Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

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?

The Journey of my First Publishing Contract (A Guest Blog by Jill Lynn)

February 6th, 2015 | Books, Career, Publishing | 3 Comments

Jill Lynn HeadshotI’m a newbie to the publishing world. In early 2014, I received my first publishing offer from Harlequin Love Inspired. I accepted it with excitement, ready for the words hidden on my computer to be seen by all the world.

Then I received my first edits.

After hyperventilating, I read them again. I could tell my editor was right… she was brilliant, seeing things I hadn’t seen. But the changes… I didn’t have a clue where to begin. The task felt insurmountable. I wrote and wrote, and my family didn’t see me for a period of time.

When we reached the end of edits, then came an entirely new problem. They wanted me to hand the book over to them. What? When did we agree to this? Oh, yeah. When I signed the contract. But still, they actually wanted me to fork over my words. They were going to let people read them. But… but… but I’m not done yet!

I quickly realized I would never feel ready.

Part of being creative is that there’s always something more that can be changed or tweaked or deleted. That’s what deadlines are for. Someone has to pry the book from your hands. I naively thought I would have a book done before the deadline. I’m not a procrastinator and I don’t do things last minute. But I never realized that I wouldn’t feel ready to give it up. I did send it in on time, and then I wandered around my house for a week wondering what to do with myself. Laundry would have been a good option.

Next came the request for titles. I went round and round on those, bugging my friends, my poor agent Amanda, and my husband until people were texting me random title ideas at all hours of the day.

Once a title was picked, we moved on to line edits.

Oh, wait. You thought the edits were done? Those were content edits. These are line edits. Much smaller (not as much to freak out about, though I’m sure I still put up a fair effort.)

Handing the book in this time was even harder because it was the last time I would be able to make any changes. THE LAST TIME.

No problem. I was cool as could be. Pretty sure I cried, prayed, and then hit send on the email. This all sounds very dramatic, and I might be exaggerating just a titch, but there’s truth to it also. Handing over your first book baby isn’t easy.

In December, a box of books arrived on my front step.

SavingTexas

There’s my newborn right there. Isn’t she cute?

The journey of writing might not be easy, but if you asked me if it’s worth it, I would say…

When can we do it again? :)

Jill Lynn lives near the beautiful Rocky Mountains with her husband and two children who make her laugh on a daily basis. Her first novel, Falling for Texas, is available in stores and online. A member of American Christian Fiction Writers, Jill won the ACFW Genesis award in 2013. She has a penchant for great books, boots, and thrift stores. Find her online at www.Jill-Lynn.com.

Thursdays with Amanda: Visiting Minneapolis Publishers

February 5th, 2015 | CBA, Publishing | 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.

Last week I did a few publisher visits in Minneapolis, and I thought it would be fun to show some of the pictures from my visit.

Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In today’s publishing world, publisher visits are really a rarity for those of us agents who don’t live in NYC. So it’s always great fun to meet up with publishing friends and make new ones.

Minneapolis has a handful of houses that are quite well known and successful (It’s funny…we think of NYC or Nashville or Colorado Springs as being the main pub hubs, but in reality, there are publishers all over the US!). So I was thrilled to be able to visit with a few of them.

Minnesota Center for Book Arts

One of the features of The Loft Literary Center

These in-person visits really help build relationships. Most tend to think that it’s during these visits that business is done and deals made, but that’s quite rare. I’m just as successful doing deals with editors I’ve never met as I am doing them with my editor friends. But still, it’s great to deepen professional and even personal relationships, so that’s why these visits are important.

Milkweed Editions

Display shelf at Milkweed Editions

My first stop was literary house Milkweed Editions. They’re a small nonprofit operation, but very respected and quite successful. Located in the beautiful Loft Literary Center in downtown Minneapolis, Milkweed is surrounded by likeminded businesses and people. The area is a pocket of literary-ness that really does inspire. The editor there, Daniel Slager, is proud of what they do and he has every reason to be.

