Archive for the ‘Deep Thoughts’ Category

It’s “Ask an Agent” time!

March 2nd, 2015 | Agents, Career, Deep Thoughts, Questions from Beginners, The Writing Craft | 8 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.”

 

 

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What it means to be an ethical author (a guest blog)

February 20th, 2015 | Deep Thoughts | 3 Comments

I’m shocked at the behavior of authors recently. One story after another features an author responding badly to a review, manipulating numbers or stalking their readers.

 

I’m baffled at what my response should be to this bad behavior. I find little guidance (this excellent blog notwithstanding) simply because much of contemporary publishing is new or so reformed it’s unrecognizable from a decade ago. I’m new to the writing scene and admittedly impressionable. It’s tempting, even as a Christian, to look what other authors are doing in their self-promotion, their marketing, and their relationship with readers and wonder isn’t all publicity good publicity?

 

In a free market, none of this should be surprising. There have been slimy salesmen ever since the exchange of goods and services began. But perhaps we writers could unify and deliberately encourage good, ethical behavior within our own groups. Perhaps we can all benefit from some conversations about good behavior. Perhaps, through our communities and our tribes, we could gentle encourage each other, especially the newbies, to choose the path of honor, even if it means fewer sales. We can’t assume, that because a writer calls himself a Christian, and writes from a Christian worldview, and may even have an altar call type conversion ¾ of the way into his family saga, that the way he behaves in public is ethical. I’d like to suggest we need encouragement and wisdom in this area.

 

I’d like for you to join me for Ethical Author Weeks, February 1-14, 2015. In these two weeks I’m going to start conversations about ethics on my own blog (www.10minutenovelists.com), during my weekly Twitter chats (#10MinNovelists) and on my own Facebook group (10 Minute Novelists). I would be very honored if you joined me in the conversations, not just at my events, but also within your own circles of influence. You have an opportunity here to gently encourage new writers to do the right things.

 

I’ve attached in this post my objectives for #EthicalAuthors Weeks, the code written up by ALLi (the Alliance of Independent Authors) and the artwork that I’ll be using on my blog and my Facebook group. Please feel free to use any of it during those two weeks in February. ALLi also created a badge too. That’s for anyone who is willing to stand for ethics.

 

Why are we doing this? Because authors have never had so much freedom. But with freedom, we must accept responsibility for our public persona, our works (whether self-published or traditionally published), and our relationships with our readers. As Christians, this should be a no-brainer. We should be the first in line to champion ethical behavior.

 

OBJECTIVES for #EthicalAuthor Weeks

 

1.Widespread author awareness of ethics through conversations on blogs, in real life and on social media.

2. Commitments to the Ethical Author Code.

3. Adoption of the Ethical Author badge by as many writers as possible.

 

IDEAS for promoting #EthicalAuthor

 

Publish blog posts about their own personal commitment to ethics.

Interview other writers who’ve had experiences dealing with ethics issues.

Link to this article or others like it that in support of author ethics.

Tweet about changes they are going to make in their own practices using the #ethicalauthor hashtag.

Ask authors in their circles to read over the Ethical Author Code.

Start conversations on social media about author ethics.

Think through what being an ethical author means to them and change any questionable behaviors.

Display the Ethical Author badge on their blog or website.

 

THE ETHICAL AUTHOR CODE (written by ALLi)

Guiding principle: Putting the reader first

When I market my books, I put my readers first. This means that I don’t engage in any practices that have the effect of misleading the readers/buyers of my books. I behave professionally online and offline when it comes to my writing life.

Courtesy

I behave with courtesy and respect toward readers, other authors, reviewers and industry professionals such as agents and publishers. If I find myself in disagreement, I focus on issues rather than airing grievances or complaints in the press or online, or engaging in personal attacks of any kind.

Aliases

I do not hide behind an alias to boost my own sales or damage the sales or reputation of another person. If I adopt a pen name for legitimate reasons, I use it consistently and carefully.

Reviewing and rating books

I do not review or rate my own or another author’s books in any way that misleads or deceives the reader. I am transparent about my relationships with other authors when reviewing their books.

I am transparent about any reciprocal reviewing arrangements, and avoid any practices that result in the reader being deceived.

Reacting to reviews

I do not react to any book review by harassing the reviewer, getting a third party to harass the reviewer, or making any form of intrusive contact with the reviewer. If I’ve been the subject of a personal attack in a review, I respond in a way that is consistent with professional behavior.

Book promotions

I do not promote my books by making false statements about, for example, their position on bestseller lists, or consent to anyone else promoting them for me in a misleading manner.

Plagiarism

I know that plagiarism is a serious matter, and I don’t intentionally try to pass off another writer’s words as my own.

Financial ethics

In my business dealings as an author, I make every effort to be accurate and prompt with payments and financial calculations. If I make a financial error, I remedy it as soon as it’s brought to my notice.

Responsibility

I take responsibility for how my books are sold and marketed. If I realize anyone is acting against the spirit or letter of this Code on my behalf, I will refer them to this Code and ask them to modify their behavior.

Even if you don’t formally participate, pray for those of us who do, that we can be a voice of change.

Ethical Authors

More information about the movement behind Author Ethics can be found here.

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Katharine Grubb’s newest book of Write A Novel In 10 Minutes A Day will be released March 26. She blogs at www.10minutenovelists.com.

5 Things Africa has Taught Me as a Writer (a guest blog from Curt Iles)

January 30th, 2015 | Deep Thoughts, The Writing Craft | 4 Comments

Lagniappe.  It’s a French word denoting, “A little extra.” And it’s a common expression in Louisiana’s Cajun culture. In the local Lugandan language along Lake Victoria’s northern shore, the word is enyogeza. It means a little extra at the market. Two small potatoes added to the dozen you purchased. This story is lagniappe (or enyogeza.) A little extra for you to ponder from my personal journey in Africa.

