company got started by emailing chapters of Pride and Prejudice to people who wanted to read great books in bite-sized chunks, but needed someone to help them stay on track. Now they have their own serialized fiction projects that they send out to subscribers. I mention them because I know several authors who love their dose of daily literature arriving via email or app.

Zola Books — This is another one of those companies that may or not may survive, but has an interesting place in the business. They’re a combination ebook store and social media network, and they take the unique approach of working with large independent bookstores (The Tattered Cover in Denver is one example), small indie presses, as well as working directly with some authors (such as Audrey Niffenegger, of The Time Traveler’s Wife) to create and sell exclusive titles. Readers can comment on them and interact with the authors. It’s a fascinating site. A company that’s similar is Bilbary, which sells ebooks that can be read on any device.

Wattpad — One of the earliest fan-fiction sites, this is aimed at letting people come on to post their thoughts, poems, stories, and articles on the site, then letting others respond to it all. They started out focusing on young writers, ran into trouble when people started posting copyrighted material, and have said they’re making an effort to stop the stealing. But they’re one of the most well-funded of the newer companies, have signed deals with most of the major publishers, have done book launches for significant authors, and now offer their own crowdfunding plans. In my view, it’s turned into a promotional site with some social media built in.

SliceBooks — Remember when you used to put together a playlist of your favorite songs on a CD? This company does the same thing, only with chapters of books, to try and create marketing pieces for publishers and libraries. And, if you’re an author looking for new companies that offer helpful content, by all means check out BiblioCrunch, which is sort of a combination do-it-yourself publishing site and an Angie’s List. You can visit the site to find cover designers, freelance editors, publicists, ebook consultants, and the like. Some people like them, others find they tend to push a bit hard, but they certainly have become a leader in the field of DIY indie publishing.

There you go… Fourteen companies that are becoming movers and shakers in publishing. What companies have you worked with that the rest of the folks in publishing should know about? 



Ask the Agent: Which e-book publisher should I choose?

September 15th, 2014 | Career, Current Affairs, Publishing | 18 Comments

I’ve been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 

There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.

1. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (you’ll find them at This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

2. Smashwords ( This is who we almost always recommend to authors who want to reach beyond Amazon. Kindle is great, but Smashwords will get you into the iBookstore (for readers with iPads), the Nook bookstore (for Barnes & Noble devotees), the Kobo bookstore (which works with indie bookstores in this country, but is a big deal overseas), and Scribd. So instead of having to upload your titles to every company independently, Smashwords takes care of all the non-Amazon e-tailers, and converts your text into the various formats you’ll need. They also have nice extras such as free marketing help, and they’ll even suggest who can help you with the required formatting. They pay 70%, will send you checks quarterly, and we’ve never had a problem with the accounting at Smashwords. This is a company we trust, and if you do both Smashwords and self-publish a book on Amazon, you’re reaching all the major markets.

3. BookBaby ( This is a fast-growing company that makes it easy for authors. They offer three packages, charge you a flat fee, and take care of everything — formatting, distributing to all the e-tailers, and even helping with marketing. They have some great extra features (like an author bookstore page, or good cover design assistance) that cost more, but the authors I’ve spoken with have been very happy with their experiences at BookBaby. This is more of a one-stop shopping — so while posting your book on Amazon is free, the convenience of using BookBaby will cost you, but it might be worth it to you. They pay 85% of net. BookBaby isn’t as fast as the others, but they have good customer service, and offer some really nice extra features (that you’ll have to pay for, of course). We think they’re a good option for the right authors.

4. Kobo’s Writing Life ( This one might be new to you, but I mention it because it’s huge in other countries. Kobo currently says they are the world’s second-largest e-bookstore, and that they’re doing book in nearly 70 languages, reaching into almost 200 countries (that’s from their website, so I’m taking their word for it). I’ve known authors who have worked with them, and they rave about how easy it is — you upload a file, Kobo converts it, they pay you 70%, and they’re now starting to offer some marketing helps. But the big news is that they’re working closely with ABA bookstores, which means all those indie bookstores will be helping you to sell your titles. This is one of those companies you might be overlooking, so make sure to check them out.

