Archive for the ‘Marketing and Platforms’ Category

How can we create a great launch party?

November 16th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 4 Comments

A friend wrote to say, “I’ve been told we should have a launch party when my book comes out. Is that a good idea? And what what makes a good launch party?”

I think a book launch party is a great idea — it allows an author to involve friends and acquaintances in the release of the book, is an easy way to garner some local media, and can help you kick off book sales. (Besides, it can be great for an author’s ego, if done right.)  Let me offer a couple of suggestions to help make it a success…

First and most important, you want to make sure you INVITE people. In other words, don’t sit around and hope people show — be proactive and make sure you get a house full. That means you need to find a big group who can be supportive, like your local writer’s group, you church congregation, the organizations you belong to, all your relatives, people at the clubs or sports you’ve joined, and all your fans in the region. Pick a venue you can fill up, since getting 40 people in a tiny bookstore makes it feel like a great party, but getting those same 40 people in a huge shopping mall gallery can feel empty. Determine a definite start and end time, and make sure everyone sees it’s a celebration. Again, you’re trying to get the word out, and get commitments from some folks to attend.
Second, if you really want to make people show up, offer an incentive — books at a discount, or free chocolate, or wine and cheese (a few big boxes of wine don’t cost much and seem to bring people out of the woodwork). If you can’t do wine, ask a couple people to bring their latte machines and offer free lattes to everyone. Your only expense is the price of coffee. But have something that is an incentive to their showing up — one author I know had a drawing for a trip, another had local stores donate a couple items for a giveaway. Again, treat this as a party, not a sales event. A drawing works great if there is a friend who can donate something really cool. (Um… I don’t know what that would be, but maybe something associated with the book? Tickets to something? A trip to the book’s location?) It’s got to be something that people will want — and all they have to do is show up and you will do a drawing of some kind.
Third, involve your local bookstore. If the owner or manage of your local store has a mailing list, ask them if they’d be willing to send an email blast to everyone, or include information about the release party in their mailer. Depending on the space, you might be able to do it in the story (often a great place for a signing, and it brings potential customers in). If you do that, ask them to post a sign ahead of time in the store, to draw in other readers.
Fourth, tell anyone who has your other novels they want signed to bring them, and that you will sign all books for free. Once people are inside, go around and greet them, have a black Sharpie with you, and know what it is you’re going to sign in each book. (Hint: Make sure you ask how to spell their name, even if it’s something easy like Susie or Nancy. There are currently 27 potential spellings for the name “Jasmine.”)
Fifth, make sure to contact the local media. Ask a local newspaper writer to come do a feature story. Check to see if the local radio station wants to send someone. Call the TV stations — use a “local girl makes good” sort of angle for them. See if the local writers groups or community arts councils want to do an interview or feature ahead of time, to let the community know.
Sixth, you don’t have to have a big presentation, but it’s good manners to say thanks to the group, and if you have any talent in front of people, you may want to do a short reading from your work, then take questions, then invite people to buy a copy and you’ll sign it. This is the time to offer the giveaway, if you’re having one.
Again, the most important thing is to invite people and make them feel like they’re going to GET something out of attending, rather than you want them to come BUY something. Make sense?
We’ve all heard stories of terrible launch parties — three people in a room set up for three hundred. You can get around that by getting commitments from friends, planning something fun, and keeping it short. I hope this helps.

Four No-Fail Ways To Market Your Book And Grow In Confidence (a guest blog)

November 14th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments

When I decided to become a writer, I did it mostly because I liked silence. I liked the idea of sitting with my own thoughts and sculpting words in my preferred order.

But then I got published. And I realized that silence and control over my books wasn’t mine anymore. I was now expected to market them? I was expected to talk to others about my books and try to persuade them to exchange their hard earned cash for them? This was not what I signed up for. I didn’t think I could market. I didn’t think I’d be good at it.

Unfortunately, in this extremely competitive market, I don’t have a choice. I must engage with future readers, pitch my stories and talk about myself in a way that would make others want to read my books.

In the short time that I’ve been a published author, I’ve discovered four no-fail ways to easily transition me from sullen, reclusive, cat-hair covered wordsmith who likes silence to cheerful, enthusiastic, non-pushy salesperson who likes taking other people’s money. The best thing about these ways? They’re cheap! They’re not too hard! And I’ve almost come to the point that I can do them effortlessly! You can do them too!

