Archive for the ‘Self-Publishing’ Category

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

April 22nd, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Conferences, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 3 Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What makes a great cover?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Become a Hybrid Author, Part 2

April 17th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Self-Publishing | 3 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.

Last week, we continued our discussion on Hybrid Authors by looking at what steps published authors should take if they want to become one. But what if you aren’t yet traditionally published? What’s the protocol for a self-published author who wants to cross over into the traditional publishing market?

HOW SELF-PUBLISHED AUTHORS BECOME HYBRIDS

There is lots and lots of advice out there as to how to hit it big time with self-publishing. From everything I’ve read, I’d say the common threads are:

  • Romance sells best
  • Covers matter
  • $0.99 to $2.99 is the ideal price range for ebooks
  • Authors do better when they start with a bang and release a bunch of books simultaneously
  • Authors keep their readers coming back by releasing new content every few months
  • Marketing becomes an author’s day job

So there you have it. The super duper condensed version. I won’t waste your time by expanding on what can be found plastered all over author sites and forums, but instead I’ll focus on what’s appealing to publishers and what would make them bite.

Publishers in New York aren’t easily impressed by sales numbers. Many times they say that ebook or self-pubbed sales aren’t large enough to warrant traditional publication. And then when those sales numbers are large and impressive, you many times find them saying that the author has fully tapped the market and there is nothing more the publisher could do.

So there seems to be this sweet spot…this magical sales range that is large enough to warrant publisher attention and small enough that they feel they can bring something of value to the table.

I think we’d be foolish to assume that this magical number is a set range of numbers. Instead, it’s a living, breathing, shifting being that flexes and bends and expands and detracts whenever the publisher wants. So essentially, this magical number isn’t a real thing at all. It’s an excuse. A cop-out that publishers use when they don’t know how else to reject a project.

But what about Hugh Howey? What about Amanda Hocking and Jessica Sorensen and everyone else who  started out on their own and eventually gotten picked up by a publisher?

There are some things to keep in mind…

1. These authors tend to sell gobs and gobs and GOBS of books before a publisher will seriously consider them

2. They’re also EVERYWHERE on the Internet. People are buzzing about them. Writing magazines are featuring them. They’re being shared and liked and retweeted. Whether intentional or not, they’ve created this world in which it’s impossible for agents and publishers to NOT notice them.

3. These authors have, in essence, built their own company…their own publishing house…that they managed for years before being picked up by a publisher. For them, the traditional-pub thing becomes icing on the cake. A nice reprieve from managing their small businesses. A “job well done,” so to speak.

That’s it. The reality behind those who cross over and join a big publishing house for lots of money.

There are other stories, too. Stories of those who cross over and join smaller houses for less money. Those stories don’t get the publicity that the big ones do, though they’re worth noting. Because it’s those stories that prove that this is a possibility even if you don’t sell a million books in a year. (Though you may need to sell a hundred thousand).

It’s pretty clear that no one should self-publish with the goal of eventually traditionally publishing. The two don’t go hand-in-hand (yet). There are rare exceptions, but I guarantee those exceptions never did what they did so that they could attract a big publisher. It’s too much work. Too much blood, sweat, and tears to run your own author business for the sole goal of signing with Random House or Macmillan one day.

So keep that in mind, if you’d like to ride the line and be a hybrid author. If you start out on the self-pubbing side, there’s a good chance that’s where you’ll end up. There’s nothing wrong with that.  Money is  money no matter how you come by it. But be prepared to set up camp. You could be a self-published author for a long while.

What’s YOUR plan? Self-publishing first or are you hoping to go the traditional route?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursdays with Amanda: How to Become a Hybrid Author

April 10th, 2014 | Self-Publishing, Uncategorized | 5 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.

A couple weeks ago, I shared one of my oddities…whenever I hear “hybrid author” I can’t help but think of the movie Underworld. As silly as the post was, I stand by it 100%. The similarities between hybrid authors and the vampire-werewolf hybrid depicted in the movie are shockingly and hilariously real, folks. Real. Real. Real.

And hybrid authors ARE taking over in a weird sense. They may not be the majority (yet), and all of them certainly aren’t millionaires, but they’re happy. And they’re profitable. And that’s a major WIN, folks. A huge win.

So how do they do it? How do you become this mystical creature? This Hybrid Author?

It looks a bit different for everyone, but for authors who have started on the traditional side and are considering making the leap, here are some thoughts…

HOW TRADITIONAL AUTHORS BECOME HYBRIDS

First, you need an author career with some sort of momentum. Maybe you have a couple books that are contracted or maybe you have releases lined up every six months or every year for the next few years? The logistics don’t matter so much as the fact that you are publishing with a traditional publishing house (one that can and does get books into bookstores) and will continue to do so.

When you have this, here’s how you make the switch…

1. Take a look at your contracts. Look specifically at the Non-Compete clause. You don’t want to end up in a situation where your publisher feels as though your self-pubbed books are competing with your traditionally-pubbed books. You will also want to start negotiating this clause going forward to get it where you can comfortably pursue a self-publishing side-career while traditionally publishing. This is where an agent comes in handy.