My wife DeDe and I have lived in Africa for two years. Often I look around and am shocked at how far I am from my Louisiana piney woods roots. It’s been an eventful time full of growth, frustration, change, disappointment, and joy. Very similar to life back in the good ol’ U.S. of A. I’d like to share five lessons loom large in what these years has taught me as a writer and person:

It’s always a draft. 

2013 and 2014 have been years of constant change:

  • Selling our home where we’d raised our family and lived thirty years.
  • Leaving the Southern rural culture for the red dirt of east Africa.
  • Learning Swahili to work in Democratic Congo, then being switched to South Sudan and Arabic. Hatuna matada for sure!
  • Our country, South Sudan, descending into chaos and anarchy as we watched our new friends suffer and doors close. The future is poised with more of the same. It seems change is the only constant.

Due to daily change, I’ve learned to live and journal in pencil. Life requires erasers. Our African journey has been similar to the process of writing a novel: sometimes our characters take over and send us in directions we didn’t choose. But the end result is almost always a better novel as well as a richer life.

In spite of the change and uncertainty, I’ve never been more excited about life, our mission, or my writing than today. I’m confident that God is still in control and still trustworthy.

It’s always about the story. 

Regardless of our genre, we’re all storytellers. Our challenge is putting down words that attempt to accurately describe we first heard, saw, or imagined.

I’ve stepped from one storytelling culture into another. African culture is rich in gripping stories, proverbs, and history. The best stories are always about the lives and struggles of people. Stories put a personal face on both tragedy and triumph. Instead of statistics about the daily struggle Africans face, I share about a ferry ride with a young island boy returning to the mainland for a new school term. His mother holds a long stringer of fish in one hand and a plastic bag holding two live ducks. The boy grins. “That’s how she’s paying my school fees.”

Numbers can be cold. “Over 1000 dead in South Sudan and 250,000 displaced.” But the story of one person’s journey is better than dry statistics. I think about our Nuer friend Kun, trapped in the capital’s UN compound for three weeks. He is paralyzed with fear that certain death by Dinka soldiers awaits him outside the gates. Our team listening to his frantic calls coupled with our inability to help.

It’s always about people. It’s always about their stories.  Our job is simply the struggle to tell them well. As poet Mary Oliver aptly wrote, our job is to:

  1. Pay attention.
  2. Be astonished.
  3. Tell others.

That’s what I do. That’s who I am.

It’s always about humility.

Writing and the subsequent attempt at being published is an extremely humbling experience. Sharing our thoughts and words with the public is akin to running down the street in your underwear. (Do other writers have that dream as often as I do?)

This public inspection and attending rejection is so deflating that many abandon the journey due to the disappointments that are part of the process. I know about rejection. I can proudly assert that my rejection folder is as thick as anyone’s. However, Africa has humbled me like nothing else.

I speak the local language on about a three-year-old’s level. The nationals laugh, correct me, yet still show me grace. The taxi driver who delivers me to the market is fluent in five languages. I’m an American so you can easily guess how many I’ve mastered. I’m greeted daily with cries of “Mzungu” and requests for money or assistance in “coming to America.” Each day gives me opportunity to look odd, stupid, and awkward and I seldom disappoint. It’s part of the experience. It’s all about humility.

I’ve always believed the humble writer is truly the best writer. Africa has allowed lots of practice. I wouldn’t trade it for all of the tea in Kenya or coffee in Rwanda.

It’s all about being a servant. 

Africa rewards the curious soul. During this past year, I’ve filled up numerous journals, taken hundreds of photos, and recorded dozens of voice memos. I have frustrated myself and others with my obsession to capture every image, thought, and face or smile. Our favorite word has become, “Wow.” It can mean many things in Africa.

Our missionary term is nearly half completed. I have mixed emotions about that, but am more determined to observe it all and capture it in my mind and heart.

It’s all about having a gratitude-filled life. 

My African teachers are so grateful for everything. Oftentimes, it seems they enjoy their little much more than our largess. Africans have so little compared to Westerners. They understand “Give us this day our daily bread” and thank God for the bread when it appears. I’m honing my degree of gratitude from this experience. Being thankful is simply a habit as are the twin sins of ingratitude and arrogance.

So I’ve been reminded of the real reasons I write. It’s who I am. It’s what I do. Presently I’m not entering contests or seeking daily for that ever-elusive contract. I’m simply writing. Last week, I started Journal #74 of my life journey. If I never published another word, I’d still write. It’s who I am.

A writer is someone who wrote today. My job in Africa is researching the unreached people groups of South Sudan. My assignment is to tell their stories in a way that will lead Americans to pray, give, and come over to help. My calling is writing with influence and impact for a reason. It’s Kingdom work and I believe it matters. Influence and Impact for the Kingdom.

Influence is how far our message can go. It’s the ripple effect of our writing. Impact is how deep our stories can dig into a person’s heart. It’s about depth. I hope wanting to have influence and impact isn’t sinful. If it is, I have sinned greatly.

The Internet Age opens so many doors for influence. I can tweet about a refugee camp in northern Uganda in real time as I share prayer needs and faces. As I write for influence and impact, my reward isn’t a glowing review, award, or publishing contract. It’s a Facebook reply that states, “I feel as if I’m over there with you.” It’s that volunteer, moved by a story, who comes to Africa and returns home with a fresh passion burning in her heart. That’s influence. That’s impact. It’s why I write.

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CurtIles

Curt Iles currently writes from Entebbe, Uganda, where he and his wife DeDe serve with the International Mission Board. The author of eleven books, you can find out more about Curt at www.creekbank.net. This story comes from his new short story collection, Trampled Grass, now available as an Amazon ebook. All proceeds will benefit the IMB’s Lottie Moon Mission Offering.

What will you do in the New Year?