  1. Have business cards. I designed my own cards and bought them through (Moo is the coolest place to get cards, IMHO!) So for $20 I have 200 cards that have a lot more than my contact information. My cards have said, “Author, Homeschooling Mother, Queen.” My cards are a manifestation of what I want to be, which gives me confidence. When I pass out a card, (that I always have on hand) people are impressed that I am prepared, that I am professional, and that I am willing to share who I am.
  1. Carry your books with you always. I put my most recent books in a ziplock bag, to keep them dry and then put them in a padded envelope to keep them from getting dinged up and then carry them in my handbag. They won’t stay in my bag for long. In the month of June, 2015, I sold six books, right out of my bag because I would start conversations about my writing. When others asked questions, I’d say, “Would you like to see my book? I have it right here!” More often than not, they pulled out their checkbooks or forked over cash. I signed the books in front of them and both of us are thrilled. What do you think they do next? They go up to their spouse or their friend and say, “Hey! I just bought this from Katharine! Did you know she’s an author?”
  1. Have a cozy relationship with your local library. Make a point of visiting it on a regular basis for two reasons: one, to pick up a book (you should always be reading something!) and two, to chat with the librarians. They should know who you are. Then, when it comes time for your next release, you donate a copy of it to them. Ask them if they have any events for local authors. Most of them do! Good libraries will enthusiastically promote a local author. (And leave them your business card!) Your first readers should come from your local community and your library’s connections should be at the center of it all.
  1. Be a comfortable conversationalist. If speaking to others about your books is difficult, then you must practice. Then have questions prepared for the people you meet, like “how is it you are here today?” “Are you enjoying/hating this weather?” Notice that these questions have nothing to do with your books, but they have everything to do with making others feel at ease. The more you get the other person talking about themselves, the more they trust you and will be potentially open to your passions. As you grow more comfortable in your conversation, ask a question that has to do with books. “Do you read?” “What kinds of books do you enjoy?” And allow their responses to guide you. Don’t feel rushed. Don’t push your agenda. Just relax. The worst case scenario is that the conversation never gets around to your books. So what? You’ve practiced talking with someone and you can speak to them again in the future. But the best case? Their eyes light up when they talk about their favorite books. You can then say, “I’m a author. Would you like to see my books?” And put it in their hands.

Back when I sat down to write that first novel, I didn’t know that marketing would be required of me, but it turns out I enjoy the transaction that leads to cash in my hand. I also like meeting new readers. I also like having to restock on books in my purse and business cards in my wallet. I still like the silence of writing, but I’m seeing the value in the risk taking of meeting others, of asking questions and extending my hand.

I am a writer and a marketer. By using these four easy first steps, I’m finding success in marketing. It’s not as fun as the writing part, but it’s getting more fun with each conversation I have.

Who knew?


Katharine Grubb is the author of Write A Novel in 10 Minutes A Day, and Soulless Creatures. Her new book, Conquering Twitter in 10 Minutes A Day will be released November 11, 2015 and is available for pre-order on She also leads the writers group 10 Minute Novelists on Facebook. She lives with her large family in Massachusetts.

What’s the difference between a website, a blog, and a web newsletter?

July 6th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 17 Comments

Someone recently sent in a question about websites and blogs… “Practically speaking, what is the real difference between a website and a blog, or between a blog and an online newsletter? And does an author need one of each?” 


Practically speaking, there really isn’t any different between them – they are all simply information shared via digital means. But in common parlance, a website is most often a static site that introduces readers to a person or organization, and a blog is an active commentary about topics of interest to the writer(s).pen and ink

Think about it this way: a blog provides more commentary than a website, and is updated regularly, whereas a website often presents some basic information that tends to remain the same for a long time. For that reason, we generally see websites as one-way communication, whereas a blog is more interactive and has multiple communication pathways. Media commentator Jeff Korhan has said that a website is a digital storefront, and a blog is a digital magazine — an image I’ve long found helpful.

A newsletter is similar to a blog, but often is used as a device that is sent out (rather than waiting for people to come visit), and shares information about upcoming events of interest to the regular members or readers of the newsletter. I once heard a speaker say that a newsletter is a “push” device (because you push it into people’s email boxes to get noticed) while a blog is a “pull” device (because you offer writing and ideas that pulls people in).

Does a writer need all of these? Well… no. There’s no “one right method” for every writer. But I think most writers these days have some sort of website, so that new or potential readers can go and research them. For whatever reason, readers enjoy seeing photos of the writer, reading a bio, hearing him or her say a few personal things in their own words. And, of course, it’s also a great place to cross-sell your various books. So some type of introduction via a website (a “store,” if you will) is pretty much assumed in today’s publishing world. But a blog, which requires constant updating and attention, is a lot more work — and some authors feel it’s unnecessary because it simply pulls them away from writing their book in order to write something more ephemeral. Research has shown that a blog that is not updated regularly simply doesn’t garner much of a readership. And the fact is, a blog is a monster that has to be fed. It needs words, on a regular basis, and that takes a lot of writing effort.