Due to weather delays, I didn’t have a chance to meet with Greywolf or Coffee House Press, but I did make it over to Bethany House Publishers.

Bethany House is many times thought of as the first Christian fiction publisher. I spent some time with my friends on the fiction side, and then spent time meeting and strengthening my relationships with the nonfiction people.

And then…this happened:

Amanda Luedeke at Bethany House Publishers

Mandi & Snowball

 

 

Yes, that is me with Snowball the cat. If you don’t know, Snowball was a supporting character in the Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leppard. I LOVED these books as a kid. Probably because my nickname was “Mandi.” For some time I’ve heard about this giant Snowball cat that makes its way around the BHP offices…and I can’t tell you how excited I was to meet him (Or her? Can’t remember Snowball’s gender!).

So there you have it. My brief Minneapolis tour. Lots of business was discussed, but also lots of fun was had. And that’s how I like it!

What would you say are the top questions to ask an agent?

November 3rd, 2014 | Publishing | 11 Comments

So I’m talking with a publisher about a book that will explore the new world of publishing, and specifically the role of agents in that world. I was asked this question: If you were to list the top 100 questions authors want to ask literary agents, what would they be?

Rather than creating that myself, I thought I’d ask you… What would you say are the top questions you (and other writers) want to ask a literary agent?

The first ones will be easy… What does a literary agent do? Why do I need an agent in today’s publishing market? How do I find an agent? But beyond that, I’d love to know what you think the top questions are. Would you mind helping me out today and just popping into the “comments” section below and sharing your thoughts? OR you can send me an email at chip (at) MacGregor Literary (dot) com. Thanks very much!

Chip

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Writing is a scary thing.

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

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

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

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

Uh-huh.

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

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

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

Kurt Vonnegut once talked about the unfairness of personal attacks in bad reviews, claiming rage and loathing for a novel is “preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae.” When you get a bad review, recognize the attack for what it is (small-mindedness, misunderstanding, a chance for the attacker to make herself feel better, or, perhaps most commonly, an honest response to something not suited to the reviewer’s tastes). Then forget about it. Go read a positive review to make up for it, forget the bad one, and move on to something else.
-Yes, you’ve read this before! I pulled it out from the 2012 files because I got the question a couple more times!

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

If you’re new to the world of publishing…

July 7th, 2014 | Books, Publishing | 7 Comments

I’m a big supporter of authors trying to self-publish their out-of-print works (and sometimes their new works, depending on the author and situation), and I’ve had a number of authors write to ask questions about publishing terms and traditions. I thought you might find it helpful to know some of the official nomenclature we use in the industry:

The FRONT MATTER is all of the information that goes in the front of the book, between the cover and the actual text. It usually contains a bunch of legal and technical information about the book, and the pages are all numbered, but they often don’t have actual page numbers showing up (at least not on what are called the “display” pages — the title page, the half title page, the copyright page, the dedication page, any blank pages, etc).

There are a number of elements to the Front Matter that require special terms: the title page (which has the complete title, subtitle, author name, and publisher) the half-titlte page (which just has the book’s title), the copyright page, the legal or copyright acknowledgements (if you needed permission for anything in your text), the dedication, acknowledgements, and table of contents. There will also be a colophon, a more recent development in publishing a book that details the font, the printer, and any special production notes about the book.

There are also a number of additional Front Matter pieces that are used less often: a foreword (written by someone other than the author, to introduce the topic), a preface (written by the author to explain HOW the book was written), an introduction (written by the author to explain WHY the book was written), a prologue (written by the narrator or a character in the novel to set the scene or give important background information), an epigraph (usually a poem or quote pertinent to the story), and the author’s acknowledgements (so you can tell everyone how great your editor and agent have been in the process). The fact is, in recent days we’ve seen a decline in much of these. There’s nothing more boring that picking up a book that has a foreword, a prologue, and introduction, and three pages of acknowledgments. By then, the reader has already fallen asleep.