January 5th, 2015 | Deep Thoughts | 10 Comments

Welcome to 2015, everyone. I know it’s already the 5th (Twelfthnight, if you’re into the old traditions), so you’ve enjoyed your Twelve Days of Christmas, you’ve opened presents, seen old friends and family, and toasted in the new year. Now it’s time to think hard about what you’re going to accomplish over the next twelve months.

I know what New Year’s resolutions can be like: a weight that you carry around for a few days, then let slip. Everyone who works in a gym will tell you that the first two weeks of a new year are always busy, then things start to get back to normal. You see, most people start the year with an idea that they want to do something different — exercise more, eat less, write more, drink less, contact old friends more, waste time on Facebook less… I’m the same way. I figure the start of a new year is a good time to clean the slate, pick some new goals, and get my life in focus.

The problem is that most of us tend to overestimate what we can do in one year (even if we underestimate what we could do in five, if we were to stay focused on our goals). So instead of setting some huge, life-changing goal for yourself in January, what if you had two or three big goals you wanted to get done over the course of the year? In other words, if you could accomplish just three things in 2015, what would they be? Would you finally complete that novel? Or run it by an good editor? Start that next book? Would you launch your new website? Or maybe you’re not going to start something — maybe this year you’re going to stop some things, in order to free up your time and focus on writing. Maybe this is the year you find a writing space, set aside a two-hour block of time each day, and free yourself from those other responsibilities that keep you from doing what you most want to do.

I’d love to hear what your goals are for 2015. If you could accomplish three things this year, what would they be? 

Happy Jack and the Value of Books (a guest blog)

September 19th, 2014 | Deep Thoughts | 4 Comments

A few months ago, my wife and I took a weekend vacation to Ruidoso, New Mexico. At the outskirts of the small town of Roswell, we drove past a plain sign declaring Happy Jack’s, Beads—Books in front of a solitary building a hundred yards from the highway. My pulse quickened, my hands grew sweaty. I blurted, in the cracking voice of a thirteen-year-old, “Hey, is that a used book store?”

My wife gave me one of Those Looks. She knows me well.

“Do we have time to check it out?” I asked.

She sweetly mentioned that it would be nice to reach Ruidoso before twilight. Or midnight. Or Thanksgiving.

“We won’t stay long,” I insisted, turning the car around. “I promise.”

My wife is a trooper, a team player, an accommodating woman whose enjoyment of used book stores dissipates, on the average, about a hour and a half before I’m ready to leave.

I skidded to a stop in front of the building. “You stay here,” I commanded, using my Band of Brothers scout voice. “I’ll check it out. If it doesn’t smell like cat litter, the Dust Bowl, or the inside of a Marlboro, I’ll sound the all-clear.”

Flanking the building commando-style, I slipped through a side-door, eyes alert, nose sniffing.

And found Paradise.

The floors were clean, the aisles well-lighted. The cool breeze from a swamp-cooler wafted through the air. And everywhere stood rows and rows of paperback books, seen through the reflected, prismatic light of thousands of beads on display at the store’s front. Sublime joy suffused me.

I write and read Science Fiction and Fantasy. Unlike some genres, SF has traditionally been a collectors’ market; fans tend to seek out and keep specific volumes. For me, the time spent at Happy Jack’s (only an hour, I swear) was like stepping into the past, finding titles I had never seen before, studying the cover art, looking for one or two special books. I left triumphant and happy, a bag of books in hand; my wife came away with a couple novels and a sack of beads. I made her drive so I could study my new finds. Life was good.

But Happy Jack’s Trading Post got me thinking about the value of books. (And beads, but that’s another story.) Originally copied by hand, books were practically priceless, and in the early days of printing were so costly thieves would murder to steal them. Thomas Jefferson, seeing the need for a national library, sold many of his own precious volumes to the U. S. government—they were far too expensive for him to give away.

Decades later, with the advent of mass-market production and inexpensive paperback editions, books became more affordable. Reading soared; authors could sell not just hundreds, but thousands of copies. This was a Good Thing. It was also, unrealized at the time, the first devaluation of books as a medium.

Before the internet, I kept a want-list of SF books in my wallet. When we traveled, I visited used book stores, looking for specific editions of certain paperbacks. It was like a treasure hunt, sometimes in vain, sometimes rewarded with the discovery of a long-sought volume. Once, thinking I would never find a particular book, I used a Book Search Service, paying what I considered an astronomical price so I could read the story.

Ah, the glory of the past. (Sigh.) With the advent of internet sites such as abebooks.com, all but the most scarce books became available, often for less than ten dollars. Amazon’s decision to release hundreds of public-domain works as free ebooks, while nice for the consumer, undoubtedly affected the reprinting of classic novels and reinforced the message that some books have no monetary value. On websites such as paperbackswap.com, you can post books by ISBN number and trade them to other members for the price of postage. (Full disclosure: I joined paperbackswap several years ago. I use it as a marketing tool, including a printed bookmark about my own novels with any book I send.) But these transactions pay nothing to the authors or publishers, and whereas finding used books used to require diligent search, it’s now effortless to locate current editions of many novels. Used bookstores disappear; traditional bookstores struggle to survive. The world has moved on, far from Happy Jack’s Trading Post.

Such reflections made me ponder my own collection. Because I keep a list, I know I read about fifty books a year. I counted my books and found I owned a little over five-hundred. If I reread them all, it would take ten years. I realized I had been living under the old assumption that I had to retain anything I “might” read again because books were hard to find. So I started weeding through them, seeing which ones I could buy as ebooks whenever I wished, which could be had on the net for five or six dollars, and which ones I just couldn’t part with. I gradually gave books away to libraries and friends, sold some on ebay and put some on paperbackswap. I’m down to about two-hundred. It’s been a process, parting with old friends.

Did the loss of book value make me question my value as a writer? A little. I fear change. But paradoxically, though individual books can be had for pennies, trade book sales in 2012 were at 15 billion dollars. 15 . . . Billion. Not bad for a valueless commodity. I’m only looking for a tiny slice of that, and for readers who are touched by my work. So for those of us who love writing, the rules of the game haven’t really changed. Writers write for the art of writing, for love of the process, for the joy (and hard work) of creating a story, of crafting something all our own. The medium doesn’t matter. Only the words. Writers write. We put our fictional worlds out to be read.