I’d love to hear from the writers — How important is your website? What sort of effort do you put into a blog or newsletter? What tips would you offer other writers? 


The Ten Things NOT to do on Social Media (a guest blog)

June 19th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 14 Comments

For today’s “Top Ten” list, we present The Top TEN Things NOT to do on Social Media when it comes to Marketing your book:

  1. Tweet: Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy my book NOW. #buymybook #buyitnow #buyitordie It always amazes me how much you can threat a person in 140 characters or less. People generally don’t respond well to threats. It’s just a fact.
  2. Twitter Party etiquette: Don’t show up at someone else’s Twitter party and start throwing in links to your book on Amazon, hashtag: #justincaseyouwantedtoBUYmyBOOK — That’s the equivalent of wearing your wedding dress to someone else’s wedding. Hello?
  1. Facebook Book Cover Tag: This is when authors gets so excited about their new book, that they tag everyone they know on the cover pic of their book. Which makes their cover show up on all their friends’ Facebook pages. Don’t. Do. It. Not if you want you keep your friends, anyway.
  2. Facebook Private Message each of your 3001 friends: Buy my book. Buy my book. Buy it NOW! That’s spam and you risk being kicked off Facebook. Then you’ll have 0 friends. Don’t do it. Twitter messaging is similar. Don’t PM all your followers. There’s nothing “private” or personal about a copy/pasted message.
  3. Instagram photos of your book over and over and over again. From different angles with hashtags that run so long, one could sprain a finger from scrolling. No one shops on Instagram. You can’t click on links (outside your tag under your profile name.) Keep it fun. Keep it light. Invite, don’t swamp, readers and then walk away.
  4. Pinterest: Ummm… Does anyone even use Pinterest anymore? Just curious.
  5. Snapchat: This probably applies to Young Adult authors, but Snapchat is a fun way to share your story. Not your BUYmyBOOK story when each chapter starts out BuyMyBook, Buy it NOW. You’re much better off engaging your readers on SnapChat as you. Your real life story. That’s the bonus material readers are looking for. YouTUBE is a place to tell longer stories, post book trailers, and ask Vloggers to review your book. BUT beware the ever present ticking of the clock and impatience of this fast paced world: Keep it short. Less is more. And share tastefully.
  6. When there’s a SALE: Don’t remind everyone on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and all other Social Media sites, every hour on the hour. I get it. People need to know your book is on sale, but drowning someone never made them come back for seconds. Unless we’re talking shots. But then I might need to refer you to AA. But let’s stay focused, here. J
  7. A note on Amazon Categories: Don’t list your book under a category it doesn’t belong in just to get on a TOP TEN list, because in the end, you will just end up with lost readers and a review like this: “Why was this book listed under Amish Vampire Stories? There wasn’t one neck-biting incident, and one minor character might have had a distant aunt who was Amish, but that doesn’t make the book Amish. One STAR is too generous, but I had to rate it in order to warn readers!”
  8. DISAPPEAR: I get it. Sometimes we need to unplug. Sometimes we all need a break from the madness of Social Media and all the messages and images pulling at our attention. BUT, don’t disappear forever. Readers are looking for the person behind the story today more than ever. They want to connect with authors and have relevant (and sometimes meaningless) conversations about stories, life, and all of it. Be available but don’t be a slave to Social Media. And don’t treat it like a servant either.

Social Media is made up of real, living, breathing individuals who have feelings, thoughts and Rajideas. Don’t ever forget that.

So before you post something in the spirit of marketing your book, think twice, remember who your audience is, and remember to be yourself. And be real. Not just your edited, filtered, perfect self that only shows up on a good hair day. Keep it real. And keep it light. See you there.


Rajdeep Paulus, Award-Winning author of Swimming Through Clouds, Seeing Through Stones, and Soaring Through Stars is mommy to four princesses, wife of Sunshine, a coffee-addict and a chocoholic. As of this June 2013, she’s a Tough Mudder. To find out more, visit her website or connect with her via FacebookTwitterPinterest, or Instagram.


Ask the Agent: Can we talk marketing?

June 11th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 1 Comment

I’ve had a number of authors asking marketing questions lately…

I watched an interview on Book TV, and a publisher was asked if a book tour helps sell books. Her response: “Not necessarily.” Would you agree?

I would. There’s nothing magical about a book tour. In fact, if there isn’t some associated media, the author can show up for a tour event and have no readers present… and NOTHING will depress an author more than having an empty room at what should be a party for their book. So no, a book tour doesn’t automatically help sell books. But it can be a fun and important strategy if tied to a push for local media involvement.

Since some authors desire to write a book and then sit back, are there businesses that will do the marketing for them?