2. Map out your traditional pub release dates. Check to see how much time you have between releases. There needs to be enough of a cushion between each release so that a) the publisher doesn’t point to the non-compete clause, and b) you can adequately market each book. Again, this is where an agent comes in handy! We know how to finesse things and make them work…and we know how to keep everyone happy.

3. Plan self-pub releases to hit when you have a significant gap between traditional releases. And remember, you want there to be plenty of time BEFORE and AFTER a traditional release during which you’re giving all of your marketing energy to THAT BOOK.

4. Price your self-published books in a way that even if your publisher complains about competing works, you can make the argument that a $2.99 novel off of Amazon is in no way hitting the same market as your $14.99 trade paperback.

5. Consider creating a clear separation in which you use a different pen name and even write in a different genre for your self-published stuff. This can be as simple as going from Author Sally Davis to S.E. Davis. You can create a home for both of your personas on your website so long as they have separate pages and social media accounts.

6. Consider self-publishing only shorter works. This is not only another way to skirt the non-compete clause, but it allows you to more quickly crank out the self-pub content so that you don’t end up with it taking time away from your book deadlines.

7. Market ALL of your books whenever possible. This means listing your traditionally published books in the back of your self-pubbed work. It also means bring both books to events. What you don’t want to do, though, is highlight your self-pubbed books more than you highlight your traditional books. It’s an easy way to make your publisher mad and also to communicate to readers that your self-pubbed books are more important. They aren’t. Your traditional books are more important because they are providing a marketing angle that nothing else can…they are in bookstores!

8. Be classy. Don’t brag about what you’re doing, but don’t keep it a secret either. You can be confident in your hybrid status and yet remain a loud voice for traditional publishing. The last thing you want to do is bite the hand that feeds. Unless you don’t want that hand anymore. To which I say be careful about going all King Joffrey on Ned Stark.

9. Be professional. DO NOT THROW BOOKS ONTO THE INTERNET WITHOUT PAYING FOR THEM TO BE EDITED, PROOFED, AND DESIGNED. It’s a major career risk to do this, and it will end your self-publishing career before it gets a chance to get off the ground.

10. Be smart. The most successful hybrid authors are the ones treating it like a business. Fact is, if you slap up some content and wait around for sales, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Self-publishing is hard work. It’s harder than traditional publishing, because you’re doing everything yourself. So don’t be flippant about it. And if it’s not for you, that’s okay. 

Having an agent really comes in handy if you’re thinking about making this leap. Your agent can help you navigate your publishing relationships while also giving you advice on when and how and what to self-publish. So if this is something you’re considering, the first thing to do is call up your agent and run the idea by them. They may try to talk you out of it! And you’ll need to hear them out, because they may have a great reason as to why this won’t work for you. But I think many agents these days are open to letting authors explore the possibilities. So give them a call and see what they say!

Do you have plans to go Hybrid? Or maybe you’ve already taken the leap? Tell me about it?

 

Having coffee with a literary agent…

April 7th, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 5 Comments

Okay, so this month I’m asking people to send in questions — What is it you’ve always wanted to talk with a literary agent about? If you could sit down over coffee and just have a conversation, what would you ask? Send those in, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions. Here are some questions that came in…

Do you recommend self-publishing with your authors?

Absolutely. I think authors today have to think about doing a variety of projects through a number of venues. That could mean they are working with traditional publishers, non-traditional publishers, niche publishers, and self-publishing some projects. I’m a big supporter of what I consider the “hybrid” author.

What are the challenges of agenting in today’s publishing climate?

Well, agenting (like writing) has never been easy. You have to understand the market, have relationships with the editors, know what each house is looking for, keep current on things like trends and publishing contracts. Most importantly, in today’s market agents are called upon to be part of the marketing effort — something that we didn’t used to do much of. But in terms of the recent challenges, I would say advances are down, and slots are limited, making a debut for an author harder than ever. There are more books available, so it’s tougher to help an author get noticed. And there’s also been a bit of an anti-agent movement going on among the indie-publishing crowd, which I think is fueled by people who really do not understand the publishing business. But I have faced that a bit over the past couple of years, and it’s been interesting — people who really don’t know the industry, but are absolutely certain they know that an agent is unnecessary. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a challenge we face today.

I’ve heard you mention a couple times that you have some reservations about Amazon — can you explain to me in simple terms what the problem is?