And occasionally, we stumble into a Happy Jack’s Trading Post, where we remember why we loved reading books so much that we wanted to write them.

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James Stoddard’s short fiction has appeared in publications such as The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; and Lightspeed Magazine. His fantasy novel, The High House, won the Compton Crook Award, and was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award, given to books that best exemplify “the spirit of the Inklings.” His latest novel is: The Night Land, A Story Retold. His website is at www.sff.net/people/james-stoddard

James Stoddard photo

 

 

Dreams vs. Fears (a guest blog)

August 15th, 2014 | Deep Thoughts | 23 Comments

“You write a book and it’s like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don’t know if it will ever reach any shores.  And there, you see, sometimes it falls in the hands of the right person.”   ~ Isabelle Allende

 

The other day a woman at a party asked me how the writing was going. “I’m not sure how you writers do it but I do know that you have to deal with writers block,” she said.

I didn’t have five hours and neither did she for me to tell her how it really has been going for me.

I wish that ol’ proverbial writers block was all I had to fight.

The last two years haven’t been easy.  Currently, I’m not in a position of writing one book after the other in a niche market.  I guess I’m still trying to figure out what’s next.  With my first contracts, I thought I was sailing along.  Then the boat stopped. And the water was dark and cold.

It seems that non-writers have this notion that our lives are easy, luxurious even, as we run with one idea for a book, get it onto paper in a few days, and then create another work while we take long walks on California beaches with glasses of Napa Valley wine.  Non-writers think that we spend summers sitting on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro for inspiration.

I know I’m not alone.  You might be on this same boat.  The wind is in your face and not in a good way because it hurts your skin; it blows so harshly. Or perhaps you’re on a sailboat and there is no wind.  You’re stuck.  No, not with writers block—you know how to be disciplined—but when you’re done with your story, who wants it?  You wonder why you are where you are.  At two a.m. you send messages to your agent, things that make him think you are desperate.

This was not how you thought it would be. You get jealous of other writers.  You wonder if you are a has-been.  You eat potato chips and the grease from your fingers stains the keyboard.

You are desperate.

You hope, you pray, you doubt, and you decide you’ll become a wood worker.  But you’re afraid of power tools.  And what you really want is to be that writer you dreamed of when you were seven because you can’t think of anything that makes you feel more alive than writing.

I’m convinced that not writing is not the answer.  Because if you don’t write then you have said to Defeat, “You win.  I was never meant to be successful anyway.”  You have to believe and believe that you do have valuable things to share in a way that only you can do.

On a good day, you think, “I will win this.  I’ll show them!”

Yet in reality, the real enemy you must conquer is your mind.  You are the one who needs to prove to yourself that you have what it takes.  To be able to show that you have the ability to stay focused, improve your craft, and that you can achieve that dream.  You realize that the fight is between your dream and your fear.

Sometimes anger and frustration can be just the drive you need to get to a better story, to more authentic words.  Suffering makes you real and the world needs writers who don’t give in to writing fluff. So while you wait for the wind to pick up, look up; be ready.

Of course, I want the wind to always be in your sail, but I know it won’t always happen, so when it’s not, remember:  When it comes to choosing dreams over fear, go for the dreams.

Your book just might fall into the hands of the right person.

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Alice J. Wisler is the author of six novels, four self-published cookbooks and a writing journal.  She’s represented by MacGregor Literary.  Visit her author page at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Alice-J-Wisler/

Happy 4th of July! (a rant)

July 4th, 2014 | Deep Thoughts | 24 Comments

So I had a post I was going to share today, even though it’s a holiday. I was checking some news online, when my phone rang. It was 9 in the morning.

Old guy’s voice: “Hello, I sent you a book proposal last week, and–”

Me: “But you’re not really calling me at home on the 4th of July to talk about it, right?”

Old guy’s voice: “Well, the 4th of July is the perfect day, since it gets into American history.”

Me: “Really? You’re calling my cell phone on the morning of the 4th of July to pitch your book?”

Old guy’s voice: “I thought you were a Christian.”

Me: “Um, I AM a Christian. I don’t see –”

Old guy’s voice: “You’re not showing the fruit of the spirit…”

Me: (Hanging up.)

Suddenly, it put me out of the holiday spirit. But it DOES motivate me to say something: I love books. I can honestly say that my life has been changed by books that I’ve read, and there’s not that many things in life we can point to and say that. A handful of people, a handful of books, a few decisions or events. So I’ve given my life to books and words and helping authors create books that make a difference. And YOUR book might be one of those fabulous books that makes a difference. But… you don’t just have a book — you have a life. Live it. Your book is important, but perhaps not the single most important thing in the world. Today is the day to go see a parade, watch a baseball game, barbecue, swap stories with the family. NOT to call an agent.

I don’t mean to be a jerk about this. I love going to writers’ conferences, since there’s great energy and it’s fun to sit and talk ideas and projects and books and authors. I rarely mind being pitched — even the classic elevator pitch, where some young author turns to me in the hallway (or even, yes, in an elevator) and says, “Hey, could I tell you about my novel?” Of course you can — it’s why we’re here! I’ll do it all day long and enjoy it. And then, sometimes, I’ll want to sit down with fellow agents Amanda Luedeke or Steve Laube or Jonathan Clements, order a beer, and talk shop. Or watch the Ducks play on TV in the hotel bar. And I’ll feel warmer toward you if you take that time to tell me that you love my Oregon Ducks than if you say, “As long as you’re alone, and it’s ten at night, and you’re clearly watching a football game, how about I share my dystopian zombie proposal with you?”

