Archive for the ‘The Business of Writing’ Category

The Work of It (a guest blog)

October 31st, 2014 | Marketing and Platforms, The Business of Writing | 0 Comments

Unless you’ve written the best and most original piece of work since To Kill a Mockingbird—and of course you have, darling—you’re going to have to hustle to sell your book. Online, in-person, over the phone to booksellers who’ve never heard of you and question your desire to sit-and-sign at their store. However you decide to do it, it’s part of the job, and you might as well enjoy it.

From my first conversation with Chip MacGregor, he made it clear he was all about the business of writing. It’s not enough to write well, to craft compelling stories, to engage readers on the page. Like any other profession, roughly a third of your time and energy has to be committed to finding work and selling your product. It was true when I ran a software company and it’s true now.

Long before I had my deal with Down & Out Books to publish Stinking Rich, I’d decided the best thing I could do for my debut novel would be to tour it. I have the luxury of time and the dollars I’d spend on gas and accommodation would never generate anything beyond a blip in advertising. What I didn’t know was how much work would be involved beyond the hours on the road.

Pulling together a database of independent bookstores is an interesting task in an era of store closures. With mystery bookstores in particular, it felt like one in three had disappeared since the start of the 2008 recession, coincident with the surge in ebooks and online retailing. Still, most of the people still in the game are deeply passionate about what they do, and many are bound to succeed regardless of market changes. I even met one bookseller brave enough to respond to the local Barnes and Noble closure by opening up last year. She couldn’t imagine her town without a bookstore.

Booking events, even with the help of Christy Campbell, my publicist at D&OB, was a challenge for a debut genre writer from a small press in peak book season. (Hint: try NOT to wind up with a September publication date your first time out.) But we stuck at it and wound up with over twenty gigs, a mix of author co-appearances, solo book store events, sit-and-signs, and readings in bars.

I’d started doing library readings and Noir at the Bars about a year before my novel came out, so I’d like to say it was a breeze, but that’d be a lie. The readings came off okay—I stuck to sometimes abridged segments loaded with dialogue, and audiences usually get a kick out of the dark bits in my work—but the open author discussions took some getting used to. All of a sudden, I felt expected to perform without a script, without the luxury of editing my words or rehearsing what I’d say. Even in the most comfortable and friendly environment, I had to be “on”.

And before and after each event, chatting with the bookseller, I still had to in sales mode (which for me has always meant active listening). If I’m going to meet 50 or 60 booksellers over a two-month period, I’d better not let them become a blur. These are the people I want hand-selling my third novel two years from now. I need to know what makes their business hum.

But wait, 50-60 booksellers? Wasn’t I talking about 20-some events? Who are the other ones? They’re the ones along my route who said, “No, thanks” to my appearance. The ones I heard of from people I met on the road or who turned up on Google that I’d somehow missed while planning the tour. They all get a visit, a quick chat, and where it makes sense, an ARC. And some of them will host me next time I’m out. Because I’ve made an effort to get on their radar.

Sound like work? Sure. Exhausting? You bet. But when you’re passionate about what you’re doing, it doesn’t feel that way. And when I finally hit my desk again, there’s a boatload of new stories to spill.

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Rob Brunet is the author of Stinking Richwhich has just released with Down and Out Books. What could go wrong when a backwoods motorcycle club hires a high school dropout to tend a barn full of high-grade marijuana? Um… plenty. Have a look at Rob’s funny, twisted look at the local good ol’ boys. Famed writing guru Les Edgerton called it “one of the wildest romps you’ll ever go on.” Rob is currently out on the road, pitching it to readers. 

Ask the Agent: How do I set up my writing business?

October 27th, 2014 | The Business of Writing | 2 Comments

Someone asked, “How do you set up your writing business? What are the benefits to treating your writing business as a ‘real job’ by setting it up in a professional manner? And what did you do to make that happen?” 

Let me offer a handful of thoughts for you…

1. You’re doing the right thing by asking questions. Finding some folks who have done this before is a good way to start. Begin by talking to people who have been down the path before. Ask them what they’ve learned. 

2. Find a place to write. Make this your official writing spot and designate it as your official home office, then read up on what the IRS will allow you as a tax deduction.

