Archive for the ‘The Business of Writing’ Category

What does an unpublished writer do with her completed manuscript?

November 18th, 2015 | Questions from Beginners, Self-Publishing, The Business of Writing | 37 Comments

Someone wrote to ask, “If a writer has never published before, but has a completed novel manuscript ready to go, what would you recommend he/she do with it?” 
I like this question, since it’s a situation I see frequently. If an author has a manuscript done, I’d Chipheadshot1-150x150encourage him or her to spend some time creating a few other pieces: a one or two page synopsis, a quick overview, a one sentence hook, a good list of three or four comparable titles to give the novel context, and a one-page bio that focuses on platform. All of those things are going to be important when you get to the important stage of talking to an agent or editor.
Next, I’d probably say, “The first draft of any novel is usually bad.” So I’d encourage the author to use the next couple months to polish it. Take it to a critique group. Have writer friends read and comment. Get it in front of an editor. Pay for a professional critique, if that’s possible. Not every bit of advice you get will be great (or even correct), but listening to the wisdom of others, particularly those who are farther down the path, can help you improve your book. Take your time to improve it, rather than typing the last word and sending it off. Make it as sharp as possible, since that’s the best way to get it published.
Then I’d say to the author, “Check out ALL your options.” Should they introduce themselves to agents? Sure. Should they try to get it in front of some editors at a writing conference? Of course. Should they consider small presses? By all means. Should they explore self-publishing? Yes. The world of publishing has changed completed over the past five years, so start looking at the various options you have as a novelist. But don’t jump on the first opportunity that presents itself. Take your time, get some counsel, and try to move forward professionally. You may find it best to sign with an agent, who can get it in front of good editors. But you may find you’re writing to a niche audience, and the best step is to land with a micro-publisher who specializes in reaching that particular segment of the market. Or perhaps the best option is to simply get it up on Amazon and see how people respond. As I said, check your options, get some counsel, then decide.
My take: Too many writers are in a hurry. The writers who get it done, THEN take steps to get it polished and ready, will stand a better chance at succeeding. Does that help?
I’d love to hear from unpublished novelists… What questions are you wanting to ask an agent?

How can we create a great launch party?

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

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

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

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

How do I fire my agent without hurting any feelings?

October 19th, 2015 | Agents, Career, The Business of Writing | 4 Comments

Someone wrote to say, “I have published one nonfiction book, and have a contract for another.  But I’m not happy with my agent, and would like to change. What suggestions can you give me to make this happen without hurting feelings?”

You want advice for ending a relationship with no hurt feelings? I have none. The end of any relationship usually has some hurt feelings. If you’re decided, I’d bet that there will be some pain. But before you move forward with that, I’d like you to consider something… 

Most of the time an author wants to fire an agent it’s because some expectation wasn’t met — the project didn’t go out fast enough, the phone calls weren’t frequent enough, the money wasn’t great enough. The frustration builds, and they eventually get to the point where someone says, “That does it — I’m leaving!” But in my experience, having a good conversation can often clean up the bulk of the problems. (Not always, but a lot of the time.) So go back and talk to your agent before racing into this decision. And by the way, having clear expectations, for what both sides want, can resolve a lot of issues. Frequently a good conversation about the struggles you’re having will give the agent a better picture of how to move forward with you.

Case in point: I once had an author fire me and state, “You can never remember my children’s names!” My response was something along the line of, “Um… you have children?” I didn’t realize that part of the relationship was so important to her — turns out she felt it was critical. Now I try to do a better job of gauging what each author wants. Just so you know, there is no “one right way” to have an agent/author relationship, just like there’s no “one right way” to have any friendship. Each is unique.

So make sure you talk through the issues before you jump into a decision. With that in mind, let me offer a few guidelines for trying to move forward…

First, be clear. If your agent hasn’t emailed you frequently enough, say something like, “I’d prefer if I heard from you more often.” Get the issues out on the table. Last year I had an author complain to me about her agent. I encouraged the author to talk about her expectations clearly with her agent. She did, the two of them worked it out, and all is now well. As in most relationships, if you don’t have a clear airing of issues, it’s just about impossible to resolve the issues. 

Second, be honest. I had an author approach me a few years ago and describe this difficult event she’d had with her agent. That agent happened to be a friend of mine, and when we were chatting one time, the author’s name came up. Turns out that event never actually happened — the author was simply unhappy, and decided to make up a story in order to get out of the relationship. Hey, just tell the truth. If something happened that you didn’t like, talk about it. Perhaps there’s an explanation that will make things better. Maybe there are simply differing assumptions. 