The BODY MATTER is the text of the book — that is, the manuscript created by the author. These pages are all numbered, and the numbers normally show on most every page. Special pages in between for chapter breaks, section breaks, book breaks, or part breaks (that is, a page that says “Part One,” for example) normally don’t have a number on them. Sometimes a publisher will make an artistic decision to leave the page numbers off of blank pages within the text or the first page of each chapter, but that’s not the norm.

The BACK MATTER contains any content that is additional or subsidiary to the text. Examples include footnotes, an index, a glossary, an appendix, or a bibliography. Occasionally the Back Matter will also include an afterword (where the author says something about the creation of the book) or an epilogue (where the author brings closure to the story or explains what happened after the book was written). Other elements of Back Matter include an author bio and a list of other titles from the author. In recent years we’ve seen some of these elements move around — with author titles moved to the Front, or acknowledgements moved to the back, but for the most part this is where the various pieces fit.

The COVER COPY is simply the text that will appear on your front cover — the title, subtitle (even if it is simply the words “a novel”), and author name. Some nonfiction books will have additional information on the topic or the author to buttress the book’s validity.

The BACK COVER COPY is everything that appears on the back cover. For most novels, that’s a short elevator pitch to try and convince readers to get hooked on the story. For most nonfiction books, it’s a selling tool to get the potential reader to crack open the book and look at the table of contents. It may or may not contain a very brief author bio. Most publishers also lump the SPINE COPY in with back cover copy, and refer to it all as “BCC.” Your spine will be limited to the title, author last name, and publisher imprimatur.

If you’re releasing a hard cover book with a dust jacket, you will also have FRONT FLAP COPY and BACK FLAP COPY. The front flap of a novel offers a short synopsis for the story, and often replaces the back cover copy. The back flap of a hardcover novel will offer an author biography. With a nonfiction book, it’s common for the summary to start on the front flap and continue to the back flap, before presenting a very brief author bio.

What are the publishing terms you’d like to ask about? What about the production of book is unclear or do you have questions about?

FINDING, AND TRUSTING, AN AGENT

May 21st, 2014 | Agents, Career, Publishing | 2 Comments

BY CHIP MACGREGOR

Someone wrote to say, “I heard an agent speak at our writing group. He sounded interesting, so I went to his website, which is interesting but I wasn’t sure I could trust it. You have to contract with them for a year and pay an up-front fee of $195, though it’s not clear if that is per project for for all your works. Is that the usual course?

Yikes. Several thoughts come to mind . . .

First, don’t go to any agent that asks for an up-front fee. That screams rip-off. I don’t know of any credible literary agent who asks you to send him or her a check right off the bat. You can’t be a member of AAR by charging fees, and you’ll get listed in “Predators and Editors” if you do. Stay away from fee-based agents. (And if you’re interested in this topic, I highly recommend the book Ten Percent of Nothing, which offers a fine expose’ of scam agents.)

Second, you don’t want to sign up with an agent you know nothing about. Websites are marketing tools, and some of them over-promise when in reality the agent will under-deliver. I can claim anything I want on my website (that I’m the best agent in history, that I’ll make you a million dollars, that I look exactly like Brad Pitt), but if we don’t know each other, and if we’ve never met, HOW IN THE WORLD DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO BELIEVE? Be cautious over sites that over-promise. (For the record, I look exactly like Brad Pitt. Especially if you stand far away. And squint. And are blind.)

Third, be wary of agents trolling for business by sending you advertisements. It’s one thing to meet someone at a conference, or to begin a dialogue over a submission you’ve sent in — most of the authors we represent we met somewhere and had a discussion with, or they were introduced to us by current authors we represent. I think that’s true of most agents. What you’re describing is akin to a lawyer chasing ambulances. Sorry to sound negative, but this sounds like a scam.

As a follow-up, someone else wrote to say, “I have heard the best way to contact agents is to attend conferences. I’ve also heard it is possible to schedule a meeting in order to have the agent look at your material at a conference. Is that true? And if so, how does an author find out about conferences? And how does one go about scheduling an appointment with an agent at a conference?