3. Establish a writing time. For most authors, that’s simply “morning.” Protect a time each day when you can do some actual writing and not just check email, do phone calls, meet people for coffee, etc. When I started, I set aside 6 to 8 every morning. (I had young kids. Later that would not have worked. I hate mornings.) Tom Wolfe starts writing at 9 and stops at noon. Find a time that works, in which you’ll just WRITE, and not do phone calls and emails (and Facebook). 

4. Create a filing system. (“Alphabetical by title or author” works well. Don’t rely on the “Eureka!” system.)

5. Set up a bank account that is just for your writing business. Sign up for PayPal.

6. Set up your address list. Keep emails and phone numbers handy… and if you want to move into the bold new world of, say, 1996, invest in a phone that will keep those handy.

7. Create a calendar. Not just for your day, but for the big projects you’ve got. It’ll help you figure out what you’re writing when. It’ll also remind you that you’ve got to take Fiona to her orthodontist appointment, and what night the Snyders are having their party. 

8. Group similar activities. Do all your mail at one time. Group your phone calls back to back so you get through them more quickly. Ditto email, if that were possible. Things that are “occasional but regular” should be scheduled — for example, I try to look at submissions every Friday morning.

9. Create a budget. How much do you expect to make this year? How much do you expect to spend? (Having more of the former makes for a better business, by the way.)

10. Create a to-do list. Every day. Work through it. On Friday (or every other Friday) start at the bottom and work up – that’ll prevent you from never doing the one task you hate.

11. Create a contact list. Capture names and email addresses, so you can stay in touch with the people in the industry who matter. 

12. Invest in a separate business phone line or business cell phone.

13. Invest in a website and business cards. (I don’t know if you really need a blog, but you certainly need a site where people can find out about you and connect with you.) 

14. Invest in the help you need – training or people or space or tools.

15. Invest in a great computer and the software you’ll need. (If you work in publishing, you’ll need Word.) 

16. Invest is a good printer, preferably with a scanner.

17. Invest in yourself — take a class, attend a conference, join a support group, get therapy, whatever it is you need to grow.

18. Learn to keep good records. If you need a class on it, take one. (There are even personal organization trainers who will help you get organized.)

19. Learn about taxes – so that you track income and expenses, and learn to maximize information.

20. And the BEST advice? Write regularly. If you don’t do that, you won’t make a living at this.

That help? What advice would you give someone who is starting a writing business? 

Being Open to Change in Your Writing Career (a guest blog)

October 24th, 2014 | Career, The Business of Writing | 6 Comments

My teen daughter’s swim coach has a list he gives his teams called The Habits of Mind. The point of using it in sports is to get each athlete to change their thinking and consider a new way to approach their sport. Coach is known for constantly telling his swimmers, “You need to change your thinking.” I could have used Coach’s admonishment three years ago when I was stubbornly waiting for the next contract to come along.

The only option I could see was to get published through a legacy publisher again or to give up on publication. I didn’t want to think about doing it any other way. Considering the tough times the publishing industry was going through, I had pretty much set myself up for failure. So, even as several of my publishing friends were busy taking matters into their own hands by self-publishing, I refused to change my mind about any other publishing method beyond traditional publishing.

To be fair, indie publishing hasn’t always been what it is now, so my reasons for waiting weren’t all bad. There were a few good pioneers self-publishing and doing it well, but there were enough poorly written works flooding the market that I had reason to pause and consider. Where my thinking was off was how I told people I would never go out on my own in lieu of traditional publishing, and you know the old saying about saying never.

I finally let go of never and changed my thinking earlier this year when I began to see huge strides in the industry. Terms like hybrid and indie took hold and well-respected authors started going rogue, as they say. I started to wonder why, when I had the experience of two legacy books under my belt and three unpublished books waiting for an audience, was I sitting back and letting other authors have all the fun – and maybe the money too. I changed my way of thinking.

If my mind had still been closed to anything besides legacy publishers earlier this year, the opportunity to sign up with an up-and-coming publisher would have passed me by. Of course, I did not jump right in. I’m still more of a toe dipper than a diver, or even a swimmer, but I wanted to be part of the indie scene to get my stories out to my readers as soon as possible. My only problem with self-publishing was that I didn’t feel ready to do everything on my own. For one thing, I looked at what my friends were doing and didn’t think I had the time or talent to handle all the editing, uploading, and designing self-publishing requires. And call me a snoot, but I also still wanted a stamp of approval that says, “We have vetted this book, and we are going to publish it.”