Sure. I love Amazon. A great, forward-thinking company. They do a fabulous job selling books, and have positioned themselves to be the sole purveyor of ebooks. But… if the entire indie publishing movement is based on one company, we’re going to have a problem. Because Amazon, while I generally love them, is definitely a cut-throat, predatory company. (I’m not criticizing them. I’m just offering an opinion on their tactics.) We can say they’re just practicing good business when they lower prices to the point that they squeeze out other companies, but be aware that, as soon as it’s clear they are the only company selling ebooks online, they will cut their royalty rates. (They currently pay a 70% royalty on self-published projects. If there is no one to compete with them… why pay out 70%? Why not pay out a much smaller amount?) Lest you think that’s a scare tactic on my part, recently Amazon realized they didn’t have any real competition for self-published audio books. So what did they do? They cut their royalty rates from 90% to 40% Overnight. With no warning. And no negotiation, either — if you want to work with their ACX service to do your self-published audio book, you can expect to make 40% from now on. What happens when B&N.com and the iBookstore and the Kobo bookstore go out of business? You think Amazon will still pay 70%? Not if they don’t have to. So I love them… but I tend to think monopolies are dangerous. We’re in the Golden Age of publishing at the moment. A huge shift in royalties will mean far less money for authors, and an end to the halcyon days of indie publishing.

Since you seem to keep your finger on the pulse of fiction, what trends do you see in today’s fiction publishing market?

I don’t know that I have my finger on the pulse… and some days I wonder if there IS a pulse, at least on the CBA side. But some things I’ve noticed: Historicals are struggling; contemporary stories are where it’s at. Amish has waned, but it’s still a sub-genre that works because it’s sort of a blend between historical and contemporary. Paranormal has faded. New Adult has been hot, but unfortunately it’s turning into nothing more than upper-edge YA with explicit sex scenes. (Porn for an early 20′s readership, in other words.) A shame. Of course, romance just keeps selling — especially contemporaries with people who have interesting jobs or live in fascinating places. And romantic suspense seems to be growing as well (at least in our part of the business). I tend to think CBA YA is a major struggle, and wonder what’s going to happen with the genre. (My guess? It blends into spec fiction, and the spec side grows some. But the problem with that theory is that it’s never happened. Sci fi/fantasy has never been more than a slice of the overall publishing market. So what do I know?) On the nonfiction side, memoir is hot, so all you fiction people may want to use your storytelling skills and use your fiction technique to tell a nonfiction story. Books in the evergreen categories of money management, healthy lifestyle, career success, healthy relationships are also continuing to sell.

Of course, ebooks are the rage, and a growing percentage of all publishing. (While only a third of the sales of legacy publishers, they amount for roughly half of all books sold if you include all the startup, mini, and indie publishing ventures.) And, if you want me to talk about the business side of publishing, it should be noted that publishers have all gone to e-contracts (that is, a digital document, rather than a paper one). Also e-royalty reports. And e-catalogues. And e-editing. And e-breakfast, for all I know. Everybody is posting their books, so there is a boatload of under-edited, crappy novels out there, making it harder than ever for an author to get noticed. There are fewer editors, particularly at CBA houses, fewer slots for debut novelists at legacy houses, more expectations for authors to do their own marketing, less editing than ever, smaller advances, but growing royalty rates. And, of course, more crappy agents who don’t know jack and I have to apologize for their stupid errors. (I need to do a blog on this some day.) And more micro-publishers, most doing ebooks only, and starting to make their mark in the publishing market. That help you?

Have you always wanted to sit down with a literary agent and have a conversation? Here’s your chance. Send me a question, or post it in the “comments” section, and I’ll get to it this month.

If I were having brunch with a literary agent…

April 4th, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Conferences, Current Affairs, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 3 Comments

I’m spending the month answering questions authors say they would ask if they could sit down and have a conversation with me. I’ll be doing this the entire month of April, and I’m trying to get to all the questions that get sent in.

Can I query an agent if I’ve posted one or more chapters of my book online?

It depends on the agent, but with MacGregor Literary (and with many other agencies) YES we would look at a book that has been posted online. That’s one of the things that has changed over the past couple of years.

When an agent receives a standard commission, does it all stay with the agent or is it split with the agency?

If the agent works for a medium-sized agency, then yes, that commission is going to be split. Part of it will be paid to the agent, and part will remain with the agency. If the agent works for a large agency where he or she is paid a salary, the commission goes to the agency, but a bonus will probably be paid at the end of the year, depending on the size of the deal. Of course, at a small agency, the agent is probably keeping the entire commission.

How might I find the most appropriate agents to query? The usual advice seems to be to read agent blogs and websites, read the Guide to Literary Agents, and comb the acknowledgements in books by comparable writers. I’ve done a good deal of that. The problem: By vocation I’m an academic. I write religious non-fiction for a non-academic readership. Most people in my line of work write for other scholars and don’t have agents, and I haven’t been finding people like me on agency lists of authors — though my search has not been exhaustive. Like most of my colleagues, I sold my first book (to IVP) without an agent. Now it seems an having agent would be very helpful indeed.

I would agree that doing some research is the best way to locate an appropriate agent. You may want to add Publishers Marketplace (PM), which has a searchable database of agents and deals dating back six or seven years, and allows you to search by genre or key word. (PM is $20 per month, and well worth the price.) But if you’re writing for a trade audience (that is, not a scholarly audience, but the average reader who is walking into Barnes & Noble or looking for a book on Amazon), I think there are several good agents out there (and even more bad ones, frankly). Have a look at who is contracting the books, see who is already representing books similar to yours, and maybe ask around with some experienced authors. You may want to go to a couple of good conferences, where you can meet agents face to face — in some cases you can save money by going for one day, rather than paying for the whole schlamozzle.

