Archive for the ‘Marketing and Platforms’ Category

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.

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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!”
  • FEELING A NEED TO PUT LOTS OF WORDS IN ALL CAPS.coloredpencils
  • 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 | 17 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.

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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 aaronline.org, 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?

 

Ask the Agent: How do you feel about free fiction? (and other topics)

March 4th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms, The Business of Writing, The Writing Craft | 25 Comments

A writing friend sent this: “I need your help. A publicist sent me an email and asked me to review a client’s book.  I agreed. Unfortunately, the book is horrible. The publicist has emailed to inquire as to when I would be posting my book review. As a writer, I hate to totally slam a book. What do you suggest?

 

This has happened to lot of us. My advice: Send a nice note to the publicist, saying, “You know, I read this, and it didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t want to say anything negative, so could I beg off, and you could ask me to review another book sometime?”

 

And this came in to the website: “I am writing a book which will be illustrated. What is the industry standard for sharing royalties between authors and illustrators?”

 

A book that has a few illustrations spread throughout usually doesn’t share royalties with the artist – the illustrations are usually licensed and paid for with a one-time payment. A book that has illustrations throughout (for example, a children’s picture book) will either have the artwork purchased outright, OR they will split the royalties in some way. I’ve seen all sorts of splits, by the way, but the standard is 50/50. Be aware, most children’s publishers don’t purchase the art you’re recommending. They’ll contract the text with you, then find their own illustrator whom they know and trust.

 

Someone asked this on the blog: “How do you feel about free fiction?”

 

I think it can work as a marketing strategy. Authors can give away a book to a particular audience, and hope to build readers. (YA author Jenny B Jones talked about that strategy on this blog a couple months ago.) But I also think its effectiveness is diminishing due to the vast amounts of free crap available online. Let’s face it – when you’re given something for free, you tend not to value it very much. So I think an author has to be careful of giving away something and sending the message, “My work isn’t very valuable.” Used carefully, as a means of hooking in new readers, it can still work, particularly for nonfiction authors. Now… all that said, here’s a thought you may or may not appreciate: The vast majority of the free novels available on Amazon are awful. Not all, mind you, but many of them. My two cents.

 

And someone sent this as a follow-up to my earlier answer: “I would find it helpful if you could say more about ‘voice’. What does that look like? How does one develop and improve voice?”  

 

Voice is your personality on the page. Take any two writers you like and compare them – each is unique. Both are good, but the way they sound on the page is different from one another. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, just look at my posts and Amanda’s posts. They both are, in my humble opinion, pretty good. They both offer good content. But I have a strong personality that can come across as hard, even snarky at times. Still, my personality comes across in my writing. So does Amanda, whose “Thursdays with Amanda” marketing posts have proven very popular with writers. She sounds like much more of a teacher, has a much cooler personality, but is still helpful and very straightforward. We both have a sense of humor, but hers is nicer. And I can tell you those posts sound exactly like Amanda. (Sorry if you think I’m glorifying us – just trying to offer an example.) Nobody would read a post of Amanda’s and think, “Chip must have written that.” We sound different, and we’ve both written enough that we know what our writing voices are. My personality comes out on the page. In my view, that’s what “voice” looks like. The best way to find that? Write a lot, study the craft, listen to what experienced writers and teachers have to say, read it all out loud, and you’ll eventually what sounds like you. That doesn’t mean you’ll necessarily have success (you could practice singing and playing piano for years and still never sound like Diana Krall), but at least you’ll know what your own voice is.

 

This interesting story & question arrived in my in-box a while back: “I had to stop reading the official website of a big writing group I belong to. Recently someone asked if a novel from a newbie had to be completed to be taken seriously by a publisher. A couple authors who know nothing wrote in to say, “No, you can still get it published with a synopsis and sample chapter.’ So an AGENT wrote in to say, ‘Actually, it really does need to be completed to be taken seriously by a publisher these days.’ So then some author, someone who should know better, wrote in to say the agent was wrong. She noted that ‘at her house,’ they’d consider anyone. Well… baloney! And how would an author who is doing all her books at one house have any idea what is going on in the larger industry? Why would she assume she knows more than an agent who is dealing with other publishing houses all the time? Doesn’t that sort of stupid stuff make you roll your eyes?”

