Archive for the ‘Proposals’ Category

Sitting down with a literary agent over a cappuccino…

April 11th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 16 Comments

So I happen to be sitting at Cafe Greco in North Beach (the Italian section of downtown San Francisco), and thought this was the perfect place to suggest authors sit down to have a cappuccino and talk. This month we’re just inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. I’ve been sent a bunch of questions, and I’m trying to get to each of them…

I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?

A platform is a number. You speak? How many people do you speak to over the course of a year? You write a column? What’s your readership? You’re on radio? What’s your listenership? You blog? How many hits do you get? You do a column? How many people read your work? You belong to organizations? How many people are you connected to? All of those are numbers — just add up the numbers, and you’ll know how big your platform is. The bigger the number, the happier a publisher is going to be. More important is how many people you actually have some sort of relationship with — that is, how many of those folks do you speak to or consider an acquaintance? Can you suggest what percentage might actually purchase a book? A small publisher may be happy with a platform of ten to twenty thousand. A medium sized published may be looking for a platform that is at least forty to sixty thousand. A large publisher may not be all that interested if your platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.

Is it pointless to seek publication before launching a blog? I have substantial Facebook and growing Twitter followings, but haven’t launched my blog yet.

I’m not sure a blog is as vital as it was a few years ago. Some authors have built a platform using Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Others have really used GoodReads and Amazon in lieu of a blog. I think the important things to consider are (1) the numbers, (2) the connection they have with you, and (3) the content you’re sharing. Here’s what I mean — if you have a bunch of friends on Facebook because you’ve shared a lot of conservative political flamethrower stuff, but you’re writing a contemporary romantic suspense, the content doesn’t connect with the book’s expected readership. You may or may not need a blog, but the important thing with a blog these days is to get noticed, just like in publishing a book. There are currently roughly 20 million blogs available… how is yours going to grow a readership?

I’ve been asked to write a column for an online magazine which sounds good, but they refuse to tell writers what their numbers look like. Also, they pay, but they demand all rights. As an agent, do you think I should participate?

That depends on your expectations. If you need the money, a paid writing gig like this is great. As for demanding rights, lots of magazines these days are moving that direction — you have to be at peace with the fact you are basically using this as a work-for-hire. You could do some research on third party sites to find out some basic numbers for the magazine and make an educated guess at the numbers they’re hitting.

Do writers these days write specifically for the ebook market, or are they really writing for a print market and settling for a digital book?

Love the question, because for all the excitement about dedicated e-book authors, I find most writers are still hoping to land in print. Not all, certainly, but most. Why? Because traditionally that’s where success has come (and yes, that may be changing), and because legacy publishers can get authors into stores around the country. So it’s really a “reach” argument — that legacy publishers offer greater reach. That said, we’re in an era of revolution, and there are plenty of writers who have basically given up on the notion of working with a legacy publisher, and have become focused on creating their own ebooks and taking them to market via Amazon, Nook, and the iBookstore.

I heard you say at a conference that the one thing you look for most in a book proposal is “voice.” What are you really looking for when you say you want to see a strong voice in a proposal?

Voice is personality on the page. I love seeing proposals that offer strong personalities. Too many of the proposals I see are flat — they all sound the same, and could have been written by anyone. So I love seeing a project come in that seems different — big, unique, funny or insightful, with words/grammar/style/thought patterns that reveal your unique personality. If you read writers with great, unique voice, you just don’t confuse them with other writers. Great ideas come and go, but great voice lasts a long time. I see lots of ideas each month; I see very little great voice. And if you’re really interested in this topic, go to Amazon and pick up a copy of Les Edgerton’s FINDING YOUR VOICE. A wonderful book to help beginning writers figure out how to get their personality onto the page.

Do you still teach “proposal” workshops? Does a proposal still matter in these days of self-publishing one’s ebooks?

I do still teach my one-day proposal workshop. (Commercial: If your writing group or regional conference is looking for a cost-effective one-day seminar, you should get in touch.) Proposals continue to be vital for nonfiction books, and the way we usually start the conversation with fiction. I asked a senior editor at a Big Six publishing house about this, and she wrote me back to say, “One thing I think aspiring writers need to know about proposals is that they function as a business plan for a book. That is, they demonstrate why and how a project will be viable because of the idea, the author platform, and the market environment. In nonfiction, as you know, publishing a viable book is not so much about writing as about what will happen (either because of the author or the publisher) in the market to get people to buy it. Most people don’t want to hear that because they want to believe it’s all about writing, but that is very far from the truth these days. New writers need to understand this basic fact and see the proposal as an opportunity, not a chore to be gotten past.” A great proposal can help you find success, in my view. It won’t overcome a lousy idea, but it will certainly help you sell a good idea.

Who puts a manuscript or new book into the running for awards and contests? Does the author seek them out herself and submit her entries? Does the publisher submit completed manuscripts automatically to certain contests? Would an agent make recommendations for contests and/or award to go after?

Most major writing awards are submitted by publishers. Mid-level awards can be submitted by publisher or author. Most smaller writing awards are submitted by author. These usually cost money. And yes, in almost every case the entire completed manuscript is sent (though I know of no publisher who “automatically” submits to contests). An agent will certainly make recommendations for contests and awards, and I encourage authors to have that discussion with their agent. Publishers tend to like manuscripts that proved themselves by winning contests.

