Archive for the ‘Trends’ Category

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: What’s hot and cold in publishing these days?

February 9th, 2015 | Current Affairs, Trends | 17 Comments

Whenever I speak at conferences, I get the “what’s hot?” question asked me. I generally offer what I’m seeing, but I try to always temper it with, “That’s just my opinion, of course… others might see things differently.” So I was happy to see the Nielsen folks put out some facts on publishing trends with hard evidence to support them.

In the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly, they gave a summary of the Nielsen BookScan report, which tracks the bulk of printed book sales, and a handful of things stood out to me…

First, Christian fiction is really struggling. That’s become obvious to me over the past couple of years, and I’ve discussed it with many other agents. Several houses have stopped doing inspirational fiction, others have trimmed back their lists, still others have simply put a “freeze” on new acquisitions, so it’s become evident that it’s a tough time to be trying making a living writing Christian fiction. But the Nielsen report proved the depth of the problem. Of all the categories in publishing (and BookScan tracks about 50 genres), Christian fiction took the second biggest drop. In the past year book sales were down 15%. Coupled with the previous year’s drop of 11%, we’re seeing the category shrink considerably. (The only publishing category to do worse? Occult & horror fiction, which is down 26%.)

Second, YA fantasy and sci fi is the fastest growing category in all of publishing. It was up 38% in the past year, after having grown in double digits the previous year. So yes, all those Harry Potter and dystopian (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) readers have made their mark. And the study noted that inspirational and holiday YA novels (an odd combination in my mind) was up 16%, and YA family & health stories (hello The Fault in Our Stars) were up 17%.

Third, adult fiction overall is struggling. Romance is down 11%, adult fantasy is off 13%, suspense is down 9%, and action/adventure stories are down almost 15%. The entire category of adult fiction is down 8%. Remember, this study was just of print book sales, so perhaps much of this can be attributed to readers migrating to ebooks. Still, it’s interesting to see the declines.

Fourth, memoir and self-help are the growing nonfiction categories for adults. Sales of self-help books were up 15%, and memoir is up 12%. The sale of Christian nonfiction books and Bibles were also up 12%. I’d find it more helpful if they broke out the “Christian living” books from bible sales,  but it’s still helpful to see that memoir and books dealing with personal & spiritual growth are on the upswing.

Fifth, there’s always room for surprise in this business. That’s why I can read this and go, “Sales of books about animals are up 19%? And kids’ hobby books are up 33%? Really?” I had no idea. It’s another reminder that nobody has a lock on what the next big thing will be in publishing. We’re all muddling along, trying our best to do good books and hope that they hit.

Would love to know what trends you see happening.

On Crime Fiction and Sales (a guest blog)

January 16th, 2015 | The Writing Craft, Trends | 1 Comment

Analyzing sales trends is a tricky business. Predicting them is almost impossible. But when thinking of what type of crime novel sells, be it the cozy or the more violent thriller novel, there are a few clear issues that emerge. Are readers looking for reassurances that traditional narratives offer, or is violence the allure?

One model of analysis that is illuminating is the Nietzschean dialogue between Dionysian and Apollonian energies [1]. If Apollo represents law and Dionysus chaos, then crime fiction is built on a fundamental friction between the two. And proportionally, the largest part of any crime novel is the narrative showing the seductive uprising of forces that threaten to destroy society. There may be a certain voyeurism at play here, as the reader is allowed to witness things he would not ordinarily see, as he is given a peek into lives that are as exciting as they are flawed. But ultimately the narrative thrust is towards the vindication of law.

That is one thing that is a recurrent feature: most crime fiction is redemptive. The plot and story are often driven by criminal subversions and focus on the damage done to peoples’ lives by criminals, while the protagonist, often a detective, struggles to catch the culprit, but in the end order is restored and justice served, often lawlessly where revenge is part of the plot. Justice is a prevailing theme, but it is one that is interpreted in many ways. The police procedural traditionally relies on the investigation and the judicial system to restore order, while other novels mete out poetic justice to the wrong doers. These are some of the shared themes of crime novels, but the approaches are all different.