Sure there are. Any good marketing or PR firm will take you on as a client and do your marketing for you, for a fee. And that can work for some authors. The upside? Someone else is doing the work, freeing you to write. The downside? It’s expensive, and the people you hire may or may not know how to best market your book. I generally remind people that nobody has as much as stake in a book as the author. Nobody knows the book better, nobody is as passionate about the message, and nobody will win as much as the author, should the book do well. So I think there’s a good reason for authors to be very involved in the marketing of their own work.

I just self published a book, and the company wanted $3900 (reduced to $3200) to send out press releases. I found an independent source willing to arrange blog tours and send out press releases for $1200. Are such options worth it? Or can an author do that for himself/herself?

Spending more than three grand on press releases is a crazy use of money, in my view. Some authors can write their own press releases, but it takes a background in marketing to get it right. If you don’t have that, then talk with some freelance marketing types (or even some marketing graduate students) to help get the wording right. That’s the first step. The second is to know where to send those press releases. You can research that online, talk with other writers, and create a list that makes sense. (This part isn’t rocket science: your local and regional media, organizations that cater to your readers, and any places you think you can best reach your target audience). In general, you can buy some books that will help you formulate a marketing plan, or even take a class at your local community college on the topic. But the core of marketing is simple: find out where your readers are gathering, then go stand in front of them.

You inspired me to do some of my own marketing. Can you tell me how you research an audience?

Sure. First, you figure out who the reader is. Sometimes that will be clear (an Amish romance has a fairly defined audience) and sometimes that will take a bit more work. Think in terms of demographics (age, sex, education, socio-economic status, etc), as well as psychographics (interests, problems, reasons for reading this book). Second, you write up a description of that reader. Third, you explore where those readers go. What are the websites they visit? The TV programs they watch? The magazines/ezines they read? Who are the authors that already attract them, and how do they do so? Where are they going online for answers or to explore or to be entertained? If you were to make a list of the top 100 websites/blogs/e-zines they visit, then determine how to get onto each of those sites, you’d have the great start to a marketing plan.

Ask the Agent: What do I need to know about author platforms?

April 20th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 9 Comments

We’ve had a bunch of questions come in on the topic of author platforms…

What is the magic platform number publishers are looking for?

In my view, there is not magical number. Every project has its own goals. But it might help to keep two things in mind… First, that publishers are on an economy of scale. So a large house might need to see an author platform of more than 100,000 names, but a small house might only need to see a platform of 30,000 names. Second, remember that the potential readership of your book will be influenced by your platform. A literary novel needs a much broader platform to succeed than, say, a book of quilting patterns, which will sell to a very specific audience.

Is a platform basically a list of who I can reach via personal appearances?

No – a platform is simply the number of people you can reach with your words, whether that is via speaking, personal appearances, your blog, articles or columns you write, organizations you belong to, television or radio time you have, etc. All of those are points of contact with potential readers. It’s why I like to say a platform is simply a number – you add up the audiences for all the ways in which you reach out, and that’s your platform.

Does the number of impressions I get with my online writing count as part of my platform? Does my Facebook and Twitter feed count?

Yes on both counts. If you reach people with your words, it’s part of your platform as a writer.

My Christian publisher told me that the number of books I can be expected to sell is directly related to my platform. Do you find that to be true? And if so, what number are they looking for?

I think there’s a lot of debate over how your platform relates to your sales. I see a ton of author activity regarding Facebook, for examples, but I’ve yet to see much evidence that “having a lot of Facebook friends” equates to “selling a lot of books.” The same is true for Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Flickr, and FaceTwitFlikTumbLin. Look, I see a LOT of authors throw themselves into social media, and I’m just not seeing that it sells books. I’m not saying it’s a bad thing; only that I’m not sure it really helps an author move many copies. Sure – the first question I get from publishers on any nonfiction proposal these days is, “What’s the author’s platform?” I need an answer for them. But I don’t let the conversation rest there, because there are other important aspects to having a hit book.

Some people in the industry won’t like this, but consider some recent bestsellers. I was at Alive Communications when my late buddy Lee Hough was trying to land Same Kind of Different as Me. The author had almost no network, but the book went on to sell more than a million copies. My client Ira Wagler’s memoir, Growing Up Amish, has sold 150,000 copies, though the author runs a building supply company in a small town in Pennsylvania and doesn’t do much of anything to generate a platform. Another client, Mindy Starns Clark, isn’t even ON social media, but is a wonderful writer who has had several bestselling books, and two #1 bestsellers. My buddy Cecil Murphey penned 90 Minutes in Heaven and watched it sell 15 million copies or so, and while the author Don Piper is a speaker, at the time the book released he wasn’t well known. We could say the same thing about The Shack, Crazy Love, Anything, One Thousand Gifts, and a bunch of other bestselling books – the industry is filled with books that have done well, written by authors who don’t have a big platform.