I looked at the workshop line up for RWA National in July and more than half the conference is dedicated to self-publishing. A big part of my local chapter has self-published as well. I admire how a few authors are turning self-publishing into an empire, but for the vast majority of self-published authors it’s hit-or-miss. Yet there seems to be pressure on authors to self-publish these days. Do you think this direction is because it’s harder than ever to break into traditional fiction?

I think two things are at play… First, it’s as hard as it ever was to break into traditional publishing, and self-publising offers a potential opportunity to frustrated writers. I understand that frustration, and recognize why authors want to self-pub their works. Second, there is what I call the Amway Publishing Myth — that is, “All you have to do is to post your book onto Amazon and you’ll be making money, and soon you’ll be a star and the magical publishing faeries will smile on you.” Don’t get me wrong — I”m all for authors going indie and self-pubbing some titles. But it’s not a magic formula to success, it’s almost impossible to get noticed (Amazon now has 15 MILLION titles for sale), and my experience is that a lot of the folks who are pushing self-publishing as some sort of cure-all for every unhappy author are simply hucksters and wannabes. I hear from too many writers who talk big about their fabulous self-pubbed book, only to discover they’ve sold a couple dozen copies and made almost nothing. (Here I”ll be nice and say that if you don’t care about making money at your writing, and you’re only posting books on Amazon to express your creativity, then bully for you. But I do this as a business, so my inclination is to roll my eyes at people who say they don’t care of their ebooks sell or not.)

I have two questions which I would like to have a professional opinion about. First, friend of mine said the subject matter for my story may not be “publishable,” as it’s an historical about an unmarried girl from a wealthy family who is pregnant by a man of her social standing who rejects her. I’d wondered if this was too controversial for the Christian market. Second, Margaret Sanger had begun publishing “pro-choice” information at this time, and I wasn’t sure if it was legal to mention her by name or include her in the story. Is it?

To answer your first question, a novel about a young women of limited means who gets pregnant by a man of greater social standing who rejects her, is a fairly common theme in literature. I don’t see that as being too racy for a Christian fiction publisher. To answer your second question, Margaret Sanger was a historical figure, and novelists routinely tackle historical figures in fictitious/imaginative ways. It would not be at all uncommon or inappropriate to include her name or her words in your novel.

I write inspirational African American historical romance, and have won major writing contests. Still, it has been very difficult to get requests from CBA agents. My perspective is that in inspirational fiction, you need an agent to get to the editors. My options so far have been to self-publish or to take the inspirational label off of my works and go for general market agents instead. I think there is an entire market that is being ignored and most agents/editors don’t know what it is. So which do you think I should do? Self-publish or go for ABA?

A couple thoughts come to mind… First, you may not be talking with the right CBA agent. The best place to meet CBA fiction agents is at the ACFW conference, which happens every September. Let me encourage you to try and attend that this fall, if at all possible. It will put you face to face with a couple dozen agents who work in CBA. Second, it’s certainly possible that a more general market audience would be best for your novel (though I haven’t read it, so I’m obviously taking a wild surmise). Perhaps you could talk with a good editor of African-American fiction about the salability of your manuscript in the general market. Third, it’s also possible that self-publishing is a great choice for you, so long as you have a way to get the books in front of your audience. The reason most authors fail at indie publishing is because they can write,but they can’t market or sell their work. So evaluate your ability to get your manuscript in front of your intended readership. Does that help?

If you have a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, send it my way — I’ll happily get to it in April!

Questions you’d ask an agent…

April 1st, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Current Affairs, Film, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 7 Comments

So this month we’re going to let you ask whatever you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. You send me the questions (or stick them in the “comments” section), and I’ll try to answer them, or get another agent to answer them. First up, some questions that came in yesterday…

Suppose you have a character in your novel that would be perfect for a particular actor. Should you tell your agent about it and let them handle it?

You could… but it probably won’t get very far. It’s rare that a project gets pitched to an actor in a role, unless it’s a major actor with clout. (So, for example, if you had a role that was perfect for Leonardo DiCaprio, you could try and talk with his agent. Um, and you would be author #5962 who has the “perfect” role for him.)

If I have an agent, then decide to write a self-pubbed novel, how can I include my agent in the process?

This is one of the things happening in publishing these days that is still in process, so there’s no one right answer for every situation. You could ask your agent to help you with it — the editing, the copyediting, the formatting, the uploading, the cover, etc., then pay a percentage as a commission. OR you could see if your agent is producing a line of books, make it part of that line, and pay a certain commission to him or her. (For example, we’re helping our authors create a co-op line of clean romances.) OR you could do it all yourself and not pay the agent anything. OR you could do it yourself, but work with your agent to help with things like marketing and selling, and pay a commission.