Agatha Christie wrote addictive cozies that centre on a period of English history when class dominated social interactions. Her core strengths are her plotting and protagonists. Poirot remains an undeniable force among detectives. Christie’s novels are addictive because she uses a familiar pattern when she constructs a plot, and the reader knows that while everyone may come under suspicion, by the end all questions will be answered and life will return to normal. And this is the main reason why I believe she sells. She tips a microcosm on its head, we see the small village torn apart by doubt and fear, then she puts it all back together again. Her reassurances are based on the innate sense her fictions contain that social order will prevail. And the backdrop to the events is the unshakeable class system that remains a constant.

By contrast, a writer like Thomas Harris straddles the line between crime and horror. The creation of a new monster is always popular, since the fear factor is a driving force in a good page turner. Hannibal Lecter is perhaps the last great monster to have been written, and he is chilling precisely because he appears so normal. His derangement involves no loss of control, he is a manic with no social signs of mania. His ability to reason his impulses and to analyse the pathology of others places him firmly on the rational side of pathological, and as such he epitomises the dialogue between criminality and normality that informs many great crime fictions. His appeal is violent and permissive. He embodies the Dionysian in crime fiction.

I think Harris gives a good insight into the mind of a psychopath in The Silence of the Lambs, and that is one reason his novels have sold so well. Readers want to be entertained, but I believe they also want to understand something about a subject that they feel is closed from them. If a writer shows the reader a glimpse into the world of say, the Colombian drug cartels, and gives a realistic portrait of that he has engaged the reader’s interest. That sense of realism is key.

When you read an Elmore Leonard novel his criminals feel real. Part of that is due to his brilliant dialogue. Leonard writes superb fast paced novels that are dialogue driven. He attributes this style to the influence of George V. Higgins and his seminal novel The Friends Of Eddy Coyle. Higgins showed you can structure a novel almost entirely out of dialogue and reading The Friends at times feels like listening in on a group of criminals talking. Leonard’s crims are street smart, dumb, flawed and you know they are going to mess it up. Therein lies the reassurance, these guys are not going to get away with it.

Violence may sell a novel, certainly, especially if it is part of a revenge plot, but not on its own. A writer whose novels contain a good degree of violence is James Lee Burke. Burke has written some of the greatest crime novels today. His characters have depth and his two detectives, Dave Robicheaux and Clete Purcel, balance law and lawlessness well, with Robicheaux the voice of order when Purcel may want to take the law into his own hands. And this is their appeal: the criminals commit atrocities that make the reader want to see them punished and when the law fails to do so there is satisfaction in what is meted out by Burke’s protagonists. They act as a narrative focal point, taking the reader into the world of crime in order to stop the criminals.

While the cozy may lack the violence of many crime novels, it shares with them the narrative drive towards resolution of the things that threaten order. Ultimately, that is the appeal of a good crime novel: the reader is allowed a safe trip inside crime, one which he may learn from, and be entertained by. But at the end order is expected to be restored, unless you have to wait for the sequel and then surely you are selling. The reader has had the thrill of watching crime at work and ended with the pleasure of seeing it dealt with.

[1] Nietzsche, The Birth Of Tragedy.


Richard Godwin is the author of such critically acclaimed crime novels as Confessions of a Hit Man, Noir City, One Lost Summer, Mr. Glamour, and Meaningful Conversations. A published poet and playwright, he was educated at King’s College. He lives in London. 

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 will the NEXT big trends be in publishing?

September 10th, 2014 | Current Affairs, Trends | 6 Comments

In response to Monday’s blog post, I had a couple authors I represent ask me about the NEXT big trends — What are the big things that we’re starting to see that have the potential to re-shape publishing over the next few years? 

I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can take a stab at several things that are around, are growing, and have the capability of significantly changing things in this industry.

First, the Espresso print-on-demand machine has been around for a decade, but it’s only now starting to reveal what it can do. If you’re not familiar, the Espresso is a fancy computer & printer that sits in a bookstore and will produce one copy of any book you want. To this point it’s been pretty much a non-starter, but now indie stores have realized they can appeal to high-end readers, create a cozy environment for them, print one high-class copy of a book, and not have to invest in a ton of other inventory. Suddenly we’re seeing a new way to do a bookstore. No, this isn’t going to compete with Barnes & Noble, but the folks doing this aren’t trying to compete with Barnes & Noble. They want to create a completely different kind of experience.