Third, be reasonable. I know an author who wanted to fire her agent because he didn’t get her a deal in 15 days — on a project that smply didn’t merit that sort of pace. They say pride goes before a fall, so try to keep your ego and expectations in check a bit. Sometimes patience is all that’s needed — publishing is a slow business. And decisions I’ve raced into tend to be the ones I regret. A writing project, even a great writing project, can often take some time to sell. Don’t be in a hurry to change agents just because things haven’t gone as fast as you’d hoped. 

Of course, there are times where things just don’t work out. Two people don’t get along the way they thought they would, or an agent has tried and simply can’t sell a particular author. If you’ve come to the conclusion that it’s just not working, then talk about it with your agent. Neither side really wants to stay in a relationship that’s frustrating. In the end, you’ll need to write a polite letter that basically says, “Thanks for all your good efforts, but I’m going to go a different direction.” Make sure you’re contractually clear to move on, then try to end cleanly. Don’t burn bridges in this business.

Got a question about publishing or writing? Send it along and I’ll do my best not to screw up the answer.

How does an acquisitions editor acquire books?

October 15th, 2015 | Current Affairs, Publishing, The Business of Writing | 18 Comments

Someone wrote with this question: “When someone is hired by a publishing house and allowed to acquire new books, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team?”

An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. Most are brought up through the system. They know if the company does well with historical novels, or if they like self-books, or if they struggle to sell memoir. So most ack editors know the list and the company culture — and yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. If an editor likes thrillers, and is charged with building the list, you can pretty much expect his or her preferences will begin to be reflected in the books they’re doing. (Though not always — an editor at Harlequin is generally responsible for acquiring romantic novels, no matter how much she happens to like spec fiction… Again, knowing the corporate saga and culture is essential.) Editors shape houses. That’s the way it’s always been in publishing. So a publishing house that hires a bunch of new acquisitions people gets reshaped by the editors who work there.

That said, few editors (just a handful of executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire. The system looks like this:

Step One is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possible.

In Step Two the idea is usually taken to the editorial team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, they determine if it fits the corporate identity, they explore other factors (such as “is this book too similar to one we did last season?” and “don’t we have enough Regency romances already?”), and try to determine if the entire team feels they can get behind the book,. They may ask for further changes, they may reject it, or they may decide to continue the discussion. If the team likes it, the project then moves on to the next step.

Step Three is yet another committee, known as the publishing board (or publishing committee). This is the decision-making body at most every publishing house. It includes the top sales people to talk about market response, a representative from marketing to suggest ways the company could help get the word out, somebody from finance to count the beans, the publisher of the line to make sure and give strategic direction, some senior management types to improve the overall status of the group by wearing nice suits, maybe a sub-rights person, and various others. The editor presents the proposal. The participants read it, discuss it, explore sales and marketing potential, check their horoscopes, and do everything else possible in order to try and figure out if they should do the book. Sometimes they table the project in order to push the discussion to a later date. Eventually they make a sacrifice to the gods, throw the urim and thummin, and decide to publish something.

So the decision to publish a book really doesn’t reside with one person. It starts with one person (an editor, who is the champion for the book and essential to the process), but the decision is really made down the line, by a much wider group of people. That way they can all take credit for the project if the book hits the bestseller list, or blame the editor if the book tanks. Does all that make sense?

I can’t make sense of my royalty statement!

October 12th, 2015 | Career, The Business of Writing | 3 Comments

A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that said, “I get a royalty report twice a year from my publisher, but I don’t really understand it. What tips can you give me for reading a royalty report?”

I swear some companies hire Obfuscation Technicians, just to try and make royalty reports hard to decipher. And remember, each company has their own format for royalty statements, so it doesn’t always pay to compare, say, a Hachette royalty report to a MacMillan royalty report. Many authors simply get confused when trying to dig into the details of the thing. Even an experienced author will complain that the Random House statements don’t look anything like the HarperCollins statements, which are different from the Simon & Schuster statements. And, unfortunately, some of the smaller companies seem to be purposefully trying to make them impossible to read. (One mid-sized publisher just revised theirs — and they are now worse than ever.)