There are certainly others. Apple has iBook Author (which people have complained is cumbersome to use, but can be great for children’s books, cookbooks, and projects with a lot of photos), NookPress (which replaced PubIt, and is easy to use, but only for those who own the floundering Nook), Vook (which can work with all the e-tailers, but works on a different economic model than the others), eBookIt (the competitor to BookBaby in terms of being a one-stop shop), and BookTango, iUniverse, Trafford, and Lulu, who are all owned or in partnership with the folks at AuthorSolutions. To anyone looking at an AuthorSolutions company, I always say, “Do your research.” There are good programs and bad programs, but understand that AuthorSolutions is too often accused of being there to sell services to you, as the author, not to necessarily sell books to consumers. 

My question to you: Which of these have you worked with, and what are your impressions?  Leave a note in the “comments” section for who you liked and why (or who you didn’t, and why not).

Ask the Agent: What will the NEXT big trends be in publishing?

September 10th, 2014 | Current Affairs, Trends | 6 Comments

In response to Monday’s blog post, I had a couple authors I represent ask me about the NEXT big trends — What are the big things that we’re starting to see that have the potential to re-shape publishing over the next few years? 

I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can take a stab at several things that are around, are growing, and have the capability of significantly changing things in this industry.

First, the Espresso print-on-demand machine has been around for a decade, but it’s only now starting to reveal what it can do. If you’re not familiar, the Espresso is a fancy computer & printer that sits in a bookstore and will produce one copy of any book you want. To this point it’s been pretty much a non-starter, but now indie stores have realized they can appeal to high-end readers, create a cozy environment for them, print one high-class copy of a book, and not have to invest in a ton of other inventory. Suddenly we’re seeing a new way to do a bookstore. No, this isn’t going to compete with Barnes & Noble, but the folks doing this aren’t trying to compete with Barnes & Noble. They want to create a completely different kind of experience.

Second, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding can help support authors, publishers, and bookstores. A couple of companies have used this lately to raise significant funds for titles that appeal to specific audiences (basically spec fiction and graphic novels to this point). But now we’re seeing publishers and stores go to loyal readers to help support certain titles. In other words, rather than an individual using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or RocketHub to help fund one unique book, businesses are finding ways to make it a part of their overall finance strategy. That’s a brand new way of supporting the publishing business, and I think it could significantly alter the way some projects are brought to market.

Third, Babylon and GoogleTranslation software could make foreign rights obsolete. Right now publishers take their text and sell it to publishing companies in foreign countries, who hire translators to move the book into another language. And, to this point, translation software has been fine for discovering how to move yes, let’s do lunch  into si, facciamo il pranzo, or making sure you spell vous le vous coucher avec moi correctly, but it’s not good for taking your romantic suspense and shifting it into Spanish. But the new translation software has the power and potential to reshape publishing, by instantly transforming your text from language into another, thus dropping the costs significantly and, potentially, re-making the way we treat foreign rights.

I’m no doubt missing a bunch of things. I have friends who believe the future versions of Google Glasses will transform the reading experience, that the new Apple Wallet will change the financial packages of bookstores, and that Snippet will be the hot thing for those interested in reading shorter books. But the three I mentioned certainly have the potential to make a big difference in the publishing industry.

What are the changes you see happening that have the potential to re-shape books and publishing? 

Ask the Agent: What are the new trends in publishing?

September 8th, 2014 | Current Affairs, Trends | 17 Comments

For the past several months, I’ve had numerous people write in to ask about the trends I see happening in the world of publishing. We’re in a state of evolution in the industry (one could argue we’re in a state of revolution), where answers to questions as simple as “what is a book?” and “what constitutes a publisher?” are changing. With everything in a state of flux, I’ve been trying to use this blog to respond to the basic questions writers have about the industry. Then, over the weekend, a longtime reader sent me the question worded this way: What trends do you see having the potential to reshape the world of publishing? 

Wow. A fascinating question. Here are some thoughts…

1. Convergence: How stories continue to shape, reshape, and adapt. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in the publishing industry is that a novel is no longer just a novel. Nowadays a novel is being evaluated not just as a print book and an ebook, but as a potential film or TV show. (That part you knew about — publishers have long been interested in the dramatic qualities of the stories they produce.) AND the novel is being evaluated as a potential video game; it’s being explored from a social media perspective; it’s being reviewed for potential as a series; it’s being read with interactive media in mind. The story itself may not end — others may participate in the story by writing new endings, or creating entirely new stories that relate (have you seen what J.K. Rowling is doing with Pottermore?). One of the changes that has occurred in storytelling over the past 15 years is the gamer’s mindset, where a story may not have an ending, or it can be told and altered a million different ways. All of those issues are now part of the discussion when we examine a novel. That’s a huge change in the way we view story.