The opportunity to step out of my own box and take charge of my career without self-publishing came in the form of a digital publishing company that also publishes some print titles through print on demand. The way this opportunity arrived was that I had written a blog post about how I had begun to change my way of thinking about indie publishing and my long-time author friend, Amy Sue Nathan, read it, contacted me that day about this company she had been editing for, and told me I should check them out. I would still have to submit my writing, and they could reject it, but if accepted contracts were more favorable to authors who retained more control over their careers. When my manuscript was accepted, the gate I had locked against trying anything new in my career swung wide open. And all because I had started to think differently about my writing career prospects.

Like other independent authors, I am still very involved with almost all aspects of my book and responsible for a great deal more than I am with my legacy publisher, but I like being able to take charge of my career. If you want to be indie, but aren’t sure about self-publishing, you should definitely consider submitting to a smaller press. I don’t know why this option of submitting to smaller, full-service independent and digital presses isn’t talked about as much as self-publishing when we discuss going indie or becoming hybrid authors. Maybe it is because there is still a gatekeeper to get through, but to an author like me, it was worth giving it a try. If I hadn’t, my readers might have never been able to get their hands on my latest novel.

Whatever you do, try looking at your career in a new way. Allow yourself to think about what you could do to change your career. You aren’t as powerless as you think.

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Tina Ann Forkner is a Women’s Fiction writer. Her latest novel, Waking Up Joy, just released from Tule Publishing Group. She is also the author of two other novels, Ruby Among Us and Rose House, from Random House. Tina is a substitute teacher and makes her home in Wyoming. Connect with her at www.tinaannforkner.com or @tinaannforkner on twitter.

Ask the Agent: What are the new companies making a mark in publishing?

September 17th, 2014 | Current Affairs, The Business of Writing, Trends | 3 Comments

My recent blog posts on trends shaping the publishing industry has led to a number of people writing to as about other new companies that are doing significant things in the world of books. Several people simply asked, “Who are the new companies I need to know about in publishing?” I can think of several…

BookBub — This is a site that offers a daily deal for certain ebooks, and they have a huge database of readers they market to. Publishers and authors suggest titles and pay a fee to BookBub, and the company has an editorial team that selects the titles they want to offer. The price is usually very low (sometimes free), they send out an email advertisement to a couple million followers, and authors have been raving about the results. Another company, Riffle, is trying to do the same thing, only by offering more choices by letting the readers select the books they want to see discounted.

Oyster — A company that is the ebook version of NetFlix. You pay them a monthly fee, and you can read all the ebooks you want. They’ve recently signed a couple of deals with publishers, and their popularity is growing. (So much that recently Amazon created Kindle Unlimited, which does the same thing, only with a larger number of self-published books.) And, if you’re not familiar, Entitle is another company that does something similar. Right now these two and the company below are leading the way with ebook subscription services.

Scribd — They also offer a monthly subscription service to ebook titles, but they’re best known for document sharing and digital distribution. What you may not know is that Scribd does a nice job of working with authors, offering a bunch of analytics on who is reading what, which ebook device they’re using, which genres are most popular, etc. In my view, this is one of the key companies to watch. They think creatively, are nimble, and seem determined to make an impact on the world of books.

Librify — Just started a year ago, they’re basically a “Book of the Month Club” for ebook readers, and they are partnering with Target to sign up people and get them reading. I keep hearing they’re right on the verge of breaking out.

Atavist — I’m always surprised I don’t hear more from authors about this fabulous site. Started by a journalist, they offer great writing that is shorter form than books — most frequently journalistic pieces in the 10,000 to 20,000 word range, often including video and other visual elements. If you’re like me and enjoy great nonfiction writing, you should check them out. A similar company is Byliner, which has done short-form fiction as well as nonfiction projects, and has teamed with some headliner authors in the past year.

DailyLit — Almost ten years old, this company got started by emailing chapters of Pride and Prejudice to people who wanted to read great books in bite-sized chunks, but needed someone to help them stay on track. Now they have their own serialized fiction projects that they send out to subscribers. I mention them because I know several authors who love their dose of daily literature arriving via email or app.