In addition, there are some companies that do a good job of breaking things down (like Harlequin), but may not do a good job of aggregating the numbers — so you can see a book did great in large print, but you can’t actually see how many copies it has sold overall. Some companies do a wonderful job of telling you how your book did this quarter, but they fail to include life-to-date information. Ugh.
With all that crud in mind, there are about ten questions I need to keep whenever I approach any royalty statement…

1. Who is the author?
2. What is the project?
3. How many copies sold?
4. In what formats?
5. What was the royalty rate(s)?
6. How much money did it earn this period?
7. What was the opening balance?
8. How much is being paid now?
9. Is any being held back? (a provision allows the publisher to retain some of the earned money in case of future returns)
10. Is any money yet to earned out on this title?

Of course, there are some other questions you’ll want to consider:
Is there sub-rights income or other format income?
What was the retail price of the book in this format?
Are there sales descriptions that are helpful?
What are the life-to-date (LTD) sales of the book?
Are the trends for this title going up or down?
Is there some aspect we should be aware of? (For example, it’s exploding as an e-book, or an organization bought 5000 copies.)

Again, each company has its own format for royalty reports. And until very recently, they were all sending them by hard copy (we’re just now seeing several of the publishers go to digital royalty reports, which should be faster and more searchable, as well as being more eco-friendly). So there’s no “one right way” to approach a royalty report. Still, if you go into your royalty statement with those questions, it’ll start to make sense, no matter who sent it. You’ll be able to figure out how many copies sold, how much money it made, how much is being paid to you, and if it’s earned out. (Historically only about one quarter of all books earn out their advances, though that’s changing in the new publishing economy of smaller advances.)

Of course, that’s just the start… because once you have those basic questions, you NOW have to look carefully at the statement, make sure it accurately reflects the royalties promised in the contract, and do the math. Does it add up? They frequently don’t, and you have to figure out why. And yes, for those who are new to the industry, you need to know that we frequently find errors in royalty statements. The rates are wrong, the math has errors, or payments are missing or credited incorrectly. Remember, the people plugging in the numbers are human, and handling thousands of titles, so errors are going to occur.

So, yes, royalty statements have problems. And yes, that’s why someone needs to be in charge of reviewing all your royalty statements — if not your agent, then you do it yourself. There is software that can track it carefully, but it’s generally expensive and, in my view, redundant to what most agents can do quickly.

Hope this helps us have a discussion… You’re welcome to ask follow-up questions!


Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

June 29th, 2015 | Agents, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment

This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.


If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.


So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen it and said “no thanks.” (And I don’t want to be surprised by having an editor tell me, “Um, Chip… we already turned this down three months ago.” It makes me look stupid, and won’t win you any friends.) So just be open about it up front. Maybe I know of some houses that haven’t seen it yet. Perhaps I know of changes at a house, so the story might now be a fit. Maybe I know of an editor at a house who is looking for exactly this type of story, but we need to change the book’s title or the names of the characters to get a fresh review. Maybe I can suggest a smaller house for you to go to, where it might be a fit. Just be open about it. And understand that if everyone has seen the book, another agent probably isn’t going to help you land a deal. At that point, you may want to self-publish, or set it aside for a season.

Ask the Agent: If I have a contract in hand…

March 25th, 2015 | Agents, Current Affairs, The Business of Writing | 2 Comments

Some fascinating questions have come in recently…

“I know of several agents who edit or write on the side. Is there anything wrong with that?”

I’m on record as having said, “You’ll do best if you find a full-time agent.” But I also recognize the times are changing – now we’re seeing agents help authors self-publish, or help with marketing plans, or have some other part-time position, so I know our role has changed. An agent who also edits or writes on the side has become fairly common. My feeling is that those agents need to be careful not to mix the two – and I’ll use myself as an example. While I will always go through a proposal and make sure it’s strong, editing and tweaking as necessary, I don’t freelance edit. I tell authors that my company is not an editorial service, so if they need a full-blown developmental edit, they’re better off hiring a freelance editor. I generally will give authors three or four names of editors who I like and trust… but I always explain that I don’t care which editor the author approaches, and I’m always quick to say these people don’t work for me, and I don’t get a kickback for recommending any particular editor. So if an agent wants to do some freelance editing, I think they have to create a bright line about separating the two aspects of their business (I recently saw one agent tell authors, “I’ll represent this if you’ll hire me to edit it first”). They have to be very careful that they don’t try to sell their editorial services to clients, which will get them kicked out of the AAR. Similarly, I know of a few agents who also work as freelance writers. So long as they’re not selling their writing services to clients, and basically running two separate businesses, I think they can make that work. I understand why they need to do that financially, but I think they have to be very careful that the two services don’t sell each other. The same holds true for an agent who works part time as a publicist – you don’t try to sell your marketing services to your agency clients. The bottom line seems clear to me: If I am paid to edit or write it, I shouldn’t also try to represent it. To do so is unethical.