I’m working on a non-fiction manuscript for which I have some personal experience, but I don’t really have the full technical expertise to completely address the topic. Would an agent consider my proposal and connect me with an expert in the field? Or do I need to do the legwork myself to find the expert?

I have occasionally connected a writer and an expert, but it’s rare… Much more commonly I’ll just say to the writer, “You know, this would be a much stronger idea if you were to partner with an expert in the field.” An example: I once did a healthy lifestyle book, and encouraged the author to connect with a nutritionist and exercise physiologist, since her personal story was great, but I felt publishers were going to insist on some sort of recognized expertise.

I notice you do a bunch of religious/inspirational fiction. Do you also do fiction for the wider market?

I’ve received this question a hundred times… YES, take a look at my list. I do Christian fiction AND lots of general market fiction. So do Sandra, Amanda, Erin, and Holly, the other agents at MacLit.

I did a book with a smaller publishing house earlier this year, but the information on Amazon is incorrect. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get them to fix it. What do I do?

Talk to someone in the marketing department at your publishing company, tell them EXACTLY what is incorrect and EXACTLY what you would like it to say. Be clear, be polite, don’t blame, and don’t act like your life depends on changing this information. Amazon sometimes gets this stuff wrong, and publishers often try to fix it. I ran this question by a senior editor at a large house, and she replied: “Amazon is an automated system, at least with us, but I suspect with most other publishers. Amazon’s system goes into our system and pulls the data it wants when it wants it and then puts it up on the site, often as long as 4-6 months in advance. That’s why the data are often wrong. Authors get upset when they see incorrect data and copy but that’s because Amazon is pulling the early stuff before it gets polished. Pre-orders are good, but this is what comes of it. And this is Amazon’s doing, for their own mysterious and not-so-mysterious purposes.”

Okay — got a question you’ve always wanted to sit down and ask a literary agent in some face to face setting? Send it my way. Meanwhile, I’ll be here, eyeing the cannoli and ricciarellis. Ciao!

A Workshop on Getting Published

January 7th, 2014 | Agents, Books, Career, Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, The Writing Craft | 0 Comments

BY CHIP MACGREGOR

 

A new writing conference is fast approaching — and you’re invited.

On Saturday, February 15, I will be speaking at the Dallas Writers’ University. It’s a one-day event, with a rather intensive agenda:

  • I’ll speak on “developing a book proposal that sells,” and the focus will be on giving practical, hands-on help to writers who want to create a proposal that will get noticed.
  • I’ll also be speaking on “creating your long-term publishing strategy,” with an emphasis on traditional publishing, niche publishing, self-publishing, and alternative strategies for writers to make a living.
  • Michelle Borquez, bestselling author and entrepreneur, will explore “building a platform around your concept.”
  • There will be a Q&A time, and everybody there will have a face to face meeting with me sometime during the day.
  • Finally, Michelle and I will be talking about the secret to success in contemporary publishing.

I’m really looking forward to this opportunity. I’ve largely taken time away from conferences the past couple years, but I love talking to authors about proposals and strategy. And you’re invited. Again, every participant gets face time with me, where we’ll be reviewing proposals and talking about next steps in a one-on-one setting. That means our space is limited to just 30 people.

Here’s the thing . . . there are a hundred conferences you can go to in order to get some basic information on writing. But if you really want to join a small group and find out how to create a book that will sell, make some money, and gain entry into the world of publishing by talking to some experienced people in the industry, I hope you’ll consider joining us. I don’t do many conferences anymore (and rarely do a writing conference), so I’m excited to be asked to be part of this one.

The event is going to be in the Dallas area, at a church in White Settlement. The cost is $225 and includes lunch – but if you mention this blog when you sign up, you can attend for $199. You can find out all you need to know by clicking here.

If you live anywhere in the area, I would love to have you come and introduce yourself to me.

Feel free to ask me questions — happy to be doing this!

When is an agent query like a party? (a guest blog)

December 6th, 2013 | Agents, Proposals, Questions from Beginners | 3 Comments

Think about approaching an agent to talk about your book. You see the agent over there, holding a glass of wine. You approach. You make an introduction. There’s some small talk. You start to chat about your story. But there are some things you want to be aware of…

When you ask the agent to meet too many characters in the space of one page, it’s a problem. It’s like getting introduced to a dozen people at a party all at once, trying to remember their names, what they do for a living, and how they relate to the host. When approaching an agent, stick to your POV characters. Use their names. But for everyone else, refer to them in the manner they relate to the POV character; i.e.: husband, daughter, boss, etc.

And you want to make sure you have the right directions to the party. Before racing off to meet the agent, check into their website in order to know what he or she is looking for. If they only want romance and suspense, don’t send your YA sci-fi. That’s the shortest route to getting escorted out the back door.

At a party, if you’re the one writing those nametags everyone has to wear, be sure you spell their names right. Oh, and for pity sake give the right one to the right guest. Slapping Brandilyn Collis on  Chip MacGregor’s chest is just wrong on so many levels. If you use the same query email, make darn sure you’ve replaced the previous agent’s name. Sending Chip a query with Steve Laube’s name on it will guaranty your email is deleted before it’s read. And showing that you’ve sent the same note to fifteen agents will get you banned from any future parties.