Zola Books — This is another one of those companies that may or not may survive, but has an interesting place in the business. They’re a combination ebook store and social media network, and they take the unique approach of working with large independent bookstores (The Tattered Cover in Denver is one example), small indie presses, as well as working directly with some authors (such as Audrey Niffenegger, of The Time Traveler’s Wife) to create and sell exclusive titles. Readers can comment on them and interact with the authors. It’s a fascinating site. A company that’s similar is Bilbary, which sells ebooks that can be read on any device.

Wattpad — One of the earliest fan-fiction sites, this is aimed at letting people come on to post their thoughts, poems, stories, and articles on the site, then letting others respond to it all. They started out focusing on young writers, ran into trouble when people started posting copyrighted material, and have said they’re making an effort to stop the stealing. But they’re one of the most well-funded of the newer companies, have signed deals with most of the major publishers, have done book launches for significant authors, and now offer their own crowdfunding plans. In my view, it’s turned into a promotional site with some social media built in.

SliceBooks — Remember when you used to put together a playlist of your favorite songs on a CD? This company does the same thing, only with chapters of books, to try and create marketing pieces for publishers and libraries. And, if you’re an author looking for new companies that offer helpful content, by all means check out BiblioCrunch, which is sort of a combination do-it-yourself publishing site and an Angie’s List. You can visit the site to find cover designers, freelance editors, publicists, ebook consultants, and the like. Some people like them, others find they tend to push a bit hard, but they certainly have become a leader in the field of DIY indie publishing.

There you go… Fourteen companies that are becoming movers and shakers in publishing. What companies have you worked with that the rest of the folks in publishing should know about? 

 

 

Ask the agent: “What if i don’t want to talk about money?”

August 25th, 2014 | Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 1 Comment

A writer sent this: “I hate talking money when it comes to my writing. I wanted to do this for the art, not for money! How can I get over my reluctance to talk dollars?”

I realize some authors are reluctant to talk about money issues, but it’s necessary if you’re going to get to know the business. When I was a free-lance writer, I noticed that publishers (both magazine and book publishers) tended to put me on the bottom of the pay ladder because I was a small free-lancer. I once called a publisher to complain that I hadn’t been paid, and the response was, “Oh. Yeah. Sorry. Guess we’ll get you next quarter.” To them, it was a measley $1500 they owed me. But to me, it was MY HOUSE PAYMENT that month. So, yeah, I eventually got over my reluctance to talk money with publishers.

That means you have to know what you’re worth (in terms of money-per-page or money-per-hour), and you have to be able to share that with others. The good news is that it gets easier to talk about when you have a pretty good feeling of your value. I mean, if you know you should be making $3000 per month, and the publisher asks you to work on a freelance project that will take two months, it’s much easier to say, “I’ll need to make about $6000 for that project” than to take a wild stab at a number. 

So let me suggest something… Figure out what you’d like to make from your writing in a year. (You need to be reasonable. Don’t say, “A million dollars” unless your name is James Patterson, Suzanne Collins, or George R.R. Martin.) Let’s say you think it’s reasonable for you to make $18,000 this year from writing part time. That means you need to make, on average, $1500 per month, or about $375 per week. If you start looking for ways to generate some income with your writing, that may not be so far-fetched. And if you land one book contract that pays an advance of  twelve thousand, the goal becomes much easier. But start by figuring out what “financial success” is to you, as a writer.  

Often writers act like they can’t talk about the money they make (“I signed a confidentiality agreement!”) — which may be true, but only in terms of sharing the wording or the deal you received. It’s usually not  a violation to talk honestly with friends about how much money you’re making with your work. That’s one of the reasons I encourage writers to make friends in the industry, attend conferences, and learn from other writers. It’s so much better to have some friends who understand how tough this industry can be, and talk with you openly about what they’re doing to earn income. (And by the way, when I was a freelance writer, I found one excellent way to feel better about my income, if I was sitting around with a bunch of people who intimidated me: Exaggerate. I found I just  felt better when I could look at someone at a conference and say, “Oh, yeah, I made $50,000 via my writing last year.” Okay, it wasn’t true, but for a moment I felt better… :o) 

Let’s face facts: If you’re uncomfortable talking about money, or you can’t be bothered nagging that publisher who keeps forgetting to pay you (and there are a some publishers who struggle with this), then you need to find an agent you’re comfortable with, who is competent with both numbers and negotiation, and talk to him or her about handling this for you. You’ll find it’s worth it to you.