That doesn’t take away the fact that there are a lot of people on the other side of this argument. Joyce Meyer is on TV all the time, has a huge platform, and her books sell great. Joel Osteen pastors a giant church, and his books sell incredibly well (even though, you know – he keeps writing the same book with a different title). There are people like John Maxwell or John Ortberg or Eric & Leslie Ludy who have done the speaking thing, built up their platforms, and turned that into strong book sales. My friend Liz Curtis Higgs has spoken in more church basements and to more women’s conferences than just about anyone, and it was a long road for her – but she’s helped turn that into a series of bestselling books.

My point is that there is no “one right way” to build a platform… but at the same time, building a platform doesn’t guarantee a bestselling book. Some bestsellers (perhaps I should say “many” bestsellers) pop up because the writing or the message of the book simply meets a need at the time. Call it dumb luck. Call it karma. Call it the sovereignty of God. I don’t know why, but it happens regularly. And it’s why I’m not one of those who insists every author invest time in a blog, or spend hours on Facebook, or get out on the speaking circuit. There’s no one route all authors must follow.

====================Questions Book Cover

Hey, if you’re interested in asking questions of agents, pick up a copy of Chip’s new book, How can I find a literary agent? (And 101 other questions writers ask), which has just released with The Benchmark Press. Available in both print and e-book formats. 

Ask the Agent: Book groups and great books

March 30th, 2015 | Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms | 2 Comments

We’ve tried to tackle a bunch of questions quickly this month…

“I want to start a monthly fiction book club to bond members of my writing group. Do you have any suggestions? I thought about reading a book together, then critiquing it so members can learn how to write better. For example, how does a fiction writer work in a description of his characters, or how does the arc of the story change from beginning to end? Any suggestions?”

Yes. Give people plenty of time to read the book. Start with a book you know well and have studied, so that you can intelligently talk it through. Consider bringing in an outside editor or a high school or college writing teacher, who knows the book you’re talking about and uses it in his or her classroom. Choose novels that have clear strengths to them at the start, so that you don’t go too deep, too fast. If you’re reading a contemporary book, think about trying to bring the editor or even the author into your group via phone or Skype, to talk about the artistic choices they made. Let someone else lead the discussion sometime, since we all learn best when we have to teach the material.


“Do you know of any successful book clubs led by writers and what is the key to their clubs’ success?”

Sure – there are a lot of successful book clubs led by writers. I think some of the keys to success is to have a diverse group, rather than having it just be your close friends. Diversity will bring more life to the discussions. Figure out ahead of time what sort of group you want this to be. In other words, what is the atmosphere we want to have? Scholarly? Bonding? Social?

Pick a time and place, let the group select the books you’ll all be reading well in advance, and don’t pick super-long books. (Some groups do their meetings 100 or 200 pages at a time.) Have a leader, to keep things on track. If you want to focus on one aspect (characterization, for example, or “the hero’s journey”), let participants know in advance. Have food and drinks, since we all tend to relax and have something to do with our hands when there is a cracker and a glass of wine handy. Let everybody speak, even if they haven’t read the entire book. And have a couple takeaway activities for the writers to try and emulate, so that they’re putting to use the choices they found in the book. By the way, some book groups enjoy going to movies as an alternative, or having everyone bring a book and simply tell the others about it. Doing alternative activities to mix it up can keep things fresh.


“I am new to writing, but my book was just published by a small press, and I’m curious about the role of publicist. From what I have experienced so far, the publisher is doing very little to promote the book. I was thinking about hiring someone to help me, but I don’t have a clue where to start or if it is a good investment to do so. Do you have any advice on this subject?”

The role of the publicist is to discover avenues for getting your book in front of readers at no cost (interviews, articles, etc). In your case, I suggest you start by talking to your marketing connection and ask him or her what the company is doing to help promote the book. Find out what they’re already doing, then look for ways you can fill in the gaps. You might search for a freelance publicist who has worked on a couple of successful books in your genre. But that costs money, so think of educating yourself first, to see if there are things YOU can do. Publicity is a funny business – there are no guarantees. You can spend a fortune on a great marketing plan, and still not see a ton of success. There’s not necessarily a correlation between “activity” and “sales.” So if you’re hiring your own freelance marketer, don’t just interview one person. Talk to a minimum of three publicists, find out what they charge, and ask if they’ll state exactly what they’ll do for the money paid them. A good publicity person will give you the details, in writing. And by the way, I never really talk with a writer who feels the publisher did enough marketing for them. As a writer, you’re committed to your book; the publisher is committed to a list of books. So be thankful for whatever they do, and decide you’re going to step in and help wherever you can.