When the guests don’t know when to leave, the host can begin to get a bit grumpy. So know how long to take, and when it’s time to step away from the featured guest. The query synopsis should be short, like back cover copy. Save the 3-page synopsis for when the agent asks to see it. The query is a teaser, a hook, and you ought to have a one-line version and a three-to-seven sentence version of your story to share at the party. Pique the agent’s interest but don’t put her to sleep.

Oh, and make sure to check the dress code. Showing up for a fancy dinner party in jeans suggests you don’t know what you’re doing. When you approach an agent, read his or her guidelines carefully, and follow them. If he wants them emailed, don’t send a four pound box of paper. If she wants the whole manuscript, don’t just send the first ten pages. Checking the details ahead of time will save you a lot of embarrassment.

If you follow the party rules, you might get an invitation to the next event… or at least invited to send your proposal and sample chapters. 

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Novelist Ane Mulligan is President of the award-winning literary site Novel Rocket. She writes Southern-fried fiction for her dinner parties in her home in Suwanee, Georgia, where she lives with her artist husband and two very large dogs. She likes sweet tea and proper attire. 

Pitching: Are You Prepared?

July 15th, 2013 | Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Questions from Beginners, Quick Tips | 12 Comments

Guest writer HOLLY LORINCZ is a novelist as well as a publishing consultant at MacGregor Literary, and Chip’s assistant.  Before Mac Lit, Holly was the editor of a literary magazine and then an award winning instructor, teaching journalism, speech and writing at the high school and college level. She was also a nationally recognized competitive speaking coach for years, giving her a unique perspective on book pitches. 

PITCHING: ARE YOU PREPARED?

By Holly Lorincz

The brilliant Chip MacGregor (the man who signs my checks) recently posted an article regarding what agents look for when they attend writing conferences. I would like to extend his comments on pitches, since many of you are getting ready for RWA.

When was the last time you were at a conference, pitching? Sitting in a hotel banquet room crowded with tables and sweaty, nervous writers? I’m not saying that to be judgmental . . . I’ve been that sweaty, nervous writer hoping to win over an agent with my charm, if not my book. I went in with my satchel stuffed with one-sheets, copies of the synopsis and the first fifty pages. I’d even made up clever business cards. I was dressed in a skirt and heels, making sure I didn’t look stupid even if I said something stupid. Which, with me, was bound to happen. And knowing that, I practiced the heck out of my pitch, making sure I sounded comfortable and natural (though completely memorized) while describing the hook and major premise in less than two minutes. I made sure the agents/editors I was signed up to talk to were actually looking for books in my genre, checked out their bios so I could try to figure out what they might be interested in. Oh, I had done my research. I was prepared.

Shockingly, a good chunk of the writers were less prepared. Or not prepared at all. They were using their expensive fifteen-minute appointments to sell themselves by showing off their crinkled khakis, yellowed athletic socks, cat sweaters and unbrushed hair. Worse, they didn’t have writing samples. Death, they didn’t bother to prepare a short pitch, stumbling about like a drunk trying to recite the alphabet backwards. I’d watch out of the corner of my eye the non-responsive agents and wonder if the authors couldn’t see the responses: crossed arms, the rubbing of the temples, the yawns.

At the time, I thought I was witnessing an anomaly, that other conferences would be different.

I was wrong. Now I’m on the other side of the table, as a representative of MacGregor Literary looking for the next great book. I am amazed at the number of writers who sign up to sell their book and yet come empty handed with no idea how to explain their work to others. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sensitive to the fact writers tend to be introverted, that a good chunk of them would rather be chewing on glass than trying to market themselves, or have a conversation with a stranger in a suit. I am well aware I’m working with a crew of people who are of the artistic bent, creativity oozing out of their Einstein mop of hair, writers who have a tough time creating a fact sheet stripped of similes or historical allusions. But I also happen to know writers are inherently bright . . . so why do so many shoot themselves in the foot when it comes to these pitches? I’ve come to believe that (1) they’re too busy to research what a pitch is supposed to look like, or (2) they think they know better than the agents what the agents want, or (3) their desire to give free reign to their artistic side gets in the way of the business side.

Again, I’m not judging. I’m not putting down. I realize I’m lucky, that I came at creating a pitch with a background most authors don’t have – I hold a degree in journalism, I’ve taught high school and college classes for years, and, best of all, I’ve been involved with competitive speech and debate most of my life. In short, I understand audience.

While preparing and giving a pitch, it is imperative you assess your audience. What do they want to hear? What are their expectations? What might be their biases? Well, in this instance, you’re addressing professionals, white-collar workers who typically come from a big city, Manhattan in particular. In their world, they are working with other professionals, people dressed in business apparel. Start with that. You’ve heard it before: you can only make a first impression once. Do you want that impression to scream “I can’t button my shirt so I probably can’t meet deadlines, either!” You don’t have to wear a suit (though I believe it shows respect and can’t hurt) but you definitely need ironed dress clothes. This doesn’t mean cocktail dresses or tuxedos – that’s overkill. It also doesn’t mean overly sexy clothes. I don’t really want to spend my time averting my eyes from the train wreck. I understand many people don’t want to abandon their sense of self while dressing, but can you tone it down? Maybe wear a flamboyant scarf or pair of boots, maybe a flower in the hair . . . but leave the fruit-laden turban at home. I’ll spend my entire time staring at your head instead of listening to your pitch. And I’ll tell you what I tell my debaters – take out most, if not all, of your face jewelry and make sure your fingernail polish isn’t distracting. Many professionals in their forties are going to automatically pass judgment on the younger generations’ proclivity to pierce their cheekbones. You know it’s true, so why take a stand in this instance? Again, you have fifteen minutes to get someone to take a look at your life’s work so why not play the Man’s game? Taking the time to dress appropriately can make the difference. Why not make the effort?