That’s true, in my view. There are few venues left for getting a face-to-face meeting with an agent any more, but a writers’ conference is one of the best. And many conferences will simply post meeting schedules, where you can sign up with an agent either before the conference or on the first day of meetings. Usually you’ll come in with your one-sheet or proposal, make a quick pitch, and have about 15 minutes to talk. You can’t totally “sell” them in such a short time (so don’t think you’re going to land an agent at a conference), but you can certainly start a conversation, make a good impression, and begin the process of working together. To find writing conferences in your area, just google “writers conference” or talk to your local bookseller. You can also check out an online writing group or join a writing association such as Romance Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, American Christian Fiction Writers, and the like. I’m a big fan of writing conferences because it puts writers and agents in touch with each other.

And another person wrote and noted, “A publisher requested my manuscript at a conference. They later sent me an evaluative memo with some editor notes and a request that I rewrite it and send it back. Is this worth mentioning in an agent query?”

Sure it is. Understand that many editors will request a proposal at a writers’ conference. Unfortunately, many time they aren’t really “requests.” They are more “resigns” — as in, “The editor was resigned to saying yes to every author who showed them a proposal.” That’s because the bulk of editors, while exceptionally nice people who know their jobs, are also big weenies. They hate looking you in the eye and saying “no, that doesn’t fit us” or “no, this isn’t ready” or “no, did you stop taking your medication?” Consequently, I’ll often hear authors tell me an editor requested a proposal, when in actuality the editor did nothing more than agree to look at it later, so as to reject it later, by letter, thus saving himself from having to tell the author “no” face to face. (Okay, I’m exaggerating. A bit.) However, if the editor has taken the time to review your work and make notes, then has suggested you do some revising and re-submit, that shows genuine interest. So yes, I’d tell a prospective agent that bit of news. I hope that helps.

What questions do you have about agents and agenting?

Thursdays with Amanda: The Future of Literary Agents in a Digital World

May 1st, 2014 | Career, Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 53 Comments

2014AmandaAmanda 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.

 

All this talk about hybrid authors and self-publishing, and there’s one question that is bound to surface:

Are agents a dying breed?

Maybe. I mean some freakish thing could happen that changes everything and puts the final set of nails in the Literary Agent coffin, but the way things are shaping up, my answer would be “no.” We aren’t a dying breed, and here’s why…

AGENTS AND SMALL OR INDEPENDENT HOUSES

I’m no expert on the history of the literary agent, but it’s quite clear that the role was developed out of necessity. The typewriter, and later email, made it ridiculously easy for anyone to pound out a terrible novel and send it to the best editors the industry had to offer. Those terrible novels would fill up the queue, thus suffocating the really great publishable novels. Editors, whose time is valuable and limited…and who also have a tendency to spend much more time analyzing a manuscript than an agent does…eventually turned to agents to help weed through the bad and find the good.

While we tend to think that indie and small houses are there for the unagented, the fact of the matter is that these publishers are more than willing to work with agents. In fact, they many times welcome it. They love when someone else has vetted the material before they even have to give it a look. And consequently, an agent can many times get a faster response from them than your typical unagented author. Why? Because there is a sense of professional responsibility. The small house is usually thrilled that the agent considered them, and they want to respond in kind by offering a speedy decision.

We also tend to think that small houses have the author’s best interests in mind. While this is generally true, and they many times offer friendlier rates and terms, there are ALWAYS a few sticky points within the contract that are different than anything you’d see from a big house. This is because it’s usually a mom and pop operation and they don’t have the sea of legal advisors there to make sure that their contracts hold up against contracts from other houses. An agent comes in handy at this point, and while yes, you could just as easily hire a lawyer to review the contract, here’s a truth that I’ve discovered…