Second, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding can help support authors, publishers, and bookstores. A couple of companies have used this lately to raise significant funds for titles that appeal to specific audiences (basically spec fiction and graphic novels to this point). But now we’re seeing publishers and stores go to loyal readers to help support certain titles. In other words, rather than an individual using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or RocketHub to help fund one unique book, businesses are finding ways to make it a part of their overall finance strategy. That’s a brand new way of supporting the publishing business, and I think it could significantly alter the way some projects are brought to market.

Third, Babylon and GoogleTranslation software could make foreign rights obsolete. Right now publishers take their text and sell it to publishing companies in foreign countries, who hire translators to move the book into another language. And, to this point, translation software has been fine for discovering how to move yes, let’s do lunch  into si, facciamo il pranzo, or making sure you spell vous le vous coucher avec moi correctly, but it’s not good for taking your romantic suspense and shifting it into Spanish. But the new translation software has the power and potential to reshape publishing, by instantly transforming your text from language into another, thus dropping the costs significantly and, potentially, re-making the way we treat foreign rights.

I’m no doubt missing a bunch of things. I have friends who believe the future versions of Google Glasses will transform the reading experience, that the new Apple Wallet will change the financial packages of bookstores, and that Snippet will be the hot thing for those interested in reading shorter books. But the three I mentioned certainly have the potential to make a big difference in the publishing industry.

What are the changes you see happening that have the potential to re-shape books and publishing? 

Ask the Agent: What are the new trends in publishing?

September 8th, 2014 | Current Affairs, Trends | 17 Comments

For the past several months, I’ve had numerous people write in to ask about the trends I see happening in the world of publishing. We’re in a state of evolution in the industry (one could argue we’re in a state of revolution), where answers to questions as simple as “what is a book?” and “what constitutes a publisher?” are changing. With everything in a state of flux, I’ve been trying to use this blog to respond to the basic questions writers have about the industry. Then, over the weekend, a longtime reader sent me the question worded this way: What trends do you see having the potential to reshape the world of publishing? 

Wow. A fascinating question. Here are some thoughts…

1. Convergence: How stories continue to shape, reshape, and adapt. One of the biggest trends we’re seeing in the publishing industry is that a novel is no longer just a novel. Nowadays a novel is being evaluated not just as a print book and an ebook, but as a potential film or TV show. (That part you knew about — publishers have long been interested in the dramatic qualities of the stories they produce.) AND the novel is being evaluated as a potential video game; it’s being explored from a social media perspective; it’s being reviewed for potential as a series; it’s being read with interactive media in mind. The story itself may not end — others may participate in the story by writing new endings, or creating entirely new stories that relate (have you seen what J.K. Rowling is doing with Pottermore?). One of the changes that has occurred in storytelling over the past 15 years is the gamer’s mindset, where a story may not have an ending, or it can be told and altered a million different ways. All of those issues are now part of the discussion when we examine a novel. That’s a huge change in the way we view story.

2. Design: How content continues to become more visual. Advertisers have been telling us for decades that interesting visual content is far more effective than simple words, and the message stays with people longer. So perhaps we shouldn’t all have been surprised when the numbers of interactive video games began outselling movies and dwarfing the sale of books. Graphic novels have moved from the fringe to the center of our culture’s entertainment choices, spurred on by the capabilities of tablet computers. Now we’re beginning to see animated content in enhanced ebooks, interactive content in books (a reader can go into the text and comment or even add material), motion-formatted books (think of graphic novels as advanced cartoons), and “visual journalism” projects (take a look at Symbolia on your iPad sometime). Organizational theory tells us that ideas becomes more complex over time, not less so, and we’re seeing that with the presentation of content to potential readers.

3. Brand: How marketing has taken over the world. I used to talk with editors about the value of an author’s idea before getting into the author’s bio and qualifications for writing a book. Now the first question I get is invariably, “Tell me about the author’s platform.” Sometimes it can seem as though the value of the content is subservient to the ability of the author to market the idea. So authors all got onto Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest to get the word out, which has led to some authors having specialized content only for loyal readers, or offering premium products (like a private message from the author, or behind-the-scenes information) in order to incentivize readers. At the same time, professional marketing types are exploring how a fringy idea becomes a core entertainment concept, and moving to transform marketing from “sharing product news” to “subtly reshaping the discussion so that our content gets noticed.” All of this means that there is NO discussion about publishing a book these days that isn’t influenced by marketing.