2. Design: How content continues to become more visual. Advertisers have been telling us for decades that interesting visual content is far more effective than simple words, and the message stays with people longer. So perhaps we shouldn’t all have been surprised when the numbers of interactive video games began outselling movies and dwarfing the sale of books. Graphic novels have moved from the fringe to the center of our culture’s entertainment choices, spurred on by the capabilities of tablet computers. Now we’re beginning to see animated content in enhanced ebooks, interactive content in books (a reader can go into the text and comment or even add material), motion-formatted books (think of graphic novels as advanced cartoons), and “visual journalism” projects (take a look at Symbolia on your iPad sometime). Organizational theory tells us that ideas becomes more complex over time, not less so, and we’re seeing that with the presentation of content to potential readers.

3. Brand: How marketing has taken over the world. I used to talk with editors about the value of an author’s idea before getting into the author’s bio and qualifications for writing a book. Now the first question I get is invariably, “Tell me about the author’s platform.” Sometimes it can seem as though the value of the content is subservient to the ability of the author to market the idea. So authors all got onto Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to get the word out, which has led to some authors having specialized content only for loyal readers, or offering premium products (like a private message from the author, or behind-the-scenes information) in order to incentivize readers. At the same time, professional marketing types are exploring how a fringy idea becomes a core entertainment concept, and moving to transform marketing from “sharing product news” to “subtly reshaping the discussion so that our content gets noticed.” All of this means that there is NO discussion about publishing a book these days that isn’t influenced by marketing.

There are other trends shaping publishing, and I’ll continue mentioning them, but I’m interested in your perspective… What trends do you see shaping the future of publishing? 

Ask the Agent: What do I do with a bad review?

September 3rd, 2014 | Current Affairs, Publishing | 18 Comments

Someone wrote to say, “I got a terrible review on Amazon. I hate even going there to look at it. Tell me, what do you do with a bad review?”

You know, one of the things unpublished authors don’t realize is that once you put something into print, it’s there forever. If you say something stupid, you’re stuck with it. You can go to the person and apologize, but the words are still out there, waiting to be discovered by millions of other potential readers who will never get to hear your personal explanation or apology.

Writing is a scary thing.

I’ve often done fairly blunt assessments of books and articles, and at times I’ve hurt people’s feelings. But I never set out to do that. I mean, it’s not like I saw the book, didn’t like the author, and decided to toast them just for fun. When I’ve said something was stupid or badly written, it was because I was trying to offer an honest evaluation of a project. But that’s not universally respected. Let’s face it — plenty of people ONLY want you to stay something nice, or to say nothing at all.

So if you’re asked to review a book that’s awful, what are you supposed to do? Lie about it? It seems to me like the best thing to do is to be honest but as gracious as possible, speaking the truth (or at least the truth as you see it) in love. It’s those sorts of jobs that can get you into trouble.

Unfortunately, a bad review like that can hurt an author’s career (to say nothing of the author’s feelings). So I find that when I’m simply asked to review a book for a friend, I tend to simply stay away from reviewing a book I didn’t love. That means the title will get a falsely-positive set of reviews, but I don’t have to deal with any fallout. Maybe that’s why so many of us tend to discount what we read on Amazon — we’ve seen too many reviews from mothers and friends to accept the glowing evaluations as honest. On the other hand, if a magazine or website hires me to do a review, I have to be as honest as possible, even if that means sounding critical.

A while back I did an interview with an online magazine. It was just a Q-and-A thing, and it was fun. I was maybe a little acerbic at times, but the whole tenor of the thing was to give good info to people in an entertaining way. As a response, one writer who didn’t like my answers because I clearly wasn’t religious enough decided to create her own “Chip MacGregor Is A Heretic” website. (I’m not making this up. She was particularly concerned because I poked fun at “a conservative Christian home-school mom in blue denim jumper and her hair in a bun.” Which, you’ve got to admit, is a fairly decent description. I had to laugh at the two women who wrote in to defend blue denim jumpers.) Anyway, she got a bit personal, and when one person wrote in to say to her, “you know, you sound a little upset about all this,” the creator of the site went to great lengths to explain that she’s not mad, she’s standing up for truth, justice, the American way, blah blah blah.


