Category : Career

  • amanda-square

    April 28, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda / Ask the Agent: Using Wattpad as an Author

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    1We’re doing an Ask the Agent series, and a few questions came in about Wattpad, the website that allows writers to upload and share their work with readers. Authors can upload entire books at once or they can upload chapters or scenes. Many use Wattpad to get feedback from readers as they write, and some have developed pretty substantial followings.

    Here are the questions that our reader asked:

    Does sharing your work through Wattpad count as self-publishing? Does it affect how traditional publishers see you?

    Can Wattpad be a powerful marketing tool or a risky way to show unpolished work?

    If you use it, would it be better to share just the first part of your book (so that you don’t give away the ending) or the whole thing?

    I remember a few years ago, my friend was seeing some really great success on a HarperCollins-owned website called InkPop. The site was similar to Wattpad in that you’d upload your chapters as you wrote them and get feedback. The only difference was that InkPop promised that if you got high enough in the ranks, a literary agent would review your work. They even had an example of a young writer who had received a really nice HarperCollins book contract—all because of this website.

    My friend climbed really high really fast. Within a month, she was near the top and received the coveted agent review. But in all truth, her book was hastily written. She had uploaded the first bit on a whim, not thinking it would go over. And then it did. And then she felt pressured to hit the agent review deadline. So even though I was giving her feedback as she went, she didn’t have time to polish and perfect. She put forth a manuscript that wasn’t her best.

    Now, I think if any writer is on the cusp of getting a free review with an agent, he/she

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  • amanda-square

    March 10, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: The Numbers Behind an Author Platform

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    amanda-squareOK, nonfiction writers. You’ve heard it before. If you really want to impress an agent or a publisher, make sure you have three things: a great idea, great writing, and a great author platform.

    But more and more, platform is becoming THE way to secure a book deal.

    This is because while writing can be fixed or edited and the idea can be tweaked, platform has to happen organically.

    It can’t happen by chance. It can’t be bought. It’s about hard work over a period of time and it’s something that only the author can bring to the table.

    So what do impressive social media stats look like?

    Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.

    A decent nonfiction author platform has a handful of the following components:

    If you have a website or blog your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000
    (a unique visitor number of 100,000 is likely to secure a book deal)

    If you have a Twitter account your followers should be at least 10,000 (and you should have stats that show considerable growth over the past six months)

    If you have a Facebook page you should have at least 8,000 likes (along with Insights that show your past and projected growth)

    If you’re a public speaker you should speak at least 30 times a year and you should shoot for a newsletter list of at least 10,000

    Publishing Is More Competitive Than Ever

    Needless to say, these numbers aren’t easy to achieve, and I’ve seen a number of authors who HAVE these numbers come away without a book deal.

    But on the flip side, I’ve seen authors with the bare minimum of the above components land a book deal because they also had great writing and a great idea.

    So yes. Platform is HUGE. It’s an absolute must if you write fiction. But never underestimate the power of strong, moving writing and a great,

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  • amanda-square

    February 25, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: Writers Put Way Too Much Pressure on Themselves

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    amanda-squareI think we can all agree that writing is an art form. It’s an expression of oneself, after all. And it requires a huge dose of raw talent—talent that must be refined and polished and crafted over years of study and dedication.

    It’s no different than dance or ceramics or music or any of the other arts. And sure, sometimes it comes in the form of a nonfiction how-to manuscript. Sometimes it comes in the form of a news article. Sometimes it comes in the form of a really splendidly written Tweet. But it’s still art even if it’s not hanging in a gallery or moving people to tears.

    And yet have you ever noticed how, unlike other artists, most writers put pressure on their art?

    They expect it to be profitable.

    They expect it to advance them.

    They expect it to become that side business that eventually becomes a full time business.

    And if they don’t see any of these things happen, they wonder why they’re writing at all.

    Why do we do this? Why do many writers (especially newer ones) look at their art like they would investments or a retirement plan? Why do we expect so much out of it?

    You don’t see this with most dancers. Most dancers are happy to dance and for them that happiness is enough. They don’t have this need to justify their art by pointing toward how much money it’s made them or how often they’ve been part of a professional production. They just like to dance. And dancing is enough.

    You also don’t see this mentality with many potters, either. Sure, they might have Etsy shops and they set up tables at farmer’s markets, but they don’t look at their yearly earnings and question whether or not thy should be doing what they’re doing. They just do it because they love it.

    So why are writers different? Why do we

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    February 15, 2016

    What does a writer need to know about marketing?

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    In today’s publishing market, there are a handful of things I think every author needs to know about marketing. These are all things you can think through, and though none of this is going to be earth-shattering or terribly “new” to you (my guess is you’ve heard much of this before), sometimes we can think about choosing certain marketing strategies or ideas, then lose track of the bigger picture. Or we assume the publisher is going to take care of things, when in fact they’re busy worrying about the new 50 Shades novel they’ve just released, and they’re waiting for YOU to market your own book. So let me offer a big-picture look at marketing your book in today’s environment…
    First, you have to know yourself. What are your strengths at marketing? What do you do best? What is your message? How do you define your brand? What are the elements of marketing you  love to do? The fact is, if you know your core competencies, know what you do well and what you’re comfortable with, you’re ahead of most authors who are just trying ideas they’ve heard from others. So think back through your history, and make a list of the areas where you were good and comfortable and successful with your marketing. What are the resources you have available to you? Next, make a list of the opportunities you know you’ll have — the people, places, organizations, media, and venues you know you’ll be able to count on.
    Second, you have to know your weaknesses. What are the typical problems you have with marketing? What are your struggles? What do you NOT enjoy? What are the roadblocks you face? (Hint: often these include lack of money, lack of time, and lack of expertise.) As you think through the problem areas, you’re trying to clarify both the strengths and the weaknesses, the resources and the roadblocks that are
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  • amanda-square

    February 4, 2016

    Thursdays with Amanda: My Path to Becoming an Agent

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    1People are always curious to know how I became an agent. Did I intern with the agency? Did I apply and get hired? Did I go through a special program? Did Chip owe my dad a favor?