It’s true: I must be a terrible Christian. On Sunday, I’ll ask our rector at Saint Catherine’s what she thinks, and maybe she’ll give me some thoughts on how I can be better. But in the meantime, I’m going to go outside and watch the Manzanita parade of old cars, Boy Scouts, a pipe and drum corps, some cop-like guys on horses, and a few politicians in convertibles, waving as though we know who they are. We’ll wave flags and I’ll tear up when the veterans walk by and we all stand and applaud, because that’s what I do. Then I’m going to eat some barbecue and drink a Fat Tire (probably just one, since I’m trying to lose weight). We’ll swap stories and, if pressed, I’ll sing “The Night that Paddy Murphy Died” or “General Taylor.” Eventually we’ll all wander down to the beach to watch fireworks over the Pacific. It’ll be fun. My son and his 4-year-old daughter are going to stop in. I won’t think much about proposals today. And… I won’t be feeling guilty about it. If that bothers you, then you really need to be talking to some other, better, more spiritual literary agent. But you also need to gain some perspective.

End of rant. Go have fun. Happy 4th, everyone.

If you could sit down to dinner with a literary agent…

April 22nd, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Conferences, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 9 Comments

Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…

A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?

Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)

It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?

It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)

I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?

The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project, the head of editorial, the head of sales, the head of marketing, somebody from accounting, the publisher, and, depending on the house, it can include a publicist, a special markets person, an online specialist, someone from production, and a trained monkey. The editorial people are there to present the book and explain why it’s a good idea. The sales people do some research so they can explain to everyone how the retail accounts will react to it. The publisher gives strategic direction to the line. The accounting guy will look bored a lot and wonder why they’re not doing another book with James Patterson, since “his books always make us a lot of money.” The marketing people are there to explain why, no matter how hard they try, they won’t be able to get any marketing for the book. So they debate the merits of the book in the marketplace — will it get attention? Does it speak to a particular need or fill an opening? The sales and marketing reps may ask for more time to go back and talk to accounts, to see if Wal-Mart wants to buy 3000 copes, or if Good Morning America wants to have the author visit. All that takes time. And every book has a profit-and-loss sheet, which spells out the hard costs for producing the book, plus the marketing and overhead. Sometimes they want more time to re-jigger the numbers on the P&L, in order to make sure they can project a profit with the book. But the conversation that happens in a pub board meeting is pretty much like any other meeting — the editor presents the book, tells about the author, explains the story or concept, and people discuss the merits. At most houses they disperse the proposal and sample chapters before the meeting, so everyone involved in the discussion can read the author’s words before making a decision. Then, at some point, they vote. In my experience, most pub board decisions tend to be “most everyone agrees to do this” or “none of us can really get behind this.” In other words, there aren’t a ton of split decisions. The group usually comes to some sort of consensus. (That’s not always the case. There are a few publishers who dominate their companies, and if they don’t like a book, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. But those are more rare than you might think.) In other words, the pub board is a business committee meeting, with everybody involved trying to make money for the company and keep them afloat. At larger companies they meet every week, at medium sized companies they meet once or twice a month. At a small company they may only meet when they have something to discuss.

I recently turned in a contracted book with a publisher, and have started working on my next book idea. But I think this new book might be a better fit at another house. Do you think I’m obligated to show it to my current publisher? Or is it an industry courtesy to submit the new book to my current publisher first? There are no first refusal rights in the contract.

If your current contract doesn’t have any sort of option or first-look clause, you’re probably free to show it to others. However, if your current publisher is doing a good job with you, you may want to show it to them first, just to be polite and maintain the relationship. In my experience, newer authors frequently want to bounce around to various houses, but the happiest authors I know are those who have been at one house for a long time. Having several books at one publishing house allows them to cross-sell your various titles, and builds a stronger relationship with them over time.

How do you feel about using a pen-name when writing a novel? Is it worth it? I imagine there is extra red-tape and lots of questions?

In these days when even J.K. Rowling can’t keep a pen name secret, I think it’s hard to make this work. Doubly hard if you expect to keep it up with multiple books — you have to have another identity, you can’t use author photos or do appearances, and of course radio and TV become very difficult. Nora Roberts writes as J.D. Robb, but she’s very open about it. I’d probably ask you why you feel a need to write under a pseudonym. Usually writers simply want to do this because they want to stay hidden, and staying hidden in this day and age is tough. Of course, if you want to use a pen name simply because your real name is “Hepsiba Von Schlossenpfepfer” or “Ferral Cronk,” I’ll understand, and encourage you to pick something salable and stick with it. But in those cases, you maintain that as your writing identity long-term. (And yes, I once knew a woman named Ferral Cronk.)

Are the online writer’s conferences worthwhile for those on a limited budget?

I like writing conferences in general, since they’re a place to meet people — you rub shoulders with other writers in your genre, you talk with people who are facing some of the same struggles you’re facing, you get introduced to editors, you hear some good idea. Writing is a solitary endeavor, and meeting other people in the industry is the single best part of a conference. But, of course, the “other” reason for attending a conference is for the training they offer. There will be workshops on creating characters or outlining or building suspense or negotiating contracts — all interesting, usually taught by people with good experience. But that’s when you’re going to a regular conference. An online conference? The value is strictly in the content, since there is no rubbing shoulders with others. You attend so that you can get solid information on specific subjects. So check to see who is teaching, and ask yourself if you need the information. Then look at the price and determine if it’s worth the cost, or if you’d be money ahead to simply buy a book from Writers Digest on the topic. Without great content, offered by an experienced and knowledgeable instructor, I question the value of an online conference.

I once heard writer and writing guru Cecil Murphey say that an author shouldn’t get an agent too early in her career. Do you agree? And when does an author need to get an agent?