There are other trends shaping publishing, and I’ll continue mentioning them, but I’m interested in your perspective… What trends do you see shaping the future of publishing? 

If you could sit and have a beer with a literary agent…

April 18th, 2014 | Agents, Career, CBA, Conferences, Current Affairs, Deep Thoughts, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Trends | 2 Comments

I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…

If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?

That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”

If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?

It’s best to target an agent who does a lot of work in your genre. If you write historical romance, you don’t need an old romantic to represent you — but it helps to have an agent who has sold a bunch of historical romances. I’ve sold as much romance over the past fifteen years as anyone, I think, and I’ve done pretty well for the authors I represent. Of course, you need to feel comfortable with your agent, so don’t sign on with the first person who offers you representation. Check them out and make sure they’re legit. Have they done deals? How many in your genre? Who were those deals with? Do they have authors who have stayed with them and grown their careers? I occasionally do conferences, and I’ve been amazed at the lack of experience I see in some of the people posing as agents.

If you are a member of a group that has an interest in a certain period of history (say “the Old West”), and you are allowed/encouraged to peddle your novel to the group, does that count towards your platform? If there are 9000 members in the group, can I claim that number, or does it have to be people who are actually following you on Facebook?

Sure that counts toward your platform. Those are people who are interested in what you’re writing. By all means include them. My one caution: Don’t push writing organizations too hard in your pitch. A romance writer who tells me, “I belong to RWA” isn’t really impressing me — LOTS of people belong to RWA. And while the organization is fabulous (for those who don’t know, RWA puts on one of the best writing conferences on the planet), it’s made up of writers who won’t really buy a lot of your books. Your friends will buy books, of course, but they’re buying the books because they are your friends, not because they belong to RWA.

Building a platform is one thing, but how does one build a real-world platform if they don’t live anywhere near a big city?

You build a platform by developing contacts and friendships. So you use the internet to connect with some folks. You write articles that get noticed, then interact with readers. You do blog posts or interviews, and interact with the people who come on to comment. You tweet and discuss things with online groups. Maybe you do webcasts or radio interviews from the comfort of your small-town home. You work to get endorsements and reviews. You partner with organizations and peers to get in front of others. You seek out your target audience and get in front of them — not to sell books, but to engage them as possible friends. You don’t need to be in a big city to make that happen; and I can tell you of several successful authors who don’t live in big cities. (Case in point: Tracie Peterson is a New York Times bestselling author who has built a career living in, um, nowhere. But I like to use her as an example because it allows me to tell everyone that Tracie and her husband Jim once named their dog after my son. Really. “Here, Colin MacGregor!”)

When my book was declared out of print, why wouldn’t my publisher give me the rights to the cover art?

A fiction publisher wrote me to say, “Authors never hoid any rights to the artwork for their book’s cover design. Publishers license those images for their product use or have staff photographers and designers create the covers. Once print rights revert on the book, in all but a very few cases the publisher can’t give the author that artwork, since the cover art is contracted between the designer and the publisher.”

I know you do a lot of inspirational fiction, so can you tell me why it is that modern day CBA agents and publishers seem to shy away from fantasy in Christian literature?

Because it doesn’t sell. It’s the same reason most publishers currently shy away from westerns — they don’t sell in big numbers. As soon as they determine the genre will sell well, publishers will start producing more of those books. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about publishing, it’s to be patient. Things come into style, then they go out of style. Jane Austen books were huge, now they seem to be waning. Dystopian was all the rage, now nobody is contracting them. Be patient. Fantasy is big with young people, so my guess is that as this generation moves toward adulthood, fantasy will make a comeback. As I like to say, publishing is a tidal business — the tide comes in, the tide goes out.

What is the most creative or memorable pitch someone has made to you?