Every contract that I’ve seen that has been analyzed by a separately paid lawyer comes to us with not much changed except the wording. Nothing is ready to be negotiated. Clauses aren’t flagged and suggestions aren’t made. Nope. Instead, the lawyer has focused his/her time on striking out words and phrases here and there and occasionally adding in a few new ones. They approach is as if the contract will one day need to hold up in court, and they want the terms to be either ridiculously clear or very vague. Agents, on the other hand, approach it as if the contract is the author’s livelihood, and we need to get him/her the best deal possible. We don’t worry about the specific words used so much as we worry about what the author will come away with.  (EDIT: It’s come to my attention that I need to clarify what I mean here…First, my experience does not reflect every lawyer in publishing. Second, lawyers can add value to a contract because they do care so much about the wording. Agents add value because they care about the terms. This doesn’t mean that I completely ignore wording, neither does it mean that all lawyers completely ignore terms. Third, if you decide to work with a lawyer, make sure they are knowledgable in publishing/IP law).

AGENTS AND HYBRID AUTHORS

I think most agents are willing to work with authors who publish both traditionally and independently…so long as the author is consistent about giving the agent projects to shop. So in that sense, we bring the same qualities to the table that we do in a more traditional agent/author relationship.

But is that all? I can’t speak for other agents, but at MacGregor Literary, we have a vested interest in helping our authors become hybrid authors, if that’s what they want. While some of our authors go about this on their own (we don’t take any commission in those instances), others want our help. To earn our share, we’ve launched a number of book lines (Spyglass Lane Mysteries, Playlist YA Fiction, Dusty Trail Books, Forget-Me-Not Romances), and made the process easy for our authors by helping them through step-by-step, taking on some of the more tedious tasks (such as formatting), and teaming them up so that their marketing efforts go farther.

We also are able to help with any subrights deals that may come from their self-publishing ventures. Foreign rights, movie rights, audio rights, and unique digital rights opportunities are all deals that we’ve done for some of our authors’ self-pubbed projects in the past year.

AGENTS AND INDIE AUTHORS

Many feel that the self-pub business model is the one that needs agents the least. But I wholly disagree.

There are a number of successful indie authors out there, telling everyone else that indie publishing is the best and that they should go it alone and forego agents and professionals altogether. But I’d like to offer a reality check…

Being a self-published indie author is like running a business. You’re in charge of accounting and marketing and publicity and packaging and design and editing and writing and formatting and sales and EVERYTHING. Ask any successful indie author how they spend their time, and they’re likely to tell you that managing their business takes up a majority of their day. Writing, then, is done at night or squeezed into the wee hours of the morning. It’s exhausting. But moreover, there’s a big piece of truth here that the overly anti-agent folks fail to tell you…

It requires an entrepreneurial mind and attitude to make something like this work. And most authors don’t have that. Most authors are creatives, who can’t tell you the first thing about marketing and publicity and bookkeeping and managing  and … taxes. They just want to create. And when it comes to figuring everything else out, they need help.

For those who are business-minded, self-publishing and managing that business can be a great option. But for everyone else…for everyone who doesn’t have the time or the skills or the natural ability to keep such a machine going, this is where help becomes essential. (EDIT: An author could choose to learn these skills on their own, and many do. However, there are also many authors who don’t really know where to begin with taking their business to the next level. This is where professional help can become invaluable, whether it’s for the long- or short-term).

And this is also where the role of an agent will change. Some agents may take on the role of bookkeeper and project manager. Others may take on stronger admin roles or marketing roles. Some may be in charge of getting the manuscripts in shape and typeset and uploaded.

While they do these things, they’ll also be shopping rights and looking for opportunities to expand the author’s career. It all depends on the agent, their skills, and the amount of work that they can take on on behalf of the client.

AGENTS AND THE FUTURE

I’ve rambled enough (and please excuse any typos…I’m knocking this out as I’m waiting for a flight), so I’ll leave you with this…

While, yes, the agent’s role will change (we will have to adapt!), and yes you may see fewer of us in the business, I do believe that we’ll continue to be part of authors’ careers. I believe we will continue to offer value, whether it be career advice, deal negotiations, or even just bookkeeping. And I believe that we will be able to help many authors achieve their publishing goals…just like we’re doing now.

AGREE OR DISAGREE? LET ME KNOW!