I am brand new to the industry, and delving into the potential of writing fiction. So what are the first steps in identifying the right agent, reaching out and establishing that agent/author relationship, and writing and getting a publisher to release the first novel?

Okay, the first step is to learn to write. That might seem too simplistic, but without a great manuscript, you’re not going to land an agent, editor, or publishing deal. This is particularly true in fiction, where a debut novelist will not be getting a deal without a completed manuscript. So I’d recommend you complete your manuscript, then join a critique group to get some other eyes on it, listen to what other writers have to say, and eventually talk with a good fiction editor about what needs to be done in order to create a great manuscript. You should know that the average number of completed manuscripts an author creates is SIX before he or she lands a publishing deal.

As for the next steps, once your manuscript is ready, you’ll probably find it’s easiest to connect to agents either face to face at a writing conference (check the conference website to see which agents are attending, then do some research to see who is there that might be a fit for your novel), or through a friend. I find the majority of authors I currently represent were introduced to me by authors I already represent. Once you’ve got a great manuscript and an agent, you’ll be off and running.

Do you think Christian fiction is where Christian music was a couple decades ago – where certain music was deemed “UnChristian” or was too controversial to be accepted by the mainstream? My opinion is that after all that type of controversy cleared out, Christian music got really good. Or maybe it was vice versa — the music got better and then the controversy died.

I’ve had various forms of this question asked of me quite a bit recently. (For those who don’t know, we represent a lot of inspirational fiction, as well as general market fiction.) I can see why you might think that, but I don’t believe the two situations are analogous. Contemporary Christian music was faced with having to break out of the narrow, church-youth-group type of audience, so some performers (Any Grant is a great example) was criticized as being “too worldly” when she began doing music that was not strictly about Jesus or her spiritual life. Eventually contemporary Christian music saw a bunch of performers bust out, much of it became part of the mainstream, and the entire industry saw the financials change as it moved away from full CD’s and toward single-title downloads — so most music performers these days make the bulk of their money from concerts and other live venues, rather than from music sales.

Book publishing is going through a different change. We’re still selling complete projects (books, not just chapters), but the vehicles are altered. A reader can download an ebook from Amazon, or buy a printed book at Barnes & Noble, and each choice is unique. The end result is different, the delivery mechanism is different, the marketing is different, the basic audiences are different… and that’s why I keep telling people that we need to see digital books as completely separate projects from printed books. (Whereas music was music, no matter how it arrived in the customer’s hands.) The advent of ebooks has led to a ton of startup companies, a revision in royalties, a scaling back in advances, a decline in intermediaries, more crud on the market, but more opportunity to make money for authors. A seminal shift in publishing. But back to your question — No, I don’t think we’re seeing authors being viewed as “unChristian,” so much as we’re seeing a combination of more publishing categories for CBA fiction, declining overall sales for the legacy CBA fiction publishers, and a desire to play it safe (which is why Christian fiction is swimming in romances, but has a limited number of new literary titles being released by major houses). There is still a place for thoughtful inspirational fiction, but right now that’s become tougher to sell to traditional publishing houses.

Got a question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Sent it along and I’ll get to it shortly.

Thursdays with Amanda: How the Movie “UNDERWORLD” Perfectly Portrays Today’s Publishing World

March 27th, 2014 | Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

2014Amanda

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 and Barnes & Noble.

 

Have you seen Underworld?

In this rather awesome and yet equally terrible movie, the vampires and the lycans are at odds (duh). The vampires are snooty and privileged and literally SLEEPING UNDERGROUND while the world passes them by.  The lycans, on the other hand, are rule-breakers and thugs. They do what they want and for obvious reasons don’t get along with the vamps.

There is a particularly attractive lycan-hunting vampire girl who is tracking a lowly human that most women my age would know as Ben from Felicity. Ben from Felicity is being followed by lycans, and the hot vamp chick wants to know why. The truth is soon revealed when the lycans bite Ben from Felicity and turn him. By now the hot vampire lady is torn! She has grown to care for Ben from Felicity, and how can she love her enemy?! She eventually decides to get over herself and love him anyway, but then he is once again injured and near death (wimp). She does what she has been warned not to do and bites him, thus making him both vampire and lycan–a creation that is rumored to be stronger than either species. They call him a hybrid. Eventually, he is able to bring about peace between the clans.

So why do I bring this up? Why walk you through the ENTIRE movie premise?

Because it adequately portrays what’s happening in publishing, and every time I hear the term “hybrid author,” I immediately think of Ben from Felicity (and I wanted you to do so as well).

You see, traditional and digital/self-pubbing are at odds. Traditional publishing for the longest time was comprised of two camps. There were the industry people who saw what was happening and wanted to figure out a solution, and then there were the stuffy, somewhat elitist industry people who were looking the other way (i.e. vampire sleeping) while digital/self-publishing took off. Also true to the movie, the self-publishing side is more of a wild west in which the rules are meant to be broken and anything goes so long as no one ends up getting sued.