 

Yes. I think one of the strengths of writing loops is that they introduce an author to the larger world, and provides an opportunity to hear from a bunch of other writers. But one of the weaknesses is that it makes everyone into an expert, so you’ve got inexperienced people offering advice as though they knew what they were doing. In today’s market, I don’t know of any house that is seriously considering debut authors based on a synopsis and sample chapters. The novel has to be complete for them to even read it… no matter what that author posed on the site.

 

Recently I was on a site where someone asked if self-publishing a first novel was a good way to start a career. Several people wrote in to say it’s a wonderful idea, that they had done it, etc. I wrote in and said, in essence, “Baloney.” My point was to say that it can work fine, if you have small expectations and a great marketing plan to sell copies. But then I did something that ticked off a big group of writers – I asked those who were self-publishing their first novel how many copies they had sold. Well… THAT caused a hue and cry. I was being the mean agent, who would dare to question these fabulous novelists. But you see, the truth is that for every novelist who is actually selling enough copies to matter, there are a couple hundred who are moving a handful (and therefore basically only posting their books on Amazon so that they can impress their friends at the next class reunion by saying, “Hey – I published a novel!”). I thought the idea of these loops was to learn, not listen to inexperience.

Got a question? Send it in and we’ll get to it in March! 

Thursdays with Amanda: Is Your Nonfiction Book Idea Viable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what he said?

He said no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

February 19th, 2015 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners | 3 Comments

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

In the journey of publishing, what is the typical order of events? Does an author come out with a book first? Or do they develop a platform first?

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

For fiction, the book comes first.

For nonfiction, the platform.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday with Amanda: 5 Pitfalls of Using Kickstarter…and How to Avoid Them

February 12th, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 2 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.

Kickstarter is a popular way for artists and entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to bring a project or idea to fruition. It’s been used by everyone from Reading Rainbow to TLC to Zach Braff. So clearly, some big names (along with plenty of little guys) have adopted the unique platform.

For awhile board games and the like dominated the Kickstarter platform, but more and more I’m seeing authors and even publishers launch their book projects through the site. It’s definitely a tempting idea. The thought of having $5,000 or $10,000 as opposed to the few hundred I used to put together my own indie book The Extroverted Writer, is…mind-blowing. Oh, what I could have done with that kind of money!! My book could have been edited by Stephen King and had a large print edition and a Spanish language edition and a braille edition and an ad in Times Square to boot.

Okay, maybe not, but this is the lure of Kickstarter. It creates this “the sky is the limit” mentality. And it works.

So what are the pitfalls? Oh, there are plenty. Kickstarter is an everyman’s version of Shark Tank, except the people with the ideas tend to be artists and creatives as opposed to MBA grads and business owners, while the backers (or partners) are regular consumers, looking to get in on a new product that fits their needs.

Clearly this is a setup that could have disastrous results. And sometimes it does. But it doesn’t have to! Being aware of the pitfalls is what will help you not only be able to determine whether Kickstarter is right for you, but have a successful Kickstarter campaign.

1. Pitfall #1: Idealism. Sure, it’s nice to think that your great, bulletproof idea will rake in the support and have people buzzing across the Internet. But this can be the greatest pitfall of Kickstarter.

Assuming that your idea has a large audience, waiting to throw money at it can be a huge gamble if you don’t already have existing support. Here’s an example: Kevin sings for his church. He’s been told he should audition for American Idol or that he should cut a record. Feeling as though he has his entire church behind him, he launches a Kickstarter campaign and throws money into having a pitch video made and in getting quotes on the various costs of his project…which isn’t going to be a praise and worship album, but rather a folk album. He uploads his project…and only gets a few supporters. What Kevin failed to realize is that while he definitely has some fans, he doesn’t have as many fans as he thought he did. Sure, the congregation like hearing him play on Sunday. But they don’t like him enough to support him financially…especially when the product he’s wanting to create isn’t what they’re used to. So, his campaign fails.

To avoid this pitfall, ask around and gauge interest in your idea. Talk to people who will give it to you straight (aka. not your mom). This will save you time and money and a lot of headaches (and maybe heartbreaks) down the road.

2. Pitfall #2: Money. It’s easy to think of yourself as this super frugal person who has a bunch of help lined up that won’t cost much and so therefore you can get away with doing your project at a fraction of the cost…but then you find yourself blowing through your Kickstarter funding with no end in sight. Why? Big projects always cost more than you anticipate. For example, Jane is Kickstarting her picture book. But at the last minute, the person she had lined up to do the illustrations backs out. She scrambles to find someone who can do the illustrations in the time she has left. But the rush job costs three times as much.  Suddenly she’s out of money and she hasn’t even gone to print.