I asked my buddy Cec Murphey about that quote, and he said, “Too many writers think that because they’ve finished their first book, the next step is to get an agent. They’re probably not ready and need someone else to go over their manuscript. From my earliest days as a writer, I paid someone to read my first drafts. It was an investment in my career. And I learned from their comments. One of the cliches in publishing says, ‘Your first book is probably your fourth.’ That is, it takes time to learn the craft and to be ready to publish. Too many just-finished-my-first-book writers are so eager for acceptance and approval, they refuse to hold back and truly learn to write.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Cecil. In my view, an author needs an agent when he or she is ready to move forward in a writing career, and many newbies aren’t ready yet. For some, “being ready” means the manuscript is completed and the author’s platform has taken shape, so they’re probably about to begin dealing with publishers. For others it means they need to be introduced to US and foreign publishers, to movie producers, and to other people in the industry. For still others they’re ready when they have interest in their book, but don’t understand contracts or negotiation or marketing. There’s no one right answer, but I get what Cec was saying — that too many writers jump the gun, and seek out an agent before they’re ready to get published.

What makes a great cover?

A great cover grabs the attention of potential readers, who can tell from the mood and images on the cover what the book is about. It has something visual — a focal point which draws the reader in, leading them to the book title. It’s easily readable, fits in with other bestselling books in its genre, and matches up with the author’s brand. I tend to like covers that are simple but still able to stand out. I look at them and think, “What an interesting cover.” Covers are essential for selling books in our visual society, but too many self-published ebooks have either bad color, bad stock art, or images that don’t fit the story.

I sent a proposal to an agent, who acknowledged receiving it, but the next day I heard from an editor I’d met at a conference. That editor didn’t want the book as it is, but had some suggestions for improving the text. My question for you: Now that I’ve made those changes, should I re-send my revised/updated proposal to the agent, or let him continue to review the old version? And if I send him the new one, what do I say?

Yes, send the new one. Just include a note that says, “I had a talk with so-and-so, a wonderful editor at Big Publishing House. She had some very helpful suggestions for me, and I’ve been revising my proposal to reflect those changes. I thought you might find it helpful to see my revised/updated proposal. Do you mind taking a look?”

I read your answers the other day, and have a question for you: Let’s say a writer has a platform that reaches twenty thousand people. What do they need a publisher for? If I can hire someone to do the cover, to help with the editing, and to help set up things with Lulu to print off copies, why bother giving all that away to a publishing house? I even know of an order fulfillment company who could manage to send the purchased copies off to readers. So why would I want to hand off all that power to someone else?

You may not want to. If you’ve read my blog regularly, you know that I’m supportive of authors working to self-publish. If you’re entrepreneurial and you don’t mind working with a developmental editor, hiring a copyeditor, arranging to have somebody manage your print files, paying an editor or a service like BookBaby to upload your ebook, and coordinating with a fulfillment company to manage orders and sending, you can set yourself up as your own micro-publishing house. You may even hire a marketing firm to assist with the publicity for your book. For some, that scenario is a perfectly valid option. Just realize that not every author is cut from the same cloth. Not every writer wants to do that, has the knowledge or drive to do that, nor has the money to do that. There’s no one “right” way to be an author today. But why turn a manuscript over to a publisher? Because there are far more success stories from authors who worked with publishers than from authors who posted a book on Amazon and waited for success to come find them. Traditional publishers still have validity in today’s publishing market. They have reach, they offer great editing, they produce a quality product, they take care of things like production and fulfillment, and they have a long track record of success working with chains and independent bookstores. I’ve nothing against an author going indie, but I’m starting to tire of the folks who are prophesying the death of traditional publishers… Legacy publishers still have a role in our industry.

I’m getting flooded with questions. So what’s yours? If you could sit down and have dinner with a literary agent, to ask all those questions about writing and publishing that you’ve always wanted to ask, what would your questions be? You can drop them into the “comments” section or send them to me at Chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com — and a hint for those of you who struggled with that… No, you don’t really use the words (at) or (dot). Sorry to be unclear about that…

If you could sit and have a beer with a literary agent…

April 18th, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Conferences, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Trends | 2 Comments

I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…

If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?

That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”

If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?

It’s best to target an agent who does a lot of work in your genre. If you write historical romance, you don’t need an old romantic to represent you — but it helps to have an agent who has sold a bunch of historical romances. I’ve sold as much romance over the past fifteen years as anyone, I think, and I’ve done pretty well for the authors I represent. Of course, you need to feel comfortable with your agent, so don’t sign on with the first person who offers you representation. Check them out and make sure they’re legit. Have they done deals? How many in your genre? Who were those deals with? Do they have authors who have stayed with them and grown their careers? I occasionally do conferences, and I’ve been amazed at the lack of experience I see in some of the people posing as agents.

If you are a member of a group that has an interest in a certain period of history (say “the Old West”), and you are allowed/encouraged to peddle your novel to the group, does that count towards your platform? If there are 9000 members in the group, can I claim that number, or does it have to be people who are actually following you on Facebook?

Sure that counts toward your platform. Those are people who are interested in what you’re writing. By all means include them. My one caution: Don’t push writing organizations too hard in your pitch. A romance writer who tells me, “I belong to RWA” isn’t really impressing me — LOTS of people belong to RWA. And while the organization is fabulous (for those who don’t know, RWA puts on one of the best writing conferences on the planet), it’s made up of writers who won’t really buy a lot of your books. Your friends will buy books, of course, but they’re buying the books because they are your friends, not because they belong to RWA.

Building a platform is one thing, but how does one build a real-world platform if they don’t live anywhere near a big city?

You build a platform by developing contacts and friendships. So you use the internet to connect with some folks. You write articles that get noticed, then interact with readers. You do blog posts or interviews, and interact with the people who come on to comment. You tweet and discuss things with online groups. Maybe you do webcasts or radio interviews from the comfort of your small-town home. You work to get endorsements and reviews. You partner with organizations and peers to get in front of others. You seek out your target audience and get in front of them — not to sell books, but to engage them as possible friends. You don’t need to be in a big city to make that happen; and I can tell you of several successful authors who don’t live in big cities. (Case in point: Tracie Peterson is a New York Times bestselling author who has built a career living in, um, nowhere. But I like to use her as an example because it allows me to tell everyone that Tracie and her husband Jim once named their dog after my son. Really. “Here, Colin MacGregor!”)