You’ve gone online, purchased business attire, and now you’re waiting for the UPS guy to show up . . . don’t go directly to Facebook or YouTube’s funny cat videos. You’ve got a lot more to do. Once at the conference, different editors and agents will want different things from you. You need to be prepared for all possibilities. Remember, the whole goal with these appointments is to get an editor or agent to agree to read more – no one is going to sign you on as a client because of a fifteen minute introduction, but you can hopefully persuade them to give you an email address so you can send the first fifty pages, or a complete non-fiction proposal, or maybe even the whole manuscript. You want to have writing samples and marketing information with you, just in case, and yet be prepared to sell yourself and your book with just your verbal pitch. Consider bringing copies of a professional one-sheet (one page briefly describing the premise of the book, why readers will buy it, similar books on the market, manuscript length and completion, and a very brief bio highlighting your writing experience), a one to two page synopsis (short and straight forward, highlighting major characters and plot points), and the first ten pages of the book. And when I say “consider bringing,” I mean “do it.” If I’m the agent and I’m interested enough in your pitch to ask for a writing sample, don’t you think you should have one?

Now. The pitch. Keep it short and succinct. Think: elevator speech. Introduce yourself politely, present the hook, the major premise and conflict, possibly a theme, and why readers will buy this book, and do this in less than three minutes. Time yourself. Practice it multiple times. Any longer than this for the initial introduction to the concept of your book and you are up against the tendency of a listener to get sidetracked, the human habit of blocking out words in favor of tracing the swirls in the carpet. Further, you need to move your prepared pitch into the realm of give and take. This little speech is supposed to be the jumping point into a conversation, where hopefully they will have questions for you, and you have the opportunity to express what it is you really want to get from this particular meeting (Feedback on the storyline? Questions on the market? Seeking representation? Be clear with yourself and the editor/agent about your goals.).

Almost more important than the content is you. You must sit up straight, lean a little forward, speak with enthusiasm (though not high pitched or at the speed of a chittering squirrel), make eye contact (but don’t stare), and project a pleasant, confident personality. Charisma. I understand you can’t just buy it on a street corner, and that most folks don’t feel horribly comfortable in this type of situation, but this is one time you really need to divest all your energy into faking it. The best favor you can do yourself is to practice the pitch so many times you can say it smoothly and naturally, and then practice the body language I mentioned. Videotape yourself, make sure you don’t come across as arrogant or a psycho killer or a monosyllabic bore. If you do, practice some more. Find yourself a real human to do a test run on.

In the end, just know you need to arrive prepared and not come across as crazy. Good luck. See you at RWA.

 

 

How long before I hear about my query?

May 24th, 2013 | Proposals, Questions from Beginners | 5 Comments

Someone asked, “How do you feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?”

Let me set some ground rules. First, if I didn’t ask for your proposal, I don’t owe the author a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read it and give a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing the author a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding. 

When an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for, I try to get back to people within four to six weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I’ll admit something: I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). I think perhaps they’ve forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Okay, sorry if I sound cranky, but I got one of these today, from a woman I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re forcing me to decide, my answer is no. Now leave me alone.” But no, I’ve never done that.) So while I realize it’s your baby, and I know there are websites that will encourage you to check in regularly, my preference is that you give me adequate time to get to your project. 

Looked at that way, I guess following up after a few weeks in a short, polite note (maybe thanking the editor or agent for looking at it) is fine. I prefer just a quick email that reminds me I’ve got your proposal, and asking me if I need anything else. No whining, no blame, no shaming me for having to do all that crazy stuff like take care of the authors I already represent so I can pay my bills. Of course, I have heard from several authors recently about some editors who have kept things for a YEAR without a reply. I find that unconscionable. You wonder how these folks keep their jobs. Look, if the person hasn’t responded in a couple months, move on. Move on emotionally at least. If they haven’t responded in a year, I’ve got news for you: they don’t want it. Really. So stop holding out hope on that one and move on.

What else do you want to know about the query process? 

What’s the best method to query an agent?

May 22nd, 2013 | Proposals, Questions from Beginners | 10 Comments

Someone wrote and wanted to know, “What advice do you have for authors regarding querying? What is the best method (e-mail, snail mail)? Is there a particular format the query should follow?”

The BEST method is to get face-to-face, of course, so by all means consider attending a conference where you can meet the agents and editors with whom you want to work. Research them ahead of time, find out who they are, what they represent, and who might be a fit. Then try to get in front of them. That’s best… But in today’s publishing world, that’s harder than it used to be. Many agents are staying away from conferences because they’re dominated by beginning writers. In publishing today, most people have become email people, and thus I expect most of the queries you’re going to write are going to be without a face to face introduction (even though that would be best).  