But back to your question: If you’re uncomfortable talking about money, you probably either need to give that concern over to someone who isn’t,  OR you need to find a way to get comfortable with the topic by introducing it to other writers and starting to share your stories. 

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

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

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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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

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

Ask the Agent: What determines a collaborative writer’s fee?

July 30th, 2014 | Career, The Business of Writing | 0 Comments

A writer I know sent me this note: “I know you represent a number of collaborative writers, who help create books for speakers and celebrities. I have an interest in doing that, since I have a lot of experience with writing, but I’m trying to figure out how I determine what to charge. Can you help?”

Sure I can. There are at least seven things a writer will want to consider when trying to set a price to do someone’s book. (And, just so we’re clear, I’m going to refer to the “writer” as the collaborator who creates the text, and the “author” as the celebrity who has the initial idea.)
1. The WORK – If the author is a speaker who simply hands you some talks on a CD or MP3 file and asks you to create a book from them, that’s much easier than if she asks you to interview him, or hands you bad sample chapters. This sort of work is really done on a sliding scale — does the author expect you to create this from thin air, or does she have materials to get you going? The more work involved, the more the writer needs to be paid. So the amount of the work itself is a consideration.
2.  The TIME – How much time is expected of the writer? This could be a function of the size of the book (a 100,000-word book requires more time than a 50,000-word book), or a function of the process (turning speeches into chapters is much easier than doing an interview and generating all new content yourself). The more time it takes, the more the writer is paid.
3. The SPEED – A book requiring a quick turnaround needs to pay the writer more money, since he is setting aside other projects to hurry this one through. I’ve had writers who were basically paid double their usual fee to get a book done on short notice.
4. The ATTENTION – A great collaborator’s name on the cover can help sell books. For example, Susy Flory hit the New York Times bestseller list with Thunder Dog. Publishers trust her. Cecil Murphey is the collaborative writer who created 90 Minutes in Heaven. Cecil’s name is on a multi-million seller, and that lends credibility and sales. That sort of attention is worth something when it comes time to paying the collaborator.
5. The EXPERIENCE – Simply put, an experienced writer makes more than an inexperienced writer. I frequently work with David Thomas, who has created nearly a dozen well-crafted, well-reviewed books for speakers. He also spent a couple decades working as a newspaper reporter and columnist for a couple major newspapers. David has the experience that book publishers love, and they’re always willing to pay more for that sort of experience.
6. The DEAL – If the author has a six-figure deal in place, he is no doubt willing to pay a bit more than if he is sitting on a $15,000 advance.
7. The MARKET – If the book idea you’re going to be working on it something that’s hot and in the news, or if this is a book that is tied to some sort of important date or event, the project could conceivably pay more than if it’s simply a self-help book the publisher is hoping to see break out.
8. The PITA – If the author is a well-known pain-in-the-ass, the writer can be expected to be paid a bit more, just as combat pay for having to deal with him or her. (And yes… I’ve also had this happen. Remember, I have done numerous deals with professional athletes over the years. There is no more pampered, out-of-touch group of people on the planet than people who have played a sport professionally. I’ve long been surprised Dante, when writing his Inferno, didn’t include a spot for professional athletes when describing the inner circles of hell. But I digress.)
9. The HISTORY – A collaborative writer might start out only earning a few thousand dollars for doing his or her first book. But with some history, that number will grow. Many newer collaborative writers are being paid in the $15,000 range. More experienced collabs are making between $20,000 and $30,000 for creating a book with a speaker. And the best collaborators are making in the $50,000 to $75,000 range per book, with the occasional six-figure payout for a huge book with a major celebrity. The writer’s payment history will help shape the negotiation for the use of their services.
I suppose, if I wanted to make this an even ten things, I could say that the writer’s enthusiasm for the project could affect the amount of money they are paid on a project (a collaborator may say “yes” to a smaller deal than normal just because he believes in the story, or because she thinks the book has life-changing potential). But, in my view, those nine things will probably determine what a collaborative writer is going to make on a project.
Does that help? Feel free to ask me questions if there’s more you’d like to know.

Thursdays with Amanda: I’ve Done Everything to Market My Book and No One is Buying It

July 17th, 2014 | Career, Marketing and Platforms, The Business of Writing | 10 Comments

2013amanda2Amanda 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.