When my book was declared out of print, why wouldn’t my publisher give me the rights to the cover art?

A fiction publisher wrote me to say, “Authors never hoid any rights to the artwork for their book’s cover design. Publishers license those images for their product use or have staff photographers and designers create the covers. Once print rights revert on the book, in all but a very few cases the publisher can’t give the author that artwork, since the cover art is contracted between the designer and the publisher.”

I know you do a lot of inspirational fiction, so can you tell me why it is that modern day CBA agents and publishers seem to shy away from fantasy in Christian literature?

Because it doesn’t sell. It’s the same reason most publishers currently shy away from westerns — they don’t sell in big numbers. As soon as they determine the genre will sell well, publishers will start producing more of those books. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, it’s to be patient. Things come into style, then they go out of style. Jane Austen books were huge, now they seem to be waning. Dystopian was all the rage, now nobody is contracting them. Be patient. Fantasy is big with young people, so my guess is that as this generation moves toward adulthood, fantasy will make a comeback. As I like to say, publishing is a tidal business — the tide comes in, the tide goes out.

What is the most creative or memorable pitch someone has made to you?

Um… you won’t much like my answer. Most of the authors I represent are people I knew, or friends of current clients whom I met and started working with. My list isn’t really filled with authors who wowed me at a ten-minute pitch session at a conference (although I realize this would be a considerably more fun answer if I said that). So the really memorable ones, to me, were the authors who came in with a great idea, and showed me some fabulous writing. Christy Award winner Ann Tatlock simply showed me a proposal at a conference, and the writing was so good I think I fell off my chair. Sheila Gregoire got up and spoke at a conference in Canada, and immediately had the audience in the palm of her hand, making me want to read her work. Bonnie Gray (who you don’t know, but her book White Space is releasing later this spring) had a great story to tell. Romance writer Vickie McDonough handed me a wonderful idea at a conference in the mountains of Colorado. Holly Lorincz showed me a proposal over coffee that made me laugh out loud. Gail Martin was speaking at a conference with me, and had so much wisdom to share with people that I think I pitched myself to her. Kimberly Stuart met me on a shuttle bus, and I was so charmed I had to read her work. Every one of them was a writer, with a strong voice, and I was impressed by their professionalism. While I like each of them, I’m not representing them because I like them — I’m representing them because I like them AND THEY CAN WRITE. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for. But I do have one great story…

I was at a conference, and talked on a panel about the pluses and minuses of working in the CBA/religious/spirituality market. I said to the audience that one of the interesting things about it is that I’m an Anglican, and CBA is populated with a variety of religious types — the ultra-conservatives, the leftist social types, the wild charismatics, the quiet fundamentalists, the angry, the loud, the wacky… all sorts of people, most of them very normal, and some of them wondering if I’m “Christian enough” for them. And at times some of them can be sure they have “the call of God” — which makes it a bit awkward when I have to say, “God may have told you to write your book, but He didn’t give me any instructions about having to represent it.” Anyway, that night there was a fancy dinner, and as I walked up to my table, I noticed someone had left a card on my chair. It read, “GOD TOLD ME HE WANTS YOU TO BE MY AGENT!” I laughed, as did the woman who wrote the card. We became friends, and I’m proud to represent romance writer Jennifer Johnson, who is a hoot.

What is the most fun you’ve had at a writing conference? And what’s the worst experience you’ve had at a conference?

I love writing conferences, since it’s a chance to see friends and share some fun in what is largely an individual business. I’ve got great memories of dancing into the wee hours while being the only male at the Harlequin party (me and 500 women getting down to “It’s Raining Men”). Gnoshing with fellow faculty members Michael Chabon, Yann Martel, Katherine Peterson, and Francine Rivers at the 2008 Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, or at the 2006 Festival with Lauren Winner, Walter Wangerin, Alice McDermott, and Salman Rushdie (who, I must be honest, I only met for a moment). Ditching the way-too-uptight Mount Hermon conference with editorial friends one night to (1) hear a blues band, (2) accidentally wander into Lesbian Night at a dance club, and (3) take a dip in the Pacific Ocean at 3 in the morning. But my favorite time at most conferences is usually late at night, having quiet conversations over a glass of wine. I was introduced to the fabulous novelist Lisa Samson one time, and she immediately said, “You’re always saying nice things about my books!” We’ve gone on to work together for years. I had a great conversation with the wonderful writer Susan Meissner at a conference, and later got to work with her (Susan is one of those authors that I simply have to tell everyone about — her craft is so great that she inspires other writers). I met #1 best-selling novelist Mindy Clark at a conference, sitting in the restaurant and watching a terrible karaoke show, and she turned out to be one of the most fun people, and one of the most dedicated craftspersons I’ve ever known. (She won’t sleep until she gets the sentence right.) I met the incredibly gifted Rachel Hauck at a conference, and was struck right away with the way she processes a story. It’s the late, quiet conversations I think I like best.

My worst conference experience? This is a true story (and one that keeps showing up in other people’s writing)… I was at a Northwest writing conference at Seattle Pacific University years ago. (I remember the location, since two of my kids graduated from college there.) I had this weird guy who kept following me around, trying to pitch his book to me. Every time I turned around — BANG! There he was, holding his damn manuscript. Once, in trying to get away from him, I walked into the men’s room. As I was standing at the urinal (and that’s not an exaggeration: AS I WAS STANDING AT THE URINAL) I realized he was beside me, and he said, “um, if you could just take a look at my book sometime…” as he slipped it in front of my face. True story. I yelled at him, “NOT NOW!” and if I’d have been thinking, I would have turned and yelled at him, if you get my drift. A memorable experience.