Um… you won’t much like my answer. Most of the authors I represent are people I knew, or friends of current clients whom I met and started working with. My list isn’t really filled with authors who wowed me at a ten-minute pitch session at a conference (although I realize this would be a considerably more fun answer if I said that). So the really memorable ones, to me, were the authors who came in with a great idea, and showed me some fabulous writing. Christy Award winner Ann Tatlock simply showed me a proposal at a conference, and the writing was so good I think I fell off my chair. Sheila Gregoire got up and spoke at a conference in Canada, and immediately had the audience in the palm of her hand, making me want to read her work. Bonnie Gray (who you don’t know, but her book White Space is releasing later this spring) had a great story to tell. Romance writer Vickie McDonough handed me a wonderful idea at a conference in the mountains of Colorado. Holly Lorincz showed me a proposal over coffee that made me laugh out loud. Gail Martin was speaking at a conference with me, and had so much wisdom to share with people that I think I pitched myself to her. Kimberly Stuart met me on a shuttle bus, and I was so charmed I had to read her work. Every one of them was a writer, with a strong voice, and I was impressed by their professionalism. While I like each of them, I’m not representing them because I like them — I’m representing them because I like them AND THEY CAN WRITE. That’s probably not the answer you were looking for. But I do have one great story…

I was at a conference, and talked on a panel about the pluses and minuses of working in the CBA/religious/spirituality market. I said to the audience that one of the interesting things about it is that I’m an Anglican, and CBA is populated with a variety of religious types — the ultra-conservatives, the leftist social types, the wild charismatics, the quiet fundamentalists, the angry, the loud, the wacky… all sorts of people, most of them very normal, and some of them wondering if I’m “Christian enough” for them. And at times some of them can be sure they have “the call of God” — which makes it a bit awkward when I have to say, “God may have told you to write your book, but He didn’t give me any instructions about having to represent it.” Anyway, that night there was a fancy dinner, and as I walked up to my table, I noticed someone had left a card on my chair. It read, “GOD TOLD ME HE WANTS YOU TO BE MY AGENT!” I laughed, as did the woman who wrote the card. We became friends, and I’m proud to represent romance writer Jennifer Johnson, who is a hoot.

What is the most fun you’ve had at a writing conference? And what’s the worst experience you’ve had at a conference?

I love writing conferences, since it’s a chance to see friends and share some fun in what is largely an individual business. I’ve got great memories of dancing into the wee hours while being the only male at the Harlequin party (me and 500 women getting down to “It’s Raining Men”). Gnoshing with fellow faculty members Michael Chabon, Yann Martel, Katherine Peterson, and Francine Rivers at the 2008 Calvin Festival of Faith and Writing, or at the 2006 Festival with Lauren Winner, Walter Wangerin, Alice McDermott, and Salman Rushdie (who, I must be honest, I only met for a moment). Ditching the way-too-uptight Mount Hermon conference with editorial friends one night to (1) hear a blues band, (2) accidentally wander into Lesbian Night at a dance club, and (3) take a dip in the Pacific Ocean at 3 in the morning. But my favorite time at most conferences is usually late at night, having quiet conversations over a glass of wine. I was introduced to the fabulous novelist Lisa Samson one time, and she immediately said, “You’re always saying nice things about my books!” We’ve gone on to work together for years. I had a great conversation with the wonderful writer Susan Meissner at a conference, and later got to work with her (Susan is one of those authors that I simply have to tell everyone about — her craft is so great that she inspires other writers). I met #1 best-selling novelist Mindy Clark at a conference, sitting in the restaurant and watching a terrible karaoke show, and she turned out to be one of the most fun people, and one of the most dedicated craftspersons I’ve ever known. (She won’t sleep until she gets the sentence right.) I met the incredibly gifted Rachel Hauck at a conference, and was struck right away with the way she processes a story. It’s the late, quiet conversations I think I like best.

My worst conference experience? This is a true story (and one that keeps showing up in other people’s writing)… I was at a Northwest writing conference at Seattle Pacific University years ago. (I remember the location, since two of my kids graduated from college there.) I had this weird guy who kept following me around, trying to pitch his book to me. Every time I turned around — BANG! There he was, holding his damn manuscript. Once, in trying to get away from him, I walked into the men’s room. As I was standing at the urinal (and that’s not an exaggeration: AS I WAS STANDING AT THE URINAL) I realized he was beside me, and he said, “um, if you could just take a look at my book sometime…” as he slipped it in front of my face. True story. I yelled at him, “NOT NOW!” and if I’d have been thinking, I would have turned and yelled at him, if you get my drift. A memorable experience.