    I’ve found there are usually two paths to working in publishing. One involves getting the right internships and then getting hired on afterward. And the other involves just being in the right place at the right time.

    For me it all happened at a book signing in 2008. In Fort Wayne, Indiana.

    I was working as an admissions counselor at a university at which Chip was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big-time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me figure out who he was.

    (Now, in retrospect, I had seen him around campus. But with his goatee and pressed dress shirt, I assumed he was the new Pastoral Ministries prof.)

    So the only way to be sure to meet him, my friend decided, was to trap him at an author book signing.

    At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t recognize the name of the author holding the book signing (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip or the role of an agent. But I DID know that my friend had told me he was epic. And that he had worked with Britney Spears’s mom. Which, let’s be honest, was enough to get me really wanting this to happen.

    I mean, what else could come of it than me being Brit Brit’s bestie?

    So, off we went. We walked in to the store; my friend located Chip; and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.

    He said something sarcastic.

    I said

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 19, 2015

    How do I fire my agent without hurting any feelings?

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

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

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

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

    So make

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 12, 2015

    I can't make sense of my royalty statement!

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

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

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

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

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 5, 2015

    If I'm a CBA novelist, can I cross over to the general market?

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    Recently I’ve had several people send me a version of this question: “You seem to be one of the few literary agents who works in the general market (what a lot of people call the ABA) as well as working in the Christian market (the CBA). I’ve published two books in CBA, but think my next book fits more of a general market audience. My question: is ‘crossing over’ from CBA to ABA a reality?”

    Okay, I’ve answered this question a couple times, so even if you’re not terribly religious, stay with me for a minute…. I think this stuff is interesting to talk about. First, for those not in the know, I represent books in both the CBA and the general market. There aren’t many agents who do that, so I’m very much in the minority. Second, in case you don’t know, CBA is the Christian Booksellers Association, and it’s the realm of all things faith-based in publishing. ABA is the American Booksellers Association, and it’s sometimes used (though less and less) as a descriptor for the general, non-religious world of publishing. Third, if you’ll indulge me, let me offer a theological reflection that speaks to this issue of CBA and ABA books: Christianity teaches that when you meet God, you are changed. (I don’t care if you believe that or not, just hear the argument.) A Christian would argue that everything about you is different, because you’ve been exposed to God. So, from a theologian’s perspective, a Christian probably won’t be completely understood by those who are not Christians. He or she is speaking a different language. And any cultural anthropologist till tell you that the longer you’re a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends you have, and therefore the less you have in common. So you’ll have a tough time communicating with non-Christians in language they’ll understand.

    Still with me? Okay (done with the theology lesson), from an

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    September 28, 2015

    How much should I charge when I speak?

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    I’ve had several people write to me recently and ask about what to charge when they speak. I’ve talked about a system for thinking this through in the past, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to re-play a blog post from a couple years ago… When someone wrote to say, “I’ve been asked to speak several times since my book came out — some large venues, some very small. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak? A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”
    Happy to begin this conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events:
    First, there are certain topics you speak about. (We’ll name those A, B, C, D.)
    Second, there are lengths of time you can do each one — for example, let’s say you can talk about Topic A for 30 minutes, for 2 hours, or for an entire weekend retreat, but you can only talk about Topic B in a couple one-hour blocks of time, so you could do a one-hour or two-hour chunk of content; and Topic C is nothing more than a 20 to 40 minute casual talk.
    Third, you create a list of those options… You’ve got A1 (30 minutes of Topic A), A2 (2 hours on Topic A), A3 (a whole day on Topic A), B1, B2, and C1, etc. Still with me? That starts to give you a matrix to figure out the topics and times.
    Fourth, you need to consider how many times you speak. If they want you to just show up and give a speech, that’s X. If they want you to teach several workshops, that’s Y. If they want you for a weekend retreat, that’s Z. (This will start to get confusing, but it means you’d be doing a Y Day — several

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    September 21, 2015

    What can a new writer do to get noticed by an agent?

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    A regular reader of the blog sent in this question: What can a new author do to get noticed by an agent or editor?

    The most essential thing you can do as someone new to the industry is to be a great writer, of course. All the agents and editors have seen wannabe writers who are anxious to get published, but haven’t put in the time to really learn the craft. We see stories that have plot problems, shallow story lines, weak characters, bad dialogue, tons of description… And the surprising thing to me is that I’ll sometimes see that from a writer at a conference who is pushing hard for representation.

    It’s why I’ll frequently ask people at a face-to-face meeting, “What’s your goal for this meeting?” I mean, some people at a conference are looking for me to react to their story. Others want to show me some writing and interact a bit on it. Some people just have questions about the business or their career. But if a writer sits down at a ten minute meeting and expects an agent to offer representation, that’s probably unrealistic. A much more realistic goal would be to have a discussion about the salability of your work, and see if the agent or editor wants to take a more in-depth look at some later date. Maybe have you email the manuscript to him or her.

    If you want to get noticed at a conference, show up for your appointment on time. Dress professionally. Have a brief pitch prepared, and make sure you’ve actually practiced it out loud, so you know what you’re going to say. (Your family will think you’ve gone crazy for talking to yourself in the basement… but that’s okay. If you want to be a writer, you probably already qualify as “crazy.”) Do some research on the agents, to make sure you can target your pitch. (I’ve lost

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