“On several occasions you’ve talked about the best classic books of all time. What do you think are the seminal works of fiction since 1995, and what makes them so? Why did these books make an impact? It would be interesting to see if they were mostly established authors or new authors.”

Wow. Love the question. In no particular order, books that have certainly made an impact over the past twenty years would probably include:

Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World

Khalid Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns

Cormac McCarthy’s The Road

Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavaleir and Clay

Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things

Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead

Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections

Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex

Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible

Tim O’Brien’s The Things they Carried

Ian McEwan’s Atonement

Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy

Pat Barker’s The Ghost Road

There are doubtless others. I think one could make a case for Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park or Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, or even J.K. Rowlin’s Harry Potter series, but “popularity” and “greatness” don’t often come in the same package. Nevertheless, all three of those authors, while perhaps not having the same impact on the way we see our lives, at least inspired thousands of other writers to pick up a pen and start creating. Still, nobody is going to confuse those novels with great literature, so consider my list above. There are doubtless some titles missing (many readers would probably include Cutting for Stone as one of the best books of the past twenty years.

I’m curious what you think. What would you say are the great books of the last twenty years? 


Ask the Agent: Piracy, Careers, and Marketing

March 23rd, 2015 | Agents, Career, Marketing and Platforms | 10 Comments

A bunch of interesting questions have come in, so let’s get to them…

“Every couple months I find one of my novels online illegally as a free download. I complain, they usually take it down, and then someone puts it back up soon after. My publisher says they’re sorry, but it’s part of the biz. (I assume that’s true because they’re losing money too.) Are there any tech innovations that might prevent this?”

There are tech innovations that will locate a pirated manuscript, but I don’t know of any that will prevent it. And yes, this is a growing and annoying (and potentially expensive) problem in the industry. Pirated tracks helped kill the music business, and publishers tend to come down hard by threatening legal action against those who violate copyright. Publishers tried to protect themselves by using DRM with ebooks, but that has proven to be ineffective to stopping piracy. My guess is that the government will continue to seek out methods for strengthening copyright, just as pirates will continue to look for ways to cheat authors out of their rightful income. (I’m one of those who has no patience with people who want to illegally give away the artistic creations of others.)pen and ink

At the age of fifty I began writing professionally. I’m now past sixty, and over the last decade I have typically been able to bring in between $1500 and $12,000 a year via my writing, mostly through articles. I enjoy my full time job, and it fits well with my writing, so I do not foresee ever having a writing career or a platform sufficient to make an agent beg. Do I have a shot at getting an agent? If so, what can I do to improve the odds?”

If you are mainly writing articles, you don’t stand a great chance of landing an agent in today’s publishing world. But I know from your note to me that you’ve got a couple completed nonfiction books you are pitching, and for those I would say, “Of course you stand a chance of landing an agent.” Most agents are looking for writers who work hard, sell books, and have a track record. Your article writing has proven that. So I think you can significantly improve your odds if you were to craft a well-written book that offers insightful answers to a perceived need, demonstrate to the agent that you are the right person to be writing on the topic, and (most importantly) be able to show that you have a significant enough platform to reach the readers of that book. In my view, if you focus on those three things, you stand a very good chance to landing an agent.

“Do you think a Facebook tour can be useful for marketing your novel? I had a friend offer to post things on FB, because she doesn’t have a blog, and I wondered if it might be helpful.”

 I’ve seen a bunch of novelists market their book on Facebook, and it’s certainly one part of an overall strategy. You can use it to announce the book, to solicit participation, to get the team excited. So it can be effective, but there are limitations… It tends to only reach your friends. It can be annoying if it comes across as pushing too hard to sell a product. It’s usually not the type of thing that will be shared. But when taken as a part of the overall marketing plan, it can certainly useful.FB-f-Logo__blue_512

 I recently left my full-time job to follow my dream of becoming a freelance writer and author. The transition has been both thrilling and overwhelming. I’m working on a non-fiction, self-help book. So much of the information I read on publishing is for fiction. Where does a non-fiction author begin to network and find the right fit for representation?”