Hey, we’ve invited writers this month to send in the questions they have always wanted to ask a literary agent. Drop me your question, and I”ll get to it next week.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sitting down with a literary agent over a cappuccino…

April 11th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Proposals, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, Resources for Writing, The Business of Writing, Trends | 16 Comments

So I happen to be sitting at Cafe Greco in North Beach (the Italian section of downtown San Francisco), and thought this was the perfect place to suggest authors sit down to have a cappuccino and talk. This month we’re just inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. I’ve been sent a bunch of questions, and I’m trying to get to each of them…

I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?

A platform is a number. You speak? How many people do you speak to over the course of a year? You write a column? What’s your readership? You’re on radio? What’s your listenership? You blog? How many hits do you get? You do a column? How many people read your work? You belong to organizations? How many people are you connected to? All of those are numbers — just add up the numbers, and you’ll know how big your platform is. The bigger the number, the happier a publisher is going to be. More important is how many people you actually have some sort of relationship with — that is, how many of those folks do you speak to or consider an acquaintance? Can you suggest what percentage might actually purchase a book? A small publisher may be happy with a platform of ten to twenty thousand. A medium sized published may be looking for a platform that is at least forty to sixty thousand. A large publisher may not be all that interested if your platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.

Is it pointless to seek publication before launching a blog? I have substantial Facebook and growing Twitter followings, but haven’t launched my blog yet.

I’m not sure a blog is as vital as it was a few years ago. Some authors have built a platform using Twitter, Pinterest, and Facebook. Others have really used GoodReads and Amazon in lieu of a blog. I think the important things to consider are (1) the numbers, (2) the connection they have with you, and (3) the content you’re sharing. Here’s what I mean — if you have a bunch of friends on Facebook because you’ve shared a lot of conservative political flamethrower stuff, but you’re writing a contemporary romantic suspense, the content doesn’t connect with the book’s expected readership. You may or may not need a blog, but the important thing with a blog these days is to get noticed, just like in publishing a book. There are currently roughly 20 million blogs available… how is yours going to grow a readership?

I’ve been asked to write a column for an online magazine which sounds good, but they refuse to tell writers what their numbers look like. Also, they pay, but they demand all rights. As an agent, do you think I should participate?

That depends on your expectations. If you need the money, a paid writing gig like this is great. As for demanding rights, lots of magazines these days are moving that direction — you have to be at peace with the fact you are basically using this as a work-for-hire. You could do some research on third party sites to find out some basic numbers for the magazine and make an educated guess at the numbers they’re hitting.

Do writers these days write specifically for the ebook market, or are they really writing for a print market and settling for a digital book?

Love the question, because for all the excitement about dedicated e-book authors, I find most writers are still hoping to land in print. Not all, certainly, but most. Why? Because traditionally that’s where success has come (and yes, that may be changing), and because legacy publishers can get authors into stores around the country. So it’s really a “reach” argument — that legacy publishers offer greater reach. That said, we’re in an era of revolution, and there are plenty of writers who have basically given up on the notion of working with a legacy publisher, and have become focused on creating their own ebooks and taking them to market via Amazon, Nook, and the iBookstore.

I heard you say at a conference that the one thing you look for most in a book proposal is “voice.” What are you really looking for when you say you want to see a strong voice in a proposal?

Voice is personality on the page. I love seeing proposals that offer strong personalities. Too many of the proposals I see are flat — they all sound the same, and could have been written by anyone. So I love seeing a project come in that seems different — big, unique, funny or insightful, with words/grammar/style/thought patterns that reveal your unique personality. If you read writers with great, unique voice, you just don’t confuse them with other writers. Great ideas come and go, but great voice lasts a long time. I see lots of ideas each month; I see very little great voice. And if you’re really interested in this topic, go to Amazon and pick up a copy of Les Edgerton’s FINDING YOUR VOICE. A wonderful book to help beginning writers figure out how to get their personality onto the page.

Do you still teach “proposal” workshops? Does a proposal still matter in these days of self-publishing one’s ebooks?