“I’ve heard it said that one way to get an agent is to get a contract. Let’s say an agent was willing to look at a contract and offered representation. Am I correct in assuming the agent would take the usual cut on that first contract, although the agent didn’t shop the manuscript? Or does this type of thing even happen?”

This is a question that I am frequently asked at conferences, so I’m glad to see it come up on the blog. Yes, there are agents who will step into a deal that’s already in place. (In fact, I know of one agent who has publicly stated, “If you’ve got a contract offer, call me!”) Is that acceptable? Maybe… but if an author ever comes to me with a deal in hand, my first advice to him or her is to say, “Check out a good contract review service, or research getting an experienced publishing lawyer to review your contract.” You see, once you have a deal in hand, the hard work has been done. The agent didn’t help you concept the book; didn’t help shape your proposal; didn’t shop it to publishers. All they’re doing is stepping in to read the contract and get paid. So in my view the agent should not be taking a full 15% commission. Maybe the agent can help improve the deal, or help with the marketing of the book. Certainly he or she ought to help you with career choices. But I’ve regularly seen authors pay 15% to an agent who did almost nothing to earn the money, and that bugs me. I think authors need to check out other sources. (And I think agents need to have the integrity to recognize when they don’t deserve a full commission.)


“I need some advice about USA Book News Awards. Is this a legitimate contest or some sort of scam? I’m curious about them and other contests like this, where you have to pay a tidy sum to enter the contest, and there sure are a lot of finalists.”

I don’t know that the USA Book News Awards are a scam, but they are a vanity award. You pay a fee (I think it’s currently $69), you’re sent stickers to put on your book, and some unknown entity selects the winners. (For the record, the USA Book News Awards are owned by a PR firm, JPX Media.) There are a bunch of these, and have been criticized for creating numerous categories so that everyone who enters wins some sort of award. Just so we’re clear, there are certainly legitimate writing contests and awards. But if you’re paying a fee and are guaranteed an award, that’s a scam, not legitimate contest.


“I recently read somewhere that you don’t necessarily need an agent if you write for children, and that it might be better use of your time to submit directly to a publisher. Is that true?”

I’ve never been an agent evangelist – the type of person who insists that EVERY author have an agent. The fact is, you might be able to survive just fine as an author without an agent. Certainly there are children’s authors (as well as adult authors) who do. The children’s publishing market is its own world, quite separate from that of adult publishing. Right now it’s certainly possible to work directly with an editor with your children’s book… but in my view, it’s getting harder. If you’re simply talking to an agent to try and land a deal, you may want to simply go to a good Society of Children’s Book Writers and Editors conference, and try pitching your idea to some editors. But if you’re looking for story help, editorial direction, career advice, contract experience, and connections to the industry, an agent may be what helps you move forward.


“With the novel I wrote, I took on the role of a packager and hired editors, illustrators, photographers, graphic artists, and then put it all together in Adobe Indesign. I was only thinking of myself as a self published author, but your blog makes me wonder if I should try to attract the attention of a publisher. Would a publisher consider this, particularly if my novel is similar to a recent hit movie?”

If the movie you’re referencing is already out, it’ll be too late to tie your novel to it – but you might be able to reference the movie as something trending in the culture, and therefore link your novel’s appeal to that same trend. But overall, interest in previously-published novels goes up and down. For a while you couldn’t get anyone to pay attention to a book that had already been released. Then things changed, and publishers were looking for novels that had been self-published and had some success. Now it’s turned again, and you’ll find it hard to have a publisher pay close attention to your self-pubbed novel, unless it’s done very well… and the problem with that is simple: If your self-published novel has done well, what’s your motivation for giving it over to a traditional publisher and making less money on each copy sold? To do that, you’ll need to think carefully over all the issues – can a traditional publisher reach people you’re not reaching? Can they improve the product? Can they take it off your hands, and thus free you to do more writing? If not, you may not have much incentive to go with a legacy publisher.

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Thursdays with Amanda: Is Your Nonfiction Book Idea Viable?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And you know what he said?

He said no.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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