Ever paid for a book ad that did nothing for your sales numbers? Or maybe you scheduled some book signings that saw only a handful of people in attendance. Or you ran a giveaway only to see a few measly entries. Or you got some big-name Tweeter to give your book a shout-out, but it resulted in … crickets.

Sound familiar?

I wish I could say that marketing, no matter what the strategy, always pays off, but I can’t. Many times, authors find themselves spinning their wheels, frantically trying this or that, hoping that SOMETHING will stick. And you know what? Large companies do the same thing. Sure, they have the money that allows them to have some marketing successes, but for the most part, marketing is a gamble. It’s a risk. It’s time and investment in a strategy that no one can be sure will pay off.

If you’re a self-published author, you have a much better scenario going for you, because you don’t have a publisher breathing down your neck, waiting for those sales to hit.

If you’re a trad-pub author, well… Sure, you get a boost from store distribution and a some other perks the publisher may off you, but if sales are bad you have to deal with the fact that your publisher may not want to do another book with you right away…or they may be talking about putting your book out of print…or they may…just…go… dark…

So what do you do in this time of frustration and panic?

First, remember these things:

  1. It’s likely that your marketing efforts made your sales better than they would have been had you done nothing at all. So yeah, 2000 copies sold probably feels pretty dismal…but it’s a whole lot better than 1200 copies sold.
  2. You’re planting seeds and cultivating relationships. We live in a world in which consumers want to have a relationship with the brands and artists that they enjoy. By being present on social media and doing some other promo things, you’re getting those relationships started. Keep at it, and it will pay off.
  3. A tiny number of first-time authors see great sales. A majority of authors have to get a few books under their belt before they hit their stride and begin to see a fanbase take place. So keep that in mind when you’re beating yourself up over the small sales of your first or second book.
  4. Your publisher is not the beginning and end of your career. And neither is your agent. You may get dumped by either one if you have (and keep having) low sales numbers. But that does NOT mean you’re down for the count. Other agents and publishers may be interested in you! Remember: just because one publisher failed to give you wings, doesn’t mean that it’s a lost cause. All publishers know this. What doesn’t work for one house may work for another. And of course there is always the self-pub option should you want to go that route.
  5. You’re not alone. I think every author feels like they’re failing in one way or another. Like they’re getting the bad end of the deal or like they don’t know what they’re doing. But they don’t want anyone to know this! So when authors get together, they tend to make everything sound great. Greater than great, even. They will say things like “my agent got me blah blah blah” and “my publisher is doing this or that” and “I demanded x and they delivered” and “I found out that if you do y, then you get z!” Basically, everyone acts like they’ve got it figured out and that this publishing thing comes easily for them. But as an agent, let me tell you…every author feels a bit of panic. Every author wonders if they’re doing it right. Every author has a list of things that they’d change or would do-over or are just plain nervous about. And every author is worried about sales…maybe not every moment of every day, but even authors who are wildly successful have a fear that things will suddenly go south. It’s only human. So remember…YOU’RE NOT ALONE. Even if it feels like you are.

Feel better? I hope so. Though I know there are a few of you who are like “okay this is great and all, but tell me what to DO.” So for those of you who are practical to a fault (myself included!), here are some questions you can ask yourself to see if perhaps your marketing train is a bit off track:

1. Have I been limiting promotions to friends and family? If yes, then this is a problem. Friends and family will make the decision to buy (or not buy) your book within the first months of release. So if you are still targeting them four months after the book has come out, you’re wasting your time. It’s now time to find new audiences. New readers.

2. Have I been spreading promotions out over time instead of hitting it hard? If yes, then this is a problem. Some authors do an ad here, a radio spot there, a blog post here, an event there. This can lead to low sales, because consumers rarely buy books on impulse. Instead, they buy books that they have heard/seen/read a lot about. So you want your marketing to hit it hard, providing lots of potential touch points with your readers. This will get them to buy.

3. Have I been too quiet about my book? If yes, then this is a problem. Tell people you have a book! Most are really excited to hear such news.

4. Have I been “creating” more content instead of promoting what I already have? If yes, then this is a problem. When marketing, it’s tempting to create materials in an attempt to use them for marketing…but then you discover that you have to market the materials that you created! Videos, digital short stories, PDF downloads…all of these require their own marketing plans. They aren’t a marketing plan in and of themselves.