I much prefer a query via email than a printed letter (save the trees, save the gas delivering it). A query should be short, to the point, and most of all is should give me a reason for wanting to see your proposal. It should help me to be interested in our topic or story. Remember, the goal of the query isn’t to sell your book; it’s to get an agent or editor to agree to take the next step. That’s all. Nobody decides to acquire a book based solely on the query. So the query should briefly give me a reason for wanting to see more, it should be written extremely well in order to show off your talent, and it should tell me exactly what you want me to do.

The first paragraph of your query letter  introduces your topic — just give it one or two sentences. Your second reveals the basic idea or focus of your book in two or three sentences. Your third paragraph mentions you briefly, perhaps explains why you decided to write the book or why you are the correct person to write it. Then you wrap it up by saying you have a complete proposal (or, if you’re writing a novel, by saying that the manuscript is complete), and that you’re happy to be in touch and discuss or explore the book. 

One note about the tone: I want to represent people who are fairly normal. So don’t allow your query to make you look like an insane person (“This story was personally handed to me by an angel”). Don’t pretend we’re best friends (“Yo bud! How ya doin?”). Don’t threaten (“I’ve been getting a lot of interest from other agents…”). Don’t be a used car salesman (“This is your lucky day!”). Get me into your story, show off the big idea and why it’s salable, and give me some sense of your writing ability. [And if you haven't seen it yet, make sure to check out http://slushpilehell.tumblr.com. A riot.]

Thursdays with Amanda: Questions from Last Night’s GET PUBLISHED Teleseminar

April 11th, 2013 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 9 Comments

Amanda 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 andBarnes & Noble.

Last night was our GET PUBLISHED teleseminar with Michael Hyatt. What a great time, talking business and answering questions! It was a blast.

We weren’t able to get to some of the submitted questions, so I’ve gone ahead and answered them below. Would love your thoughts on what was discussed during the teleseminar, or what is talked about below.

And don’t forget! We have a special opportunity for friends (that’s you!) of MacGregor Literary. 

Michael Hyatt, former CEO and Chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers (one of the largest publishers in the world), has recently released a comprehensive solution for authors called GET PUBLISHED. It’s a 21 session audio program, accessible online, that distills Michael’s 30+ years of publishing knowledge into a step-by-step guide to help authors get published and launch a successful career, even perhaps a bestseller!

Michael is offering a special limited time discount on GET PUBLISHED. Not only can you save significantly on the program, you’ll also get access to several bonuses worth over $150. Bonuses include items such as Michael’s popular “How to Write a Winning Book Proposal” ebook and more.

For details and to take advantage of this special offer, go to http://michaelhyatt.com/getpublishedoffer

(Note: This discount offer is only available through April 17).

Okay, on to those questions!

Brooke asks: What makes an agent take a chance on a first-time author?

When we fall in love with a fiction author’s story idea and writing, or when we see the potential of the book idea, writing, AND platform of a nonfiction author.

Mark asks: What do you think about publishing a “book” as a series of blog postings over time, or self-publishing a free e-book, rather than through traditional publishers?  If the purpose is to gain readers/audience, what is the best way to collect that information?  And then what do you do with it (esp in terms of monetization)?

I think this can be a great idea of done right (great cover, professionally edited, targeted to a focused audience). If you publish through an epublishing site, you should keep track of your sales numbers, and in terms of monetizing it, you’ll be able to set a price for your items, which will make the whole thing a bit more worth your while.

Terri asks: What are the most effective ways to attract your audience to a blog or website? I’ve previously produced blogs and ended up spending too much time on the content compared to the number of views received.  Also, what recommendations do you have on balancing the time demands of building platform vs. completing works in progress?

First, it takes time to grow a readership. I don’t know how long you pursued your blog, but it’s going to take 1-2 years or more to build a solid following. There are many ways to grow a readership (I have a whole section on this in my book), but the easiest is to find other blogs that hit the same readership as your own and spend time there leaving comments and interacting with others. You can also do giveaways, include the right SEO, and attend blogging conferences where you can team up with other bloggers and present a unified front. Really, the ideas go on and on.

If you’re serious about growing your blog, you should spend half your time writing and the other half going out and getting your readers. Depending on how long it takes you to craft a blog post, this could be tricky. But if it takes you an hour to write a post, you may want to spend an afternoon knocking a bunch out and then 30 or 45 minutes every day, going out and interacting with your potential audience.

Melissa asks: We see many big name authors supplementing their income by self-publishing titles themselves along with their traditional books, at what point do you think authors should consider this route? Do you think it will harm their career or enhance it?

I think this is a great idea if they do it right and are willing to pay for a great cover, great edit, etc. Too many authors dial it in. It needs to be professionally done, but then they also need to realize that in order for the book to be a success, they need to promote it like crazy—no one is going to stumble upon the book on a store shelf. And of course they also need to make sure that epublishing won’t violate any contracts they have with publishers.

Anne asks: Please comment on how the rapid changes in publishing, stimulated by e-publishing, have affected quality, increased competition, and whether this necessitates amp-ing it up with a paid edit before submission.

There’s a lot more competition all around, but I don’t think paying an editor to clean up your manuscript is the solution. I think hunkering down and truly learning the craft and taking time with your ms is where it’s at. Too many authors want to write only one or two drafts and then be done. The business requires more than that these days…especially if you’re a debut author.

C asks: I’ve had five commercially-published romance novels and I can’t seem to get another contract. Would you recommend my self-publishing some e-books (romance novellas)?