Hey, we’ve invited writers this month to send in the questions they have always wanted to ask a literary agent. Drop me your question, and I”ll get to it next week.

If I could sit down with a literary agent and ask ANYTHING…

April 16th, 2014 | Agents, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Self-Publishing, Trends | 10 Comments

This month I’m trying to get to all the questions people say they’d like to ask an agent, if they could just sit down with him or her for a few minutes and talk privately. Here are questions that people have asked recently…

Are the low costs of e-books costing authors money?

Sure. I mean, if a retailer sells a book for $20, the royalty is higher than if he sells it for $10. The average e-book is way down — many below $5, and often you’ll see specials where the books are 99 cents. That doesn’t leave much for an author. The argument is made that people want a deal, and the low prices build readership by finding readers who will spend a dollar or two without even thinking about it. And I think that’s true, to a point… but at some point, we have educated readers that they only need to spend a buck or two on a book, and that means the only people really making money are the bestselling authors.

I’m thinking of setting up my own publishing company. Do I need to trademark or copyright the company? Is there a contract template for doing that?

If you’re just doing it to keep the words “Amazon Publishing” off your title page, then create a business name, do a search to make sure the name & domain are available and not a copyright infringement, and start a bank account in the name of the company. In some states you’ll have to register the company name, so check your local laws, or talk with an attorney if you have greater legal questions. (For the record, I’m not an attorney, nor am I giving you legal advice.) You can find people willing to sell you all sorts of business-planning materials, but most authors who start their own companies simply start them online with a domain name and a bank account.

Can you recommend an affordable entertainment lawyer (i.e., “one who doesn’t charge $400 per hour”) but is still credible? Or can you recommend someone to look over movie/TV rights contracts?

I won’t recommend anyone by name on the blog, but there are plenty of good attorneys who specialize in entertainment law and intellectual property rights. You’ll want someone in your state, so do some research online. The AAR keeps a list of people by state, by the way. I would say the one thing to look for is experience — make sure you’re talking with an attorney who has done movie contracts in the past, since entertainment law is tricky and the average guy doing wills and rental property agreements won’t know what he is doing. That said, many literary agents have experience with this, and can help you with basic questions, and there are some “contract evaluation” companies that will review your paperwork for a flat fee.

How does a literary agent plan to make money with indie-published authors? I mean, if a writer is doing her own books on Amazon, and an agent is helping with things like planning and marketing and career strategies, how does the agent get paid?

There are several ways. First, the author might do a deal with a traditional publisher, so the agent makes a standard commission. Second, the agent might help with things like Amazon deals, Smashword deals, movie rights, foreign rights, and other subsidiary rights, earning a commission on those. Third, the agent might arrange for services that are paid (though you have to be careful not to run afoul of AAR guidelines with that). Fourth (and something we’re doing here at MacGregor Literary), the agent may help authors set up a writing community, where authors in a genre band together to do books in a genre. The books look and feel like a line from a publishing house, but they are owned and operated by the authors as a sort of co-op. The agents role is to manage it. We are doing this with a western line (www.DustyTrailBooks.com) and a romance line (www.ForgetMeNotRomances.com) and a cozy mystery line (www.SpyglassLaneMysteries.com).

What do you project as the future possibilities with audio books?

Audio books are exploding. Amazon bought Brilliance Audio just to make sure they had the capability of cornering the market on audio. More are being created and sold every year, and in a mobile society people are discovering the joy of hearing a well-read tale. The future is bright — but I think we’ll all begin to see audio books as something completely different than print or e-books, just as movies are different from books. Audio offers its own experience, and I think needs to begin to be viewed as a completely separate category of entertainment.

A couple years ago, you were touting the Google Book Settlement as the wave of the future, then it was challenged, and eventually the whole mess sort of disappeared. Can you tell me where that situation (of having Google control hundreds of thousands of out-of-print books) is now?

Sure — Google won. Hands down. It was a huge rights-grab by the company, they hired a plethora of lawyers, and they won in court (proving once again that the Obama administration is no friend of authors — they seem willing to take the side of every freaking corporate entity that comes along). Google now plans to make all those titles available, often for free, and everyone is hoping they’re going to treat authors fairly by not giving away the words others created. (Um… that’s a fool’s desire. Google is in this to make money and seize content so as to have control, and the hell with artists getting a fair shake.) The Authors Guild has proposed that Congress create a collective licensing organization — they have said, “something like ASCAP or BMI to deal with mass digitization and orphan books. Such an organization could pave the way for a true national digital library, but it would be limited in scope, just as ASCAP is.” In their letter to members, they noted that their key requests are the (1) authors get paid, (2) authors can say “no” and opt out if they want to, (3) this would be strictly for out-of-print books, and (4) there would be some sort of mediatory agency to handle disputes. My guess? The Obama administration will laugh and disseminate a photo of the Attorney General having drinks with the CEO’s of Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Apple, Microsoft, and any other company who can buy their way into the White House. (Um… yeah. I tend to think our current government is not exactly looking after the little guy any more.)

It’s been a while since you shared anything crazy, Chip. What’s the worst query you’ve received recently?

“Dear Literary Agent – Prior to earth, our immortal Santa lived among the Tarwoos on the planet Tsixodi where male Tarwoos were called Manwoos and female Tarwoos were called Woos…” I kid you not. I also had a query about a fantasy novel where people get “a magical disease” which causes body parts to break off, fly around, and start talking — and the young lady in the story discovers “adventure and science” when “a detached talking penis…” Well, you get the idea. And, to top off this fun-filled trilogy, we received a proposal for what I can only guess is a crappy porn novel about two high schoolers that features “342 pages filled with numerous bazaar sexual escapades.” That’s right — “bazaar.” I assume that means the couple is having sex in an open-air market, but I didn’t bother to check it closely. I don’t think I’m old enough for bazaar sex.

This month we’re encouraging writers to ask the questions they have always wanted to ask a literary agent. So what’s your question?