And authors in the midst of their careers are caught in the shuffle. They’re torn, much like the hot vampire chick was torn when Ben from Felicity was bitten! Do they stay true to their publisher? Or do they venture out on their own? Conversely, self-pub authors, when given the opportunity to go traditional, have an equally tough decision to make. Are they signing their careers away by getting with the big houses?

One by one we see traditionally published authors dabble in self-pubbing.  And we also see self-pubbing success stories trying their hand at traditional options.

The result? The industry is filling with hybrid authors who are more powerful, more connected, more happy, and typically more profitable than those who stay one one side or the other.

The hybrid authors get the best of both worlds, as they get marketing and brand support (not to mention in-store distribution) from traditional houses, while they maintain creative control and better royalty breaks from their self-publishing ventures.

How are publishers responding?

For awhile, publishers tried to fight it. We heard stories of publishers dropping authors who had ventured out on their own, and for the longest time it was very difficult to get an indie book entered into any kind of contest. Publishers also held tightly to non-compete clauses, and would say things like “why didn’t you show this project to me?” when an author would take something and either do it on their own or place it with a micro-publisher.

But things are changing. Industry pros are finding that authors are happier when they’re making money (big surprise there), and the beauty of self-publishing is that it brings it more cash. It makes becoming a full time author a bit more feasible. And it also helps the author provide content to readers more regularly, thus developing a stronger brand and a more dedicated following, which traditional houses can appreciate.

How Do You Become a Hybrid Author?

For unpublished authors, it’s a matter of producing quality work…quickly. It’s about growing your sales numbers and catching the eye of an agent or publisher. From there, things tend to work pretty smoothly. You can negotiate a deal that preserves your right to self-publish here and there (you may need to slow the frequency with which you publish down a bit), and doing so won’t surprise a publisher.

For published authors, it’s a trickier dance…and having an agent would come in handy. You need to begin negotiating those clauses that would potentially hinder your self-pubbing career. You also need to develop a strategy for publication that would prevent the two from conflicting (timing, genre, marketing…all of these have the potential of creating major rifts in your publishing relationships).

There’s a lot more to it than this, but the idea here is that hybrid publishing can boost any career…it’s a marketing tool as much as it’s a career move. And I’m excited to dive into the topic with you.

Have questions or thoughts about the hybrid thing? Sound off below!

Thursdays with Amanda: Respecting Your Art

March 20th, 2014 | Marketing and Platforms, Self-Publishing, The Writing Craft | 13 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 and Barnes & Noble.

An old college friend was telling me a story about a potential client he was talking with. This friend of mine does freelance editing and proofing (he proofed my book, The Extroverted Writer), and so he is regularly courting new clients, trying to meet their expectations while also sharing with them the reality of the business.

This particular client of my friend’s was one of those type A, demanding, bull-headed types. You know who I’m talking about…a real-life Miranda Priestly or Bart Bass. Shrewd. Demanding. With no concept or concern for how much work it takes to produce a quality result.

The client had a 58,000-word manuscript that he wanted proofread, but the real kicker was that he wanted the project done in two days. When my friend pushed back and told him that, with a full-time job and other responsibilities on top of his freelancing gig, there was no way he could get it done and done well in that timeframe, the guy refused to accept such an answer. Said something about how it HAD to be ready for publication and how there was NO ROOM FOR AN EXTENSION.

My friend politely turned the project down.

I used to edit and proofread for a publishing company. They’d hand me a fiction manuscript, give me a week’s worth of time, and then a month later a check for a whopping $150 would hit my account. I had gotten the job after hearing that they needed someone to edit and proof for under $200 a pop. I had taken it, thinking it wouldn’t be that hard…I mean eight hours on a manuscript at $150/per is some decent money for someone just starting out.

But reality was much less rosy. The manuscripts I received were in shambles–the things should never have been published to begin with, and it was MY job to whip them into shape. To not only catch the numerous grammatical errors (specifically, an inability to punctuate dialogue) but to point out any glaring issues I had with the story (where to begin??). By the second manuscript, the magic had dissipated. The spell was broken. I was no longer enthusiastic about the job. I abhorred it.

If they were going to pay me for $150 worth of work, then $150 worth of work was exactly what they were going to get. You get what you pay for, eh?

So what’s my point in all this? Why bring up cheap-o publishers and pushy self-pubbing authors?

Because I am sick and tired of people disrespecting the craft.

Self-publishing has made it so easy to do this …”authors” these days shop around for the cheapest, quickest editors and designers and proofers. And when they don’t want to pay a dime, they do it themselves. Microsoft Paint book covers plague Amazon, and if you ever meet a self-published author, they can tell you story after story of how much they learned AFTER they uploaded their book. The typos and the plot holes and the inconsistencies–so many things that had to be fixed after the fact.

In some cases, they just didn’t know better. They were trying to be artists, but they’d just learned to paint.

But in other cases…I’ve seen respected authors disrespect their own work.