What she failed to mention was that I’d toasted her a couple times on an ezine for saying really stupid things. So this was her way of getting back. Except it doesn’t work that way. You rarely win anything by attacking someone. And you NEVER win anything by attacking back. A couple of times I’ve worked with authors who wanted to write in a defense or a clarification after experiencing a bad review. They wanted to go onto Amazon and defend themselves. But offering an explanation for a bad review never works. My advice? Forget it. Put the bad review in a box, set it behind you, and move on. We all get bad reviews, we all get some personal attacks, we’re all going to face readers or reviewers who sometimes JUST DON’T LIKE US. That’s life.

That’s especially true with books, where beauty is in the eye of the beholder. You might write something you think is deep and thoughtful — but a reader might find it silly and turgid. Guess what? That’s the life of the writer. If you can’t live with it, pick a different career. NOBODY is universally beloved in this business. (There were people who hated Mark Twain. There are people who buy the silly horror-porn written by Joe Konrath and think it’s enjoyable. Different strokes for different folks.)

Look, when someone attacked me, I should have brushed it off. When I responded negatively to her, SHE should have brushed it off. The fact is, none of us can read the minds of others. I don’t really know what she was thinking — maybe I really AM a heretic. Maybe she really doesn’t like me (hard to believe, since I’m so wonderful, but it’s happened to me before). Or maybe, just maybe, hers was an honest response, and I should just shut up about it. There’s something to be said for keeping your mouth shut and not whining.

Kurt Vonnegut once talked about the unfairness of personal attacks in bad reviews, claiming rage and loathing for a novel is “preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” When you get a bad review, recognize the attack for what it is (small-mindedness, misunderstanding, a chance for the attacker to make herself feel better, or, perhaps most commonly, an honest response to something not suited to the reviewer’s tastes). Then forget about it. Go read a positive review to make up for it, forget the bad one, and move on to something else.

-Yes, you’ve read this before! I pulled it out from the 2012 files because I got the question a couple more times!

If you were building an e-bookstore…

August 20th, 2014 | Current Affairs | 27 Comments

Recently some people in publishing got together for a weekend to discuss this question: “If you were going to create an online bookstore to compete with Amazon, what would it look like?” 

I think that’s a great topic to explore, since I love Amazon, love my Kindle, and regularly purchase books there. But even more than that, I love going into a great bookstore and wandering around. My office is over the Cloud & Leaf Bookstore — a small independent bookshop where Jodi features great reads, helps customers find exactly what they need, and regularly steers them toward interesting little finds. I love wandering around a Barnes & Noble, where I can get lost in the history section, finding fascinating titles the explore small pockets of time that only those of us with a nose for the past can appreciate. I love going into Powell’s City of Books, and wandering for hours through the stacks, looking at titles and covers. I’ll pull out one book, read the jacket copy, peruse the table of contents, then maybe set it down and move to another interesting title that catches my eye. That’s the joy of being in a bookstore, and like you I can sometimes be convinced that I’ve entered a time-warp, since three hours will have gone by, and I’m sure I was really only wandering the stacks for twenty minutes.

That experience — wandering the aisles and looking for great titles, hoping to find the next book for your nighttime reading stack? It’s what Amazon can’t replicate. We call it “discoverability” in publishing, and it’s the process of getting readers to know your book exists, get them interested, and encourage them to buy and read it. There was a workshop on discoverability lately hosted by Digital Book World, and they revealed a study that showed five years ago, 31% of all books purchased by regular readers were discovered by wandering around a bookstore, while only 11% were discovered by wandering around Amazon. Now we live in a world where more than half of all serious readers own a Kindle or Nook, and readers discovering titles in bookstores is down to 20%. BUT the discoverability on Amazon has actually declined. Think about that for a moment… more people than ever own an e-reader, but a smaller percentage are actually discovering their titles on the e-tail site. The vast majority of book buyers online (67%, according to the study cited) knew what they wanted before they went to Amazon or B&

So Amazon and B& offer something great — ebooks that are easily accessible, at cheap prices. But they have the limitation of being just an okay shopping experience. With that in mind, a bunch of folks got together to try and replicate the joy of discoverability. There were writers, agents, editors, librarians, and booksellers, all pulled together to talk about how they would create a new site. According the Chris Kubica, who pulled everyone together, they spent their first day identifying what’s wrong with the current online shopping experience, then they were supposed to spend the second day creating solutions. They doubtless understood that this wouldn’t necessarily be something that competed with Amazon — they’re massive, well-funded, have great customer service. In other words, this wasn’t intended to be a time to bash the company that has reinvigorated the world of publishing.