I do still teach my one-day proposal workshop. (Commercial: If your writing group or regional conference is looking for a cost-effective one-day seminar, you should get in touch.) Proposals continue to be vital for nonfiction books, and the way we usually start the conversation with fiction. I asked a senior editor at a Big Six publishing house about this, and she wrote me back to say, “One thing I think aspiring writers need to know about proposals is that they function as a business plan for a book. That is, they demonstrate why and how a project will be viable because of the idea, the author platform, and the market environment. In nonfiction, as you know, publishing a viable book is not so much about writing as about what will happen (either because of the author or the publisher) in the market to get people to buy it. Most people don’t want to hear that because they want to believe it’s all about writing, but that is very far from the truth these days. New writers need to understand this basic fact and see the proposal as an opportunity, not a chore to be gotten past.” A great proposal can help you find success, in my view. It won’t overcome a lousy idea, but it will certainly help you sell a good idea.

Who puts a manuscript or new book into the running for awards and contests? Does the author seek them out herself and submit her entries? Does the publisher submit completed manuscripts automatically to certain contests? Would an agent make recommendations for contests and/or award to go after?

Most major writing awards are submitted by publishers. Mid-level awards can be submitted by publisher or author. Most smaller writing awards are submitted by author. These usually cost money. And yes, in almost every case the entire completed manuscript is sent (though I know of no publisher who “automatically” submits to contests). An agent will certainly make recommendations for contests and awards, and I encourage authors to have that discussion with their agent. Publishers tend to like manuscripts that proved themselves by winning contests.

I’m working on a non-fiction manuscript for which I have some personal experience, but I don’t really have the full technical expertise to completely address the topic. Would an agent consider my proposal and connect me with an expert in the field? Or do I need to do the legwork myself to find the expert?

I have occasionally connected a writer and an expert, but it’s rare… Much more commonly I’ll just say to the writer, “You know, this would be a much stronger idea if you were to partner with an expert in the field.” An example: I once did a healthy lifestyle book, and encouraged the author to connect with a nutritionist and exercise physiologist, since her personal story was great, but I felt publishers were going to insist on some sort of recognized expertise.

I notice you do a bunch of religious/inspirational fiction. Do you also do fiction for the wider market?

I’ve received this question a hundred times… YES, take a look at my list. I do Christian fiction AND lots of general market fiction. So do Sandra, Amanda, Erin, and Holly, the other agents at MacLit.

I did a book with a smaller publishing house earlier this year, but the information on Amazon is incorrect. Try as I might, I can’t seem to get them to fix it. What do I do?

Talk to someone in the marketing department at your publishing company, tell them EXACTLY what is incorrect and EXACTLY what you would like it to say. Be clear, be polite, don’t blame, and don’t act like your life depends on changing this information. Amazon sometimes gets this stuff wrong, and publishers often try to fix it. I ran this question by a senior editor at a large house, and she replied: “Amazon is an automated system, at least with us, but I suspect with most other publishers. Amazon’s system goes into our system and pulls the data it wants when it wants it and then puts it up on the site, often as long as 4-6 months in advance. That’s why the data are often wrong. Authors get upset when they see incorrect data and copy but that’s because Amazon is pulling the early stuff before it gets polished. Pre-orders are good, but this is what comes of it. And this is Amazon’s doing, for their own mysterious and not-so-mysterious purposes.”

Okay — got a question you’ve always wanted to sit down and ask a literary agent in some face to face setting? Send it my way. Meanwhile, I’ll be here, eyeing the cannoli and ricciarellis. Ciao!

If you were sitting down for tea with an agent…

April 9th, 2014 | Agents, Career, Current Affairs, Marketing and Platforms, Publishing, Questions from Beginners, The Business of Writing, Trends | 26 Comments

All month we’re inviting writers to send in their questions — if you could sit down and be face to face with a literary agent, what would you ask? Here are some of the questions that have come in…

At a big writing conference last summer, I noticed that most agents and editors now insist on seeing a “completed manuscript.” I have a manuscript I’ve rewritten several times — you even once took a look and suggested I work with an editor to improve it. So what is the definition of a “completed manuscript”?