So this is my plea to you! I’m going to spend a few weeks talking about self publishing and hybrid publishing. And the deal is that as I go down this route, you must promise that if you end up trying your hand at this self-publishing thing, you will keep the art pure. You must promise to respect your books, respect the process, and respect the fact that just because you could self-publish, it doesn’t mean you should.

Capisci?

Author Earnings, Amazon, and the Future of Ebooks

February 22nd, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 31 Comments

There has been a ton of discussion over a report on author earnings  by ebook authors (which you can find here: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/), the response to it (http://tinyurl.com/pcebsd5), and the responses to the responses (two of the best are http://tinyurl.com/kbjts5s and http://tinyurl.com/omkjz6v ). If you follow this discussions in our industry, you already know what’s going on: successful self-published author of Wool, Hugh Howey, did a bunch of research and came to the conclusion that self-published authors are selling more books and making more money than those publishing with traditional publishers. It was quickly pointed out that there were some problems with Howey’s work — he sells his books on Amazon, did all his research on Amazon, and (surprise!) came to the conclusion that Amazon is a great place to do your ebooks. Nevertheless, there were really some interesting things that showed up in his research:

—Indie-published ebooks have generally higher ratings on Amazon than Legacy-published ebooks.

—Indie-published ebooks generally cost less than Legacy-published ebooks, possibly leading consumers to the sense of getting better value from indies.

—Indie-published ebooks may be outselling Legacy-published ebooks (this is more inferred than proven).

—Indie-published ebooks constitute a larger percentage of books sales than we’ve been led to believe in the past (Howey estimates it’s more than 50% of all book sales, though his methodology lacks stringent validity testing).

—Indie-published authors of ebooks are earning more per book than Legacy-published ebook authors. (Though his argument that Indie-published authors are making more overall is based on very shaky evidence.)

It’s all fascinating stuff, and I believe his conclusion that publishing’s brightest days are ahead is spot-on. As an agent, I’ve never felt I was one of the people who needed to protect the status quo — the fact is, I believe in authors self-publishing.. Unfortunately, the debate that arose after Howey released his findings was considerably less than insightful. It’s become a fairly rancorous debate, with authors and pundits picking sides, pointing fingers, and making their case with angry words and often impolite rhetoric. Those who want to defend traditional publishing seem to want to dismiss the study, and those who are staunch publishing revolutionists can’t stand the thought that Howey’s work might not actually hold up to critical analysis. Dana Beth Weinberg, who runs a Master’s program in Data Analytics and might know a bit about data analysis, has come under a scathing attack for daring to criticize Howey’s methodology.  (The criticism is basically this:  ”We don’t want to hear from experts, we want to hear from people who agree with us!”)

Again, I thought Howey’s study was interesting, since we rarely get to see this sort of data. His premise that Legacy publishers paying a 25% ebook royalty is unfair to authors is obviously true, and he states that one of his goals is to push publishers to change that — something I’m very supportive of. His assertion that traditional publishers have skewed the data over the years to protect their market share isn’t really a surprise — both sides in this debate have done that. And his conclusion that publishers are making more than authors isn’t really “news,” in my view, but it’s a good reminder. So I’m glad he took the time to do the report.

Still, there are some real problems with his work. The study was only done with one company, all the data is from one day, and he admittedly relies on friends and conjecture for many of his conclusions. In other words, his sample size is way too small. He breathlessly reports that 92% of the bestsellers are Amazon ebooks… um, somebody apparently forgot to explain to him that Amazon uses their bestseller lists as promotional tools for the company, so they’re notoriously unreliable as industry examples. And you don’t get “trends” from looking at one point in time, you get them from looking at several and creating a trend line (even my one class in statistics in my PhD program at the University of Oregon taught me that).