Instead the goal was to create something different. Whether big or small, they intended to brainstorm something that would appeal to readers, share the joy of books and reading, but somehow replicate the notion of a bookstore. But the group faltered. The experiment didn’t come to any conclusions, though they did have a healthy dialogue and got people thinking about what the perfect online shopping experience could be. And that led me to ask you…

If you could design the perfect online shopping experience, what would it be like? How would it be different from Amazon? How could publishers and authors and booksellers do something to better reflect the experience of walking through a great bookstore and finding the joy that comes with discovering great books? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section. If you were building an e-bookstore, what would you do to create a better experience? What would you do to foster discoverability?

Ask the Agent: How does a book get selected by a publisher?

August 18th, 2014 | Current Affairs, Publishing, The Business of Writing | 16 Comments

Several people have written to ask, “What is the process of getting your proposal selected by a publishing house?”

Okay. First, think of a publishing house as being an actual building. Your proposal probably isn’t walking in the front door. More than likely it’s sliding into the building by way of a window known as an acquisitions editor (often an acquaintance of your agent, sometimes a person you met at a conference, or maybe a guy who lost a bet). He or she will read through it, make some suggestions, talk it over with your agent, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it’s worth pursuing.

Most publishers are relying on agents to do the initial filtering of junk, so the slush pile has sort of moved from the publishing house to the agent’s office…which means you’re probably going to have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process.

Once it’s actually in the building, if the acquisitions editor likes it he or she will take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around grousing about their pay and making editorial jokes. (“I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!” “Yeah, let’s catch a TWAIN out of town!” Editorial types love this sort of humor. That’s why they’re editors and not writers.) Eventually they’ll run out of bad puns and be forced to discuss the merits of your proposal. If it’s a non-fiction book, is it unique? Does it answer a question people are asking? Is there a perceived market for it? Does the writing feel fresh and offer genuine solutions to the question that’s posed? If it’s a novel, does the story have a clear hook? Is there a well-defined audience for it? Does it feel new, or as though it’s a story that’s been told a million times? (The fact is, it probably HAS been told a million times. There are only so many stories. The question is really if the author can make it feel as though he or she has a fresh take on the story.) Most importantly does it have Amish people, zombies, or a spunky girl with a heart of gold? If the whole package passes muster, it moves to the next step…

The Publishing Committee, which is a group generally made up of folks from editorial, marketing, sales, accounting, and administration. They’ll meet somewhere between once a week to once a month, depending on the house, and they’ll have an agenda of books to talk through each time, with the various representatives offering their own perspectives — the editors will talk about the merits of the words; the accountants will figure out the costs and potential dollars in play; the sales guys will begin discussing who they can sell copies to; and the marketing people will sit around trying to think up reasons why they shouldn’t work on THIS one, since they’ve got so many OTHER things to do. The group will talk about the market for the book, if it fits with the rest of the books on their list, what the author’s platform offers, what it would cost to print the book, what the marketing costs would be, and how many sales they think they could generate. This is the group that will explore the feasibility of doing your book. They may send it back to the acquisitions editor to do some more work.

At that point, the editor has to run a Profit & Loss sheet or pro forma, in which they’ll take wild surmises as to how many copies they can expect to sell in the first year, what the hard costs of ink/paper/binding will be, what they’ll spend on marketing, and how much money they’ll have to throw at the money-grubbing author, who, if she really loved words, would write her damn books for free, since we all know the publishers are only in it for the joy of reading and to serve humanity. The editor will take all this information back to the publishing committee, who by now has had all sorts of time to think up NEW reasons why they shouldn’t do the book. They’ll talk about it again, this time with hard numbers attached. Eventually the pub board will be forced to make an actual decision, so they’ll probably throw the Urim and Thummim, maybe pull out an Ouija board, and decide on your book.

