Archive for the ‘The Business of Writing’ Category

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.”

BUT! BUT! BUT! MY IDEA WAS GREAT! AND PEOPLE NEEDED MY WEDDING HELP! AND THERE WAS A HUGE VOID IN THE MARKET FOR A BOOK LIKE THIS!!!! AND ARTICLES ARE LAME!!!!!!!

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?

 

Ask the Agent: How do I determine page count?

December 8th, 2014 | The Business of Writing | 1 Comment

I got this question in my in-box: “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”
Sure there is. The rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)
That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…
First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 40,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.
I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark with your novel. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.
Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… and, to repeat a story I’ve told before, it was the very first time a book from a debut novelist started out at #1 on the New York Times list. My advice? Instead of thinking “I need to keep it short,” think “I need to write a great book,” then get all the help you can to make it a great book.
Third, remember that most books are still created in signatures – that is, in 16-page blocks of text. (You can see these by looking at the top of any book — a group of pages that are folded together.) That means if you count the pages in the front (the half title, the title page, the copyright page, the acknowledgements page, etc), add the numbered pages of the book, then include any blank pages in the back, they will add up to a multiple of 16. And if there are a bunch of blank pages in the book, the publisher is frustrated because they are paying for pages in a signature they didn’t have to use. In today’s economy I think it’s tough to sell any book short of ten signatures (160 pages). And it’s tough to bind any book longer than twenty signatures (320 pages). If you generally keep your word count between those, you should be okay.
And fourth… the agent asked how many pages it was? Really? Nobody cares anymore how many pages your manuscript is. With a few clicks the editor can bump up the font or increase the leading to make it longer, or she can reduce the margins and shrink the font to make it shorter. Nobody really cares much about page count these days — it’s word count that matters.
By the way, do you know who came up with the notion of the signature? Johannes Gutenberg — the same guy who came up with movable type. He was the one who figured out it was cost-effective to take one large sheet of paper, print pages in various positions, then fold it four times to create a 16-page section of a book. Printers still produce books that way, using 16-page signatures. That’s why every good editor can rattle off the correct page counts — 160, 176, 192, 208, 224, 240, 256, 272, 288, or 304 pages.

Lots of questions have come in to the Ask the Agent section. I’ll get to a bunch of them over the next month!

What questions have you always wanted to ask an agent? 

Is giving away free books a good strategy?

December 1st, 2014 | The Business of Writing | 19 Comments

An author in the UK wrote to ask this: “I see a bunch of books on Amazon selling for almost nothing (and sometimes being given away for nothing). How does an author make money with that sort of thing?” 

And several people have written to ask, “If a used book is selling for a penny online, is anyone making money?” 

A note on giveaway books: You’re not making anything. You are trying to use free giveaways as a means of building a readership. In other words, you’re hoping that having the publisher give away copies of your novel will make them fall in love with your story, your characters, or your voice, and that those readers will go purchase copies of other books that will earn you something. So a giveaway is really a marketing strategy — a bonus, introducing your work to readers.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho used this strategy effectively in the early day of the Kindle, and found thousands willing to download his book. That built a readership that continues to buy his works, and it’s a strategy others have used effectively. BUT it’s not a magic formula. Giving away free books is no guarantee that readers will buy your other works — in fact, there’s a growing sentiment among publishers that readers with kindles often have dozens of free books downloaded that they may never read. The books were simply downloaded because they were free, and “free” is something people like to see. They’ll pick up a free book and let it hang around, though they may or may not ever read it.

The problem is one of value — If you get something for free, does it have any value to you? I see a lot of authors who give away free books on the web but don’t seem to have any sort of strategy to use that to their advantage. More than selling books, I think it’s an ego thing… they like seeing their name on a cover, they want SOMEONE to read their work, so they offer it for free and hope others pick it up and read it.

For a professional author, a free book (or a new book offered at an incredibly low price) is there to serve as a sales strategy: A reader picks up a free short story or novella, is introduced to a character, and then is given an opportunity to purchase more books with that character. Or a reader is offered the first book in a series at a very low price, they like the story, and hopefully purchase the rest of the books in that series. But the economics are tough — you invest a lot of time and money in a book, and you make nothing. You have to take the long view and hope it turns into sales of other products.

By the way, I frequently get asked about all those one-cent used books for sale on Amazon. Obviously, an author is making nothing on the sale of used books, since royalties are only paid on new sales. And if the e-tailer is selling a book for a penny, they’re just dumping it, and hoping to make a bit of income on the inflated $3.99 “shipping and handling” charge.

Have you used free books as a strategy in your writing career? Has it worked well for you? Would love to hear your stories in the “comments” section.

Got a question about writing and publishing? We’re going to be doing our “ask the agent” segment again this month, so send us your questions!

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 | 4 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 | 10 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?