So while I tend to view Howey’s data as almost completely one-sided, I also think he raises some very valid points. A few years ago, a writer could live from one advance check to the next — now that’s nearly impossible, except for the very bestselling, A-level authors. A few years ago authors tended to shy away from niche publishers, because they were considered the minor leagues. Every author was trying to push toward the biggest publishers, since that’s where the most money and the most marketing were to be found — now a lot of writers have come to understand that ebooks sell best in clear categories, and a niche publisher that can move a lot of ebooks to their core readers can earn an author a huge payday. A few years ago, most writers really hated the thought of self-publishing, since it was considered a “vanity press” and was only to be used when you just couldn’t land a deal with a “real” publisher. Now a lot of writers have figured out that there is a huge and growing market for ebooks, and self-publishing is a choice many authors are making because it gives them more options. In fact, some authors (including the likes of James Scott Bell, Jon Konrath, Brandilyn Collins, and several others) are deciding to focus almost exclusively on self-publishing. Still, most people making a living with their writing are hybrid authors, doing some combination of traditional publishing and self-publishing.
Howey mentions that, with the advent of e-publishing, some authors are “paying a bill or two from their writing.” That’s doubtless true, since it’s clear an author who is selling a 99-cent ebook on Amazon is at least making something, whereas an author who is still waiting for a traditional publisher to contract her novel isn’t making a dime. But he fails to mention the obvious problems: the vast majority of authors who self-publish don’t really make much at all. And the boom of self-publishing has led to a huge pile of crap, meaning readers now have to wade through a bigger pile than ever to find your books.
The fact is, one of the major problems authors have had with self-publishing is simply being lost amidst all the titles. There are currently about fifteen MILLION titles for sale on Amazon, making it awfully hard for an author to stand up and get noticed — they’re just one twig in a forest. That’s why I’ve become a fan of author communities creating niche lines. We helped authors start a western line of books (www.dustytrailbooks.com) just so that all those writers creating westerns had a common place to gather. Instead of an author posting a book on his website, selling copies to the 200 or so friends and readers who commonly visit, then slogging through months with no one visiting the site and buying a book, he can join with a bunch of other, similar western writers and create a destination site that readers can go to in order to find a bunch of western novels. We also helped create a clean romance line (www.forgetmenotromances.com) so that an author wouldn’t have to just post her book on Amazon and hope somebody noticed. I’d like to see us help authors create more sites, focused on genres that sell well as ebooks. And note that I say “we helped authors create” instead of “we decided to publish.” MacGregor Literary is not the publisher — the authors are the publishers. They don’t turn the rights over to us. In fact, they can decide at any time to withdraw a book if they get an offer from a traditional publisher and want to move that direction. We just exist to help create the destination websites, provide the expertise to make it all happen, and offer some guidance along the way.

So, just because I want you to understand exactly what I’m saying, I’m going to make this very clear: In today’s publishing market, I think nearly every author needs to consider being a “hybrid” author. That is, I think most of the authors our company has the privilege of representing need to consider having a combination of publishing deals. They need to consider doing some books with a traditional publisher, who can pay an advance, give you broad exposure, get you introduced to major media, and get you into every Barnes & Noble, Wal-Mart, and independent bookstore in the country. You also need to consider working with some niche or indie publisher, who can pay you a much better royalty and hopefully draw an audience of readers who like exactly the sort of book you write. And you need to consider self-publishing some of your work — certainly your out-of-print titles, but also  shorter works that won’t attract most traditional publishers, and even new book projects that can reach your core audience. Those self-published books will pay a much greater royalty than your traditionally published books, and you’ll get paid faster, so there’s a nice benefit to working with Amazon and B&N.com and the iBookstore.

Of course, with greater choice comes greater responsibility. If you choose to self-publish, you have to take care of your own editing and copyediting — word will quickly spread about a badly edited book. You will have to pay for your own cover. As a matter of fact, you also have to find an designer to work with you, since a lot of self-created covers are terrible, and all the research suggests that a bad cover will kill your self-published book. You also have to format your book the right way, and get it loaded to each system, which takes a bit of expertise — and all of these are things that require some time and attention to detail. But most importantly, you have to do all the marketing of your self-pubbed book. ALL, since there’s nobody to help you with reviews, distributing copies, letting readers know about it, taking out ads, or any of the million things we do to market a book. One bit of good news: You can pay to have all those things done. Another bit of good news: You can learn to do most of them yourself. And a third bit of good news: this is why you have an agent. You certainly don’t HAVE to do your ebooks with your agent, but if you want help, they ought to be willing to assist with things like finding you a good editor, steering you toward (or possibly taking care of) the copyediting, introducing you to a cover designer, assisting with the formatting and uploading of your manuscript, and, most importantly, helping with the marketing. (I’m not trying to give you a commercial. I’m just trying to point out what we do, and how this job has been changing in recent years. I used to rarely talk marketing — now I could spend every minute of the day just on marketing plans with authors.)
Again, I’m one of those people who is very much in favor of authors self-publishng. We’re trying to put information together to help the authors we represent know how to best do that. We hope to work with them on some books, to help them market and sell copies, and to represent their foreign & translation & movie rights. We also want to continue selling their manuscripts to traditional publishers when that’s the best choice. But even if we’re not participating financially, we want to provide authors with the tools they need to successfully self-publish. Because that should be the role of a literary agent — to help authors succeed and make money.
And that’s the problem where agents are concerned — they’re not sure how they’ll be compensated for their efforts. There’s been some disparaging talk of agents in the press lately, some of it brought on because a couple of big agencies made it clear they weren’t going to help authors who were self-publishing. But it’s also been talked about because some folks believe they don’t need anyone to help them; that they can write and market and sell books without any help from others. If that’s true, more power to them. I’m all for helping authors, and I’ve spent my life doing just that, whether I’m paid or doing it as a favor. I’ve tended to talk with the authors I represent about their careers, and how best to move forward in this crazy business, whether I’m making a buck or not. And right now, you probably need to start thinking about how you can be making some money from self-publishing. I’m happy to talk with you about the topic more on this blog, if you want to. Just let me know if you think we need to be exploring more self-publishing issues.
So that’s what is happening in publishing today. Here’s wishing you success with your books, no matter what publishing choices you make.