Absolutely. You don’t want to lose your current readership, and you need to make money. If your agent supports it, I think this is a great option. But don’t do it flippantly. Be serious about it, because if your sales are strong enough this could help you get back in with a traditional house.

Jeremy asks: I’ve been looking for an agent for my first ms via the query method with no success.  I have been thinking about going to a conference, but the cost is quite high.  Is there any other way to acquire an agent for the Christian Market?  Are conferences worth the expense?

Conferences are absolutely worth the expense, and there are so many that there’s probably one relatively close to you. It’s only at a conference that I can truly feel comfortable with the authors who are pitching me, and I’m much more likely to sign someone after meeting them at a conference than if I were to simply read a query from them. It’s that face-to-face aspect that changes everything.

Greg asks: It seems that literary agents are very busy and as a first time author how do we get their attention?

Try to attend a conference or see if we’re active on Twitter and other social media sites. But still…conferences are where it’s at.

Jane asks: I heard a popular author say that you don’t have to be a GREAT writer, just persistent. Do you agree or disagree?

If we’re talking about having a traditional publishing career, then I disagree. Editors have a lot on their plate, and more and more they’re looking for projects that require minimal edits. There will always be exceptions to the rule, but overall, a GREAT manuscript has much more potential than a so-so manuscript written by a persistent author.

 

*Note: MacGregor Literary is not profiting from this reccomendation nor is this an affiliate link. We only recoomend GET PUBLISHED because we truly believe in it’s impact as a resource for authors and because of the vast knowledge that Michael Hyatt provides.

 

Does a proposal marked “requested materials” get reviewed faster?

March 26th, 2013 | Current Affairs, Proposals, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing | 2 Comments

I’ve been using the past couple week to try and blow through a bunch of publishing questions people have asked, offering shorter-than-usual answers to try and get people the information they need. For example, one writer asked this: “I’ve heard that requested materials get put toward the top of the slush pile in most cases, but does this still mean a 3 month response time from most agents?”

If you ask ten agents “what’s the average response time to a submission,” you’ll probably get ten different responses. Just remember what your mom always told you: patience is a virtue. My guess is that, for most of the agents out there, the response time varies based on how busy we are at the time. Some months (like December and July, for example) are slow months for publishing, so all of us get to catch up on our queries and proposals. But yes, most of us are sure to look at requested materials ahead of the slush pile. I try to respond to every query within a month. I try to respond to every requested proposal faster – as soon as I can get to it. In most cases, that’s about two weeks, sometimes three. But no, I’m not perfect, and sometimes things take longer.

Another writer sent this question my way: “I have a question for all you hardworking agents out there. [Note: Though the author of this question has aimed it at "hardworking" agents, I decided to answer it anyway.] When you get a submission from an unpublished author who has requests from several publishers, do you prefer if the author wait to see if you want to offer representation before she or he sends those submissions into the requesting editors? Or does it not matter?”

No question about this one—I much prefer the author wait. The thing is, I’ve been working in this business a long time. I’m fairly confident I can take your proposal and improve it. I know I can take it and shape it for a particular house. And since you only get one chance to make a first impression, you’re going to want to make your proposal as strong as possible before sending it to a publisher.

Besides, even though an editor has said something to you at a conference about “sure, send it to me,” a proposal coming from a writer’s conference may not actually jump to the top of the editor’s in-box. There are plenty of editors who get weary of saying “no” at conferences, and siply say “send it” to make authors go away. However, a proposal coming from an experienced, trusted agent (someone the editor has done business with in the past) is probably going to be reviewed quickly. A good agent ought to add value to your proposal. So I’d prefer an author not short-circuit the process by sending something that may be incomplete or not as strong as it could be.

And one person wrote to say, “A couple of years ago, I published a historical romance through a POD company. In order to make it a ‘different’ book and republish elsewhere, how much would I have to change the actual story? I know I’d have to change the title, and I will try to have the POD publisher release their rights, but if they don’t…”

First, pull out your contract and see what it says. You may have the right to pull it out of POD circulation. That would solve your problem.

Second, if you have one of those publishing contracts that was apparently written by lawyers from Mars, have your agent or a lawyer look it over. You may be able to negotiate your way out of it.

Third, if you’re hoping to re-sell your book to a regular, royalty-paying publisher, you will have to get out of the POD contract before you pitch it. One publisher isn’t going to offer you a contract if your book is still for sale via another publisher. Changing the title and a percentage of the content is not enough, unfortunately. Once a project is in print, it will usually need to go out of print before it can be republished.

Fourth, if your book is under contract, the terms of that deal are binding until that contract is canceled or superseded. To cancel a contract usually takes both parties to agree. The good news is that many of the older POD companies would readily agree to cancel their agreement once an author received a royalty-paying deal from an established publisher. The bad news is that things have changed, and many publishers are no longer willing to part with assets unless there is a payment made to them. (Lesson to all writers? Be very careful before signing a contract. That’s a legally binding document that will govern all rights to your work for the life of it.)

Would love to hear your stories (both good and bad) about your submissions or POD contracts you’ve faced.

How can I get exposure for my book?

March 18th, 2013 | Conferences, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 10 Comments

A writer got in touch and asked, “Since it seems like anyone can get a book published today through self-publishers, how do I make sure my book gets the needed exposure?”