I’ve heard people say there are a series of “sales” to get to this point. The author sells the agent. The agent sells the editor. The editor sells the editorial team. The editorial team sells the pub board. Once that group makes a decision to contract the book, they have to negotiate a deal, then put it on a list and make it part of the process — because the sales guys are going to have to sell it to retail accounts, who in turn will attempt to sell it to the reading public. It’s a lot of work. And all of that points to one thing: It’s tough to get published. Each step along the way is an investment, so even the books they say “no” to have had dollars spent on them.

A publishing house has all those filters in place so that they can do the easy thing and say “no” to you. (Really. That’s the reason they exist.) The purpose of the process is to say “no” to most everything. Therefore, if you want to be published, create proposals they can’t say “no” to. Of course, that’s easier said than done, but that’s the basic idea — work on your proposal so that it piques their interest, provides a clear hook, and answers any objections. If you do that, your proposal is much more apt to be selected by a publishing house.

Does that make sense to you? What question would YOU like to ask a literary agent? 

What blogs do you read?

August 11th, 2014 | Current Affairs | 15 Comments

I frequently get the question, “What blogs do you read?,” and I always stumble around a bit. You see, I’m a longtime literary agent (16 years now), and I represent a bunch of writers who have blogs. I have bestselling authors (Vincent Zandri, Rachel Hauck, etc) who regularly blog, some super-gifted writing instructors (J. Mark Bertrand, Lisa Samson, Les Edgerton) who occasionally blog, and some other writers (Lisa McKay, Sheila Gregoire, Nicole Unice, etc) who often have interesting insights to share. How do I pick?

But I figured it’s fair to ask an agent, so long as he or she didn’t focus on authors they represent. So Here are ten blogs I regularly stop by to visit.

1. Seth Godin ( He’s an interesting guy, with lots of practical thoughts on marketing and publishing.

2. Janet Reid ( Now that Rachelle Gardner isn’t blogging much anymore, and PubRants is gone, Janet has become my favorite OTHER literary agent to read. I love reading sites where I learn things.

3. Nathan Bransford ( A former literary agent, now focusing on his own writing, Nathan only blogs about once a week, but it’s always interesting.

4. Writer UnBoxed ( One of the authors I represent introduced me to this site, run by a couple of novelists. Insightful stuff on the business as well as the craft of fiction.

4. A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing ( Some people will find it hard to believe I stuck Konrath on here, and I’ll warn you that his ego may not all fit on your hard drive, but he’s interesting and offers good thoughts on the industry. Don’t take him as gospel (Joe is the presiding bishop at the Church of Amazon), but he’s often got insightful stuff to say about the industry, and he shares it straight.

5. Reading Rambo ( I’m a huge Charles Dickens fan, so Andrea Burton’s look at literature (and the occasional opera role) is fun and fascinating.

6. Mike Hyatt ( Some readers tend to see Mike’s blog as a “business/leaders” type of thing — I prefer to see it as one of the few people online who takes a holistic view of the industry. He regularly has good content that makes me think.

7. Jenny Lawson ( The single funniest blog I visit. Like with all humor, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea.

8. Novel Rocket ( This is a collection of writers (most of them working in CBA) who come together to reflect, share ideas, and talk about the process of writing. It’s uneven, but a great resource to stay with.

9. Patheos ( Yeah, okay, so this is a website and not a blog, but it links to a BUNCH of interesting blogs. If you’re a person interested in faith and spirituality, but you’re not really a conservative evangelical, this is always a nice place to explore.

10. Thursdays with Amanda (um…. right here every Thursday). Okay, I know this looks silly, but I don’t put any content constraints on Amanda Luedeke’s Thursday posts, and I ALWAYS find myself going, “Geez… that’s great!” So I’d be lying if I didn’t include her work in my Top Ten list.

There’s plenty that’s left off, of course. The various blogs connected to Writers Digest are really good, and helpful to just about everyone interested in a career in writing. And there are some great sites that can be fun to visit occasionally, like the First Fifty blog (, the Six Word Memoir site (, and the Six Sentences site ( For fun some day, visit the website, which features the worst fiction writing. It’s a hoot. Those are my top blogs to visit.

What blogs do you visit on a regular basis?