To avoid this pitfall, add plenty of cushion to your financial goal. This can be labeled as an “emergency” fund or something of the sort.

3. Pitfall #3: Time. I can’t tell you how many Kickstarters promise one delivery deadline only to push it off by one, two, three…even six months. Why does this happen? Can’t people just get their act together? Much like the money issue, it’s easy to think of your project as easier than it really is. It’s easy to assume the people you have helping you will do so in a timely manner. And it’s easy to think you won’t run into roadblocks. But again, these things always take longer than planned. And there’s nothing worse than having hundreds of investors frustrated by how long it’s taking you to get your project out the door (where’s the incentive for them to invest again?!).

To avoid this pitfall, add three months to your estimated delivery date. This will give you a much more realistic timeframe…and if you get done early, you’ll have very happy investors.

4. Pitfall #4: Changes in the plan. With many creative projects, I’ve seen it happen where you thought you were going to deliver one thing…but you ended up putting together a slightly different thing. Or, you promised one thing only to switch gears a bit and altogether cancel part of your original promise. For example, Bill has a cool idea for a new fishing lure. He has numerous styles from which his investors can choose. But when it’s time to produce the lures, he realizes he can’t offer two of the ten styles due to production and material issues. Now he has the fun job of letting his investors down and trying to convince them to be just as happy with a slightly different product.

To avoid this pitfall, do your research…extensively. You want to know every aspect of your project from design to materials to production to delivery…and you’ll even want some backups lined up. This way, you won’t offer anything that you can’t fulfill. 

5. Pitfall #5: No marketing strategy. Kickstarter features thousands of fundable projects at any given time…and it isn’t the only funding site! There’s lots of competition, so the last thing you want to do is create and upload your project only to sit back and wait for the funding to roll in. Because it won’t! You’ll need an aggressive marketing strategy to spread the word and communicate that your project is out there, needing support. The more money you need to raise, the more aggressive your campaign should be.

Avoid this pitfall by creating a marketing plan for your project. Aim to have as many people as possible lined up to Tweet, Facebook, and talk about it, and maintain your own marketing calendar to ensure you stay on course with talking about your project. 

What do you think about Kickstarter? Have you used it before as either a project backer or creator?

 

How My Lack of Platform Helped Me Get Published (a guest blog)

January 23rd, 2015 | Marketing and Platforms | 8 Comments

It was every hopeful author’s dream. I had just finished pitching my book idea in front of seven other hopeful authors and (more to the point) an acquisitions editor. As we all stood up to leave, he discreetly handed me his card and said “Let’s talk.” Long story short, I am now a published author.

I have, in fact, shortened the story so much as to be deceptive. When he and I talked at lunch the next day, he didn’t even look at the proposal I had spent three months perfecting. First, he wanted me to address several issues. Six grueling months later, I sent him the revised proposal. To my delight, he loved it. But he wanted me to completely rework my sample chapters, which took another five months. Finally he believed it was ready to be presented to the publication committee.

As you may know, publishers are looking for three things in a proposal: 1) a great concept, 2) great writing, and 3) a great platform. But, as my editor said, they’re willing to over look one of those three if the other two make up for it. I had no platform, so my editor kept pushing me to refine and improve my concept and writing.

There were many points in the process that I wanted to give up. Two years is a long time to spend on three chapters. But because I didn’t have a platform to fall back on, I didn’t have a choice. And now, having seen too many mediocre books from well-known personalities, I’m glad I didn’t have a platform to lean on. I know myself – if I could have gotten away with less effort, I would have.

By the way, I’ve also seen a lot of authors fall back on “I can always self-publish.” I’m NOT saying that self-publishing is necessarily an easy way out. It’s probably the harder path because you’re the only one holding yourself to a higher standard. I’m simply saying that if you view self-publishing as a back-up plan, your quality will likely suffer.

In the end, the publication committee caught my editor’s vision and decided to take a chance on an unknown author. But my point isn’t that anyone can be published if they work hard enough. There are no guarantees (even a great platform isn’t a guarantee). My point is that a lack of platform can be a blessing. It can drive us to write at the highest level we’re capable of. And that should be our goal, shouldn’t it?

What do you think? Is your lack of a platform a blessing or a curse? Is self-publishing an easy way out?

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Josh Kelley is a speaker and author of Radically Normal (Harvest House). His website is www.joshkelley.ink.