5. Have I been ignoring the data? If yes, then this is a problem. Sometimes it’s impossible to know what has succeeded and what has failed in terms of marketing. But by analyzing sales rankings and Google Analytics, you’ll get a pretty good idea! If you aren’t monitoring these things, then you run the risk of spending time repeating tactics that don’t work.

How do you deal with these kinds of author burdens? Any tips on handling the pressure?

Can you explain how my agent gets paid?

July 16th, 2014 | Agents, The Business of Writing | 7 Comments

Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain how an agent gets paid? Does the publisher send the author’s checks to the agent? Or does the money go to the author, who writes the agent a check? And is all this done before or after taxes?”

Happy to explain this. Traditionally, when it was time for the publisher to send money, they would send the entire amount to the agent, who would then deduct his or her commission (the standard is 15%) and send a check for the balance to the author within ten days. This was the system that was in place for years, and many agencies still work with that system. The strength of it is that the agent knows the author has been paid, and paid the full amount. This is all pre-tax money, so at the end of the year the agent would send a 10-99 form to the author, detailing how much money was paid.

When I started working as an agent 15 years ago, I was working for Alive Communications in Colorado, and they used a different system — divided payments. With that system, the publisher cuts TWO checks. The first is sent directly to the author, for 85% of the deal. The second is sent to the agent, for 15% (along with some sort of evidence that the author has been paid his or her amount). To my way of thinking, that was a better system. The author got paid faster. There was less bookkeeping for me. I didn’t have to fill out the 10-99’s. And, most importantly, I would never get a phone call from an author saying, “Hey, you big doofus — the publisher says they sent you my money two weeks ago! Where’s my check?!” I’ve found too many fights in business occur over money, and I prefer that the authors I represent feel as though we’re on the same side, and we have no reason to fight over money. (That’s why I’ve never charged back any expenses to an author… I don’t want to have to call anyone and say, “Um, gee, do you think you could maybe send me that seventeen dollars and fifty-two cents?”) So when I started my own company eight years ago, I decided to keep in place the “divided payments” system.

Both work. Neither is better than the other — they’re just different. Think of it like this: some agents are great at editorial work, others are great at contracts and negotiations, others are really strong at marketing, others are strongest at career development. Nobody is great at everything, and you want to find the agent that fits your style. It’s the same way with payments — either system can work well. I use the one I’m most comfortable with.

By the way, I’ve occasionally heard other agents say that not everyone will do divided payments. But in my 15 years of doing this full time, I’ve had exactly ONE US publisher refuse to cut two checks (it was Overlook, a fine small publishing house in New York, and the woman who bitched and moaned about it there retired soon after that deal was done). Few of the foreign publishers want to be bothered with cutting two checks, so if your agent is doing foreign deals, that money will most likely be paid to the agency and forwarded on to you.

Back to getting paid: Publishers used to all pay your advance half on signing, half on delivery. Now most pay a third on signing, a third on delivery, and a third on publication (with the people at Random House fighting to pay a quarter on signing, a quarter on delivery, a quarter on publication, and a quarter when the book flips from hardcover to trade paper… sigh… another sign of the apocalypse — they’ll soon be asking for a quarter to be paid upon the CEO becoming eligible for social security, no doubt). Of course, an advance is all recoupable against your royalties, so with each book sold some money is credited to your account. You earn back your advance with royalties, then when the book earns out the publisher starts setting your money aside and will send it to you either quarterly or semi-annually, depending on your contract.

What other questions do you have about the money side of book publishing?

Ask the Agent: “If I already have an offer, do I need an agent?”

July 14th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing | 7 Comments

Someone wrote me to say, “I was just offered a contract on my novel. Since I don’t have an agent, should I seek one at this point? Would it be better to have the agent simply review the contract for a fee?”

There’s quite a debate about this issue. I know several agents who would say, “If you already have an offer — call me!” I mean, they’d be happy to get 15% for a deal they’ve done no work on. But I have some doubts about the value in that type of situation. Let’s say you got a contract offer featuring a $10,000 advance. If the agent steps in, he or she takes $1500. Is the value of their work worth that? You can ask a contract service to review your contract for around $500. (But be careful… there are good and bad authors, good and bad agents, and good and bad contract review services. Make sure to ask questions, so you get someone who knows what they’re doing and has done it before.) A contract service won’t negotiate for you or improve the deal — they simply evaluate and report back to you. So if you have a bunch to negotiate this may not be your best choice.