 There are a number of ways a nonfiction writer can network with other writers. First, you can hook up with a local writing group, which you may be able to find through friends or your local bookstore. Or you could see if there is a local writing class at a community college or a nearby university – such classes often see a lot of local writers participate. You can also check into national writing organizations, such as the American Society of Journalists and Authors or American Business Media (check out the list of national writing organizations at Writers Write). There are also many online writing groups for nonfiction writers, including The Writers Café, Absolute Write, The Write Idea, The Writers Beat, and a host of others. Just a bit of searching online will reveal more than a dozen. Another great way to hook up with other writers is via writing conferences, which you can easily find online. Some conferences focus on one type of writing or genre, but many are great for making connections with other nonfiction writers. As for finding representation, the process for a nonfiction writer isn’t much different from that of a novelist – you built your platform, create a great proposal, and seek out an agent either at a conference or by doing some research to see who represents works in your field. Again, with a nonfiction manuscript, the first two questions an editor is going to ask an agent are, “What’s the author’s platform?” and “What are the author’s qualifications for writing on this topic?”, so make sure you can answer those adequately before going to talk with an agent.

And a favorite question of mine: “What 10 editorial mistakes do most novice authors make?”

 I suppose if you asked this of ten agents, you’d probably get a hundred total answers, but here are my pet peeves with newbie authors:

  • Too many exclamation points!!!
  • A proposal that has not been proof-red
  • Overpromising, as in “This proposal will sell a billion copies!”
  • Random numbering in an outline.
  • I did this, I did that, I did this other thing, I, I, I.
  • Random commas, that make no, sense.
  • A failure to understand how to properly use “quotation” marks. (Also parentheses. And their attached punctuation).
  • Failing to understand the difference between its and it’s (or there and their and they’re).
  • The manuscript is passive due to the author.


Hint for the humor impaired: There are intentional errors in that list. If you see one, don’t send me a scolding note or you’ll be banned from the blog. It’s a joke. I know you don’t get it. Just trust me – others find it funny.

Thursdays with Amanda: When Platform Isn’t Enough

March 12th, 2015 | Career, Marketing and Platforms | 18 Comments

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

The market is really tough these days. Books that would have been snatched up right away are seeing rejections. Authors with decent followings are being told they aren’t marketable enough. It’s tough out there. Especially on the fiction side, but also the nonfiction side. And it’s easy to let it all get to you. To throw in the towel and pout in the corner and chant It’s not fair, it’s not fair. 

I could tell you that a better use of your time would be to work on that platform or grow that readership or add more speaking engagements or fix that website or do any number of things that might make you a bit more appealing. A bit closer to the goal. But here’s the truth…and it’s a truth I’ve shared with numerous clients over the years:

Your calling in this life is not dependent upon a published book. 

If you feel compelled to help people with their finances or counsel couples through loss or help teens make the right choices or bring scripture to light or make people laugh or even if you feel compelled to write about the characters and stories in your head, remember…Doing those things, achieving those things, is not dependent upon a book deal.

You can help people without a book.

You can make people laugh without a book.

You can lead people through tough times without a book.

You can be the person you feel you’re supposed to be and never ever publish a book.

We forget this. But the truth is that nothing is holding you back from realizing your calling except for this false belief that a book is necessary for you to do X, Y, or Z.

A book isn’t necessary. In fact, a book detracts from your goal, because a book requires marketing and editing and freaking out over sales statements and all of these things that take time away from the thing you originally felt called to do.

I share this with you because it’s really been on my mind lately. All of us in this industry tend to validate our callings by whether or not a publisher says yes. But the calling was never to do a BOOK. The calling was to simply write. Or to help. Or to serve. And our callings get confused when we try to commercialize them. When we feel we need to commercialize them in order to convince ourselves they’re worth our time.

I don’t usually tout my authors’ books on this blog, because I don’t want to single any one of them out at the risk of ignoring the rest, but Ryan Pemberton is a very special author whom I worked with for YEARS to try and get a book deal. And there were times in that process in which we needed this reminder. There were times when we needed to step back and say Okay, even if a book deal doesn’t happen, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road. 

He did end up getting a book deal, but it wasn’t for the book that we originally shopped.

Funny how that is.

If you need encouragement today. If you feel it’s the end of the road because this or that hasn’t happened in your author career, REMEMBER. Your calling isn’t to publish a book. Rather, publishing a book is one of the many possible results of you following your calling.

Your calling is to ____ . Fill in that blank, and chase after it. Not the book deal.

Ask the Agent: On Memoir, Bookspan, Facebook, and Writing Resources

March 11th, 2015 | Agents, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms | 26 Comments

I thought this was a very insightful question: “Can you clear something up for me? You have said you thought memoir was a growing category in publishing. But you’ve also said personal stories are hard to sell. How can that be?”


We have to define our terms. A memoir is the thoughts or reminiscences of a writer – usually based on celebrity (Justin Timberlake is doing a book!), significant events in the culture (I shot Osama bin Laden!), or fabulous writing (Have you seen what Jeannette Walls just released?). It doesn’t have to be linear. It usually touches on a number of significant themes. In the last couple of years we’ve seen huge growth in the memoir category, in all of those areas. We’ve had good celebrity memoirs (Tina Fey, Mindy Kaling, etc), good event-based memoir (American Sniper, Lone Survivor, etc), and good memoirs from writers (Ann LaMott, Annie Dillard, etc).