I have two answers for you… First, when an editor says they’re only looking at completed manuscripts, that means they aren’t going to seriously consider a proposal and sample chapters. They insist on an author showing them a finished book, so that they lower their risk (no worries about missed deadlines, or the story going off the rails, etc). That’s the industry norm for first-time authors these days. But my second answer is that “completed” to an agent can also means your manuscript has been revised, rewritten, and is ready to show to a publisher. I frequently see novels that have promise, but they need more work, so I’ll suggest changes to the manuscript, or I’ll encourage the author to work with a writing coach, or I’ll just give the author the names and emails of half a dozen editors and encourage them to get some professional assistance.

I know you represent a lot of thrillers. Is it possible to have a female protagonist in a thriller? Does she have to be teamed with a strong male in order to survive?

Sure, it’s possible. In fact, there are some publishers right now that are looking for strong female leads in some contemporary thriller novels. Examples of books wit strong female leads include Mercy Gunderson, V.I. Warshawski, Vanessa Michael Munroe, Kathleen Mallory, Jade de Jong, Jane Whitefield, Eve Dallas, um.. Charlie Fox. All great characters; not all require a male backup to save them.

Is it possible for an indie author to get his books onto bookstore shelves? I have copies of my book ready, but the local Barnes & Noble won’t carry it. Is there anything I can do?

Your local independent bookstore may take a few copies, if you go in and talk with the store manager. But outside of face to face meetings, you’ll find it’s awfully tough to get your book onto store shelves. Stores are used to dealing with publishers and distributors, not directly with authors (except in the rare instance). And big chains like B&N and BAM generally won’t take hard copies of self-published books. That’s why most indie authors are pushing hard on the web. But again, I encourage authors to think about becoming a big deal locally — so if you’re close to a major city with a bunch of bookstores, invest in getting around to all of them, meeting the store owners & managers, and chatting up your book. Offer them great terms, and show them how you’re supporting the book locally and online if you want them to partner with you.

I have a mid-grade reader, a women’s self-help book, and a contemporary romance novel all completed. When you have a variety of projects like that, do you need separate agents for each category? Or should you try to find one agent to represent everything?

I know some authors who have a separate agent for their children’s books, and several who have a separate agent for their film or screenwriting projects, but the majority of authors have one agent who represents all their work. That allows the author and agent to create a more comprehensive career plan, and it keeps vital information (like finances and marketing plans and release dates) with the same person. Either can work, though you’ll eventually find the more spread out things are, the more tension there is in your life.

I sent my agent a manuscript three months ago, and he has yet to read it. Is that normal? Should I be concerned? He sent out a manuscript of mine nearly a year ago, and he says people are still considering it, and things are simply slow in the industry these days. Is that correct?

I don’t want to hammer someone — maybe there’s a reason your agent hasn’t read your work yet. But yes, I’d say three months is a long time to wait for someone who is already your agent. I’d encourage you to call and have a chat about it. My guess: The agent doesn’t really believe in this project, and is too nice (or perhaps too conflict-resistant) to want to tell you. As for the wait with publishers, I would agree that things are very slow at the moment. Publishers are taking a long time to decide on projects. Still, if a publisher has had a manuscript for a year and not decided… well, they HAVE decided. If they had any enthusiasm for the project at all, they’d have said so. By not saying anything, they’re really rejecting it.

How do I find out if the novel I just completed has similar books in print? I want to include that information in my proposal. Do I look by topic?

You do some research. Go into a great bookstore and spend some time perusing the store shelves. Talk with the sales staff, or with a librarian, or with your writer friends. Then go onto and search by key words, and perhaps by likely authors who have also written on the topic. Finding comparable titles is simply a matter of time and deduction.

Like many of your readers, I dream of the day when I can be a full time writer. (Unfortunately, these things called “mortgages” and “car payments” and “college tuition” keep getting in the way.) In your role, have you found there are certain jobs that are tailor-made for writers who have to work?

That’s a fascinating question… There probably are day jobs that many writers have — jobs that aren’t taxing mentally or physically, so the writer still has some energy left to exert on the creative process. But I’m not sure I have any real-world wisdom on this. I’ve represented several beginning authors who worked in food service (i.e., waiter or barista) and on the telephone (chatting up customers) or doing retail sales. But I’ve never really noticed there was one job that attracted a bunch of writers, so let’s ask readers: Do you have a job that you find meshes beautifully with your writing life? Could you share your thoughts in the comments section?

If you could sit down with a literary agent and ask anything you like, what would you ask?