You can also talk with an intellectual property rights attorney, but be cautious — they’re generally paid by the increment, usually by the six-minute increment for every phone call, email, conversation, or reading you ask them to do. It can add up fast. A good attorney can certainly help, and should be able to strengthen the contract. But in my experience you want to be careful who you’re working with — I’ve had too many situations where the goal of the attorney seemed to be nothing more than to keep the clock moving (though expect some attorney to come onto the comments to claim that never happens). The longer it takes them, the more they are paid. I know of several authors who ended up paying more to have a top-flight entertainment lawyer review the contract than they were paid in advance dollars. Yikes. Generally speaking, your family lawyer won’t have enough experience to really help you with a publishing contract — the guy doing grandma’s estate or your last real estate closing probably doesn’t know much about current publishing contracts.

As for getting an agent, I would say that you want to make sure the agent actually does something to earn the commission. He didn’t help craft the idea, didn’t help you polish the proposal, didn’t shop it to editors, so ask what exactly he’s going to do in order to bring value. Review the contract? Negotiate better wording and royalties? Assist with marketing? Shop your dramatic and foreign rights? Handle potentially sticky situations? Help with long-term career advice? Assist with other services, such as helping you self-publish your backlist? I’ve often had authors come to me with offers in hand, and I’ve frequently told them to pay for a contract evaluation, since it’s less money. I have sometimes agreed to take on an author, but usually for a reduced commission. And I would encourage you to think long term — Is there someone you want to work with? Is there an agent you like and trust, who can help you with your career, and not just this book deal? A good agent may be willing to take less in order to work with you. My advice: I don’t think it’s fair for me to take the full commission on a book I didn’t sell, but not every agent out there agrees with me, so talk with others and solicit some opinions. Congratulations on getting the book deal, by the way.

By the way, on a related note, someone asked, “Should I worry about a literary agent who turned me down, but suggested I work with his editorial service?

Absolutely you should worry. Here’s how this commonly works — you send a manuscript to an agent, who says, “I really like this, but it’s not ready. However, we have an editorial service here who can help you. For just $500, they’ll get this proposal ready for us to represent…” The agent sends you to his editor co-worker, then pockets half of that “editorial fee,” so he or she is making money off the author. That’s a total violation of ethics for literary agents (and I’d argue the reason we’re seeing some agents do this is because we’ve had a group of people jump into agenting who don’t really know what they’re doing). The Association of Author Representatives has a clear canon of ethics printed on their opening web page which precludes an agent from doing this very thing. It’s ripe with potential for abuse, since it’s too easy for a slimy agent to say to every author, “Hey, this has potential — let our editor work on this for a fee!” It turns authors into marks. Look, I have a bunch of freelance editor friends, and I will frequently say to writers, “This needs considerable editing. I can send you the names of some editors I trust, but what you work out with them is between you and the editor.” I don’t get a fee for recommending anyone, so I’ll send them three to six names of editors who are probably a fit for their type of manuscript. But we’re not an editorial service, and we don’t charge for that type of work. My advice: If an agent tries to cross-sell you some other literary service that charges you a fee, stand up and walk away. You can find a better agent.

And, since I”m on a roll, one other question: “I signed with an agent, but wasn’t happy. I fired that agent, and moved on to another. But now my first agent is claiming that anything I ever talked with her about is her responsibility! She claims that if I ever get a publishing deal for the projects she represented, she is to be paid the agent’s commission. Is that legal?”

This is another one I can’t fathom. I understand getting paid if I’ve done the legwork. Let’s say that I’ve worked with an author to develop a project, showed it to publishers, and started to get some interest. If the author hears about the interest, fires me, then approaches the same publishers to try and get the deal and save themselves the 15% commission, I should still get paid. I state in my agency agreement that if I’m working with a publisher on your behalf, I’ll still get paid even if you fire me and do a deal with one of those publishers I was just selling your work to. But I’ve seen the situation you’re describing a few times lately — an agent claiming that if you EVER sell the book they represented, they’ll still get paid. I’m not a lawyer, so I cannot give legal advice, but I would think this would be awfully tough to have stand up in court. My advice: read any agreement carefully before you sign it. If the agent has a clause that’s incredibly restrictive like this, ask to have it altered.