When I saw to be wary of “personal stories,” I’m talking about people who aren’t creating a memoir, but wanting to write a book that basically says, “Here is what happened to me, and it’s cool.” It’s generally linear. It might have some lessons to share, but rarely touches on many deeper themes. The writing is pedestrian – more of a prescriptive how-to book than reflective musing. These aren’t discreet categories, of course – is Lone Survivor a deeper memoir or simply a scary retelling of how Marcus Luttrell survived? But by and large we see personal stories as someone who has gone through something they found profound, and they want to tell their story because their friends have said to them, “You should write a book!” And, in my view, those books rarely get picked up.


Someone asked, “What is Bookspan? What all do they do? And how do you get picked up by them?”


Do you remember the old Book of the Month Club? Or the Literary Guild? Well, Bookspan purchased and combined those companies, along with the History Book Club, the Mystery Guild, the Military Book Club, Crossing Christian books, and just about every other mail-order book club. They own 19 of those, at last count, are privately owned, and they contract with all the major publishers to produce and sell books. They have on very rare occasions contracted a couple of self-published books, but that is not how they normally acquire titles.


Someone sent this: “Do you think a Facebook tour can be useful for marketing your novel? I had a friend offer to post things on FB, because she doesn’t have a blog, and I wondered if it might be helpful.”


I want to think that Facebook can be useful for marketing a novel, but I’m not seeing much empirical evidence that confirms it (and believe me, I’ve looked). My guess is that Facebook is one good strategy for getting the word out to your friends upon your novel’s release. Used in conjunction with other marketing strategies, it probably helps. But does a Facebook-focused marketing strategy work? Not in a big way, in my view. It needs to be one plank in a larger platform. But I tell you what… I’m going to ask a couple marketing professionals what they think about this question, and come back to it, okay?FB-f-Logo__blue_512


And here’s one that’s a bit off the beaten path: “Do you have any counsel on how to edit systematically–with a goal of editing the same document a dozen times (or less) rather than twenty, thirty, or forty?”


Hmmm… I could think of a few tricks that might make the editing process easier. First, put other eyes on it. That is, get some other people to read it and comment, or simply hire a freelance editor to clean it up. That will speed things up. Second, create an editorial list of things you want to check for each time – homonyms, numbers, the use of the word “that,” circle all your adjectives, etc. Your list will be different than mine, of course, but figuring out what you need to check for can be helpful, and can speed things up.


A fascinating question from an author: “How do I know a good agent from a bad one? I’m unpublished, but looking for an agent for a teen girl book. Any advice?”


Sure. Let’s set some basic rules: First, I think there’s no one agent that’s a fit for every author. Second, you’ll do best if you know what you need in an agent, in order to find who is a “good” agent for you. So I think to find a good agent, you need to know yourself and how an agent can best help you. Do you need someone with whom you can talk through ideas? Do you most need an editor? Do you need someone who focuses on contracts and negotiations? Do you need a career counselor? Do you need a personal manager? Do you need someone who can manage things beyond book contracts – speaking engagements, money management, etc.? Figuring out who you are and what you need allows you to start doing some substantive research on the various agents out there. It can even help you decide that you don’t need an agent at all.pen and ink


But third, there are certainly some basic expectations every author should expect from a “good” literary agent: A knowledge of the current market. An ability to evaluate the salability of your idea. Some sort of helpfulness on your ideas and writing. Connections to editors and publishers. Experience with publishing contracts. An ability to negotiate. A willingness to take your part and handle the difficult discussions that tend to arise in every author/publisher relationship. Perspective on the big picture of your career and the current market. Integrity in handling author monies. Honesty with you about your manuscript and your place in the world of publishing. A guarantee that they won’t charge you a fee or make a secret profit from any transaction on your work. If you’re interested in this topic, I urge you to visit the Association of Author Representatives website at, and check out the “agent’s code of ethics” on the first page. It lays out what every author should expect (and, um… NOT every agent abides by it).


And this reader offers a wonderful suggestion: “I think it would be fun to ask your readers to write in and compile a ‘best of’ blog with a list of favorite books or writing resources. My favorite books on the craft of writing are Stephen King’s On Writing and Anne MaMott’s Bird by Bird, and I would be interested to hear what other informed blog readers think. For that matter, it would be fun to find out their favorite conference is.”


Love the idea. So to readers of this blog, what’s your favorite writing resource? And what is the best writing conference you’ve attended?