As I’ve noted several times on this blog, the key principle for anybody doing marketing of their own book is simple: Figure out where your potential readers are going, then go stand in front of them. If you’re doing a book on lowering cholesterol, research to find out what websites people with high cholesterol are visiting, what blogs they’re reading, what magazines and e-zines they’re checking out, what the most popular sites for information sharing are. That’s the first step. The second is to get yourself involved with those venues. That will get you started on marketing. (And be sure to read Amanda’s Thursday blog posts, which are filled with good, practical ideas to help you move forward in your marketing abilities.) 

Now you have the tools you need to create a plan. You’ve got a list of the places people who are interested in your topic are going online, and you’ve got a list of ways you can try and get involved in those sites (by writing articles, doing reviews, creating an interview, offering a chapter of your book, etc). The next step is to start the hard work of getting your words out there.

On a related note, someone wrote these words: “You have frequently told authors to find out where the potential readers are, then go get in front of them. How can an author find the target audience for his book?”

Research, my friend. It will take time, but start checking out key words and topics. Find other books and sites that cover similar material and check them out. Start doing reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. Get involved with Pinterest and Flickr. Create online bookmarks. Join Facebook and Twitter. Begin researching your topic and you’ll soon discover interesting sites, as well as finding yourself steered toward other places people go. This takes time — there’s no hurry-up formula for getting this information. But the key is to have multiple venues for finding new friends, and see the whole process as “participation,” not just “promotion.” 

Another writer sent in this interesting note: “Is teaching at a writers’ conference a good way to help market my book? I was just asked by a big conference to show up, teach two workshops, critique manuscripts, meet with a bunch of authors in one-on-ones, and help out as needed. It sounded like fun — BUT the invitation noted that I had to pay my own way, pay the conference fee to attend, and pay for my room and board. They’re offering me a stipend that will cover a portion of that expense, but I’d still owe them more than $400, plus my travel. Is that fair?”

I actually wrote to the person privately, to make sure she wasn’t pulling my leg. Sure enough, a writers’ conference sent her a note, inviting her to be on faculty but explaining that she’d actually have to pay hundreds of dollars to participate. Um… you have GOT to be kidding me. I think a writing conference is a great place to network and let everybody know about your new book. But if it costs you $500 and they’re going to wear you out as a faculty member, you might find a more useful venue for your five bills. Yeesh. 

Finally, someone asked me, “Should I seek endorsements before I send my manuscript to a publisher?”

If you can get some great endorsements for your manuscript, by all means do so. The fact that a bestselling author or a recognizable celebrity is saying nice things about your book can’t hurt. But remember that an endorsement has to be by someone recognizable — a celebrity, speaker, author, recognized expert, etc. It can’t be from some friend of yours nobody had heard of, or from your pastor, or your mom. Those types of endorsements scream “AMATEUR,” and make editors roll their eyes. 

[And an editorial note: After posting this, a longtime writing friend wrote me to say, "Please re-think your answer. I'm a bestselling author, and I get inundated with requests to spend time reading and responding to a project that may never get published. And it's possible the editor who is reading the proposal has never heard of me -- an embarrassing situation for the prospective author." My response: Fair enough. I'd say if you are not already relatively good friends with the bestselling author, then asking them to read and endorse your book may be unfair, even unwise. Perhaps you could say something such as, "If contracted, I could reasonably get endorsements from..." But if it's a mentor of yours, or someone you've been involved with for a long time, I'd still say it's worthwhile asking. They can always say no.]

We’re in the midst of catching up on a backlog of questions I thought I could respond to with short answers — so if you’ve got a question you’ve always wanted to ask an agent, sent it along and I”ll try to get to it.

 

Must a novel be completed before an agent will look at it?

February 27th, 2013 | Agents, Current Affairs, Proposals, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing, Trends | 7 Comments

Someone wrote to ask, “Must a novel always be 100% finished before an agent will want to take a look at it? Or if you spotted great voice in an unfinished work, would you take a look and offer encouragement?”

If I absolutely love the voice, I might sign an author based on the quality of the writing. That happens on occasion. More often, I will look at a project and offer encouragement to the writer if I like his or her writing voice and think it has potential, but still think it needs to be completed. Right now the market is more or less demanding a novel be completed if a publisher is going to take a risk on a new or newer author. So yes, an agent might very well say he likes your work, but put off a decision to sign you until you complete your novel.

Another asked, “How much of a difference does it make to an agent to hear I’ve been referred by one of their current clients? And how does that compare to a face-to-face with an agent at a conference?”

It always makes a difference to me when one of the authors I already represents sends a talented writer my way. I figure the writers I represent are already my friends — we understand one another, so they’re probably going to send people my way who would likely be a fit. So consider that a good start. That said, it still usually takes a face-to-face for me to really get to know someone. A conference meeting is often too short (sometimes ten minutes), but it’s a start. In both cases, it will need to be followed up by great writing and a long talk or two, where we both get a feel for whether or not we’re a fit for one another.

One writer asked, “How are royalties paid? Why is it the contract says you get 10%, but the author never sees that much?”

The standard hardcover contract pays the author 10% of whatever a book sells for on the first 5000 copies, then it rises to 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, then 15% thereafter. (But I should note the standard CBA contract will pay the author somewhere in the 12-to-18% of net — that is, it pays not on the retail price of the book, but on the amount of money received by the publisher.) The publisher keeps tabs on how many copies are sold, and quarterly or semi-annually pays that amount to the author. For subsidiary projects (that is, the words sold in another format, such as an audio book or an e-book), there will be a separate royalty amount. Sometimes a large company (read: “Wal-Mart”) will purchase a big quantity of books, but to do so they’ll insist on a huge discount. In a case like that, the author will be paid a discounted royalty. That’s why it can be hard to track a book’s exact earnings. I recently had an author on the bestsellers list receive a very disappointing check — the bulk of the sales were done through big box stores like Sam’s Club and Costco, so while the number of books sold was high, the discounts made the royalties lower than expected. Does that adequately answer your question? I can say more about royalties and payouts if you have more questions.

Another writer sent me this: “I sent something out to an agent prematurely. The agent rejected my project, but was nice enough to make suggestions for improving it. Now that I’ve taken her advice to heart, would it be reasonable to re-send to her? How unusual is it for an agent to reconsider an author they’ve already rejected?”

While it’s fairly rare for an agent to want to see a project he or she has already rejected, the situation you’re describing is a type of exception you’ll occasionally find. I wouldn’t make a habit of re-sending rejected proposals, for fear of establishing a bad reputation with agents. But if an agent has offered helpful advice, and you’ve really taken those words and improved your work, it wouldn’t be considered impolite to at least go back and ask if that agent would like to see the better, polished version. But be careful… Make sure it’s REALLY better. Nobody is going to look at it a third time.

This came from an experienced magazine writer: “I’ve quered a few agents who said they liked my writing, but there was no market for memoirs. Is there no market for memoir? Should I try to pitch the book as something else?”

Well, if the agents you’re approaching are saying there’s no market for memoir, then, for them at least, there’s no market for memoir. So you either have to look for other agents (who perhaps have a different perspective), or alter your book. My guess is you’ve written something that YOU see as memoir, but agents see as just a personal story — something that doesn’t have the broad appeal it needs, but is simply a cool story about something that happened to you. That’s the sort of thing I see ALL THE TIME, and there’s no market for it. That type of story fits best as a magazine or e-zine piece. If you want to reshape it into another book, you may want to think about the lessons you’ve learned — how can you turn your story into a self-help book, where you focus on the principles for living more effectively, and use your personal story as backstory to buttress your points. That might hold more appeal. OR you could leave it alone and do it as a magazine article, which will garner you more readers anyway.

And this came from a newer writer: “I’m a finalist in a writing contest. I’m also talking with an agent. If I win and get published, would if be customary for my agent to take 15% of the book?”

I love a question that’s off the beaten path. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard this before, so let me try my hand at it… If you came to me, and already had a publishing deal in hand, I would probably not take 15% of the deal. Since I didn’t help you shape the piece, or help you improve it, or shop it to publishers, it wouldn’t feel right to me to do so. I would probably offer to negotiate the contract for you, and hope to improve it, and perhaps suggest taking half my usual commission. (And, if you think I’m simply posing, I invite you to talk with some of the publishers. I’ve done exactly this in the past, so this isn’t some sort of empty windmill-chasing.) That said, other agents may disagree with me entirely. A good agent is going to help you shape your career, not just land one book deal, so they may feel entirely comfortable participating fully in the deal via a 15% commission. Depends on the individual. Don’t let it be a surprise — ask this question up front, in a non-combative way. No sense letting this create a headache for you later.  

And finally, someone sent this: “I know you’re taking a bunch of questions with short answers, but you haven’t been picking on anybody lately. I know you’re trying to be nice, but… well, what is currently driving you crazy? We’d all like to know.”

I received a proposal today that was addressed to 17 agents. All of our names and emails were in the “to” line. I’ve received at least a dozen of those recently. I’m blaming it on the rampant use of hallucinogenic drugs in this country. I mean, come on… The author is cc’ing his proposal to a bunch of us, then expecting us to take it seriously? Like I’m going to fight other agents to grab this one crappy proposal? All of us had the same response: hit “delete.” That’s the current thing that’s driving my crazy.

Wait… it gets worse. So I read a similar proposal, from someone I’ve heard of but who made the same mistake. I sent the author a note, explaining that cc’ing a proposal to a bunch of agents at once makes it look like Amateur Hour, and that he should study the industry, figure out how to create and pitch a proposal, then approach an agent he feels might be a fit. (Isn’t that how you’d approach any other line of work? Do a bit of research on it, to make sure you didn’t look like a moron?) In other words, I took time out of my day to try and help this guy. And what was his response? To send me a nasty note, complaining about the fact that i was scolding him for not doing it right.

That gets him put into my Black File, of course. What is it about the fact that some people simply can’t admit they don’t know everything? Just assume you’ve screwed up, learn from your mistake, and do it better next time. Don’t get defensive. I’ve pretty much stopped going to a couple popular online writing groups for that reason. I had originally been involved because I thought the participants were there to learn, and after a few decades in this business, I figure I’ve got something to share. But it began to feel like pearls before swine after a while. People want to share their ignorance, then HATE to get corrected when they say something stupid. So I’m just not even reading those any more — I figure if writers want to read the advice of the uninformed, it’s not my job to set them straight. Does that answer your question?

Hey, we’re trying to tackle a bunch of topics this month — what have you always wanted to ask a literary agent?