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Category : Career
People 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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Someone wrote to me, “What do you think is the one best step I could take in my novel writing career?”
I’ve thought about this a lot, since I represent a number of novelists. I suppose part of me wants to say to beginners, “Take a class so you’re forced to write” or “find a writing partner so you’ve got someone to hold you accountable.” But, after having mulled it over, here’s my response: Spend some time hanging out with other successful writers. I just believe there’s value in doing that, if you want to take the next step in your career. How to do that?
First, attend a great writing conference, then force yourself to attend stuff and meet people. It just seems like most of the novelists I know (not all, but most) found their careers moved forward by a writing conference. They got a chance to learn from really good writing instructors, they got to hear about the bigger industry, and they got to rub shoulders with a bunch of other writers.
That last part is part is particularly important. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s easy to go into your cave, produce something, and have no context for knowing if it’s any good (besides having a firm belief in your own abilities, and a loving partner who tells you how wonderful you are). So being able to sit and talk with other writers is a blessing — you find out they are facing some of the same obstacles you are, and you’ll be encouraged by the people who overcame those problems and moved on to the next step. You’ll discover creative people who you like, and who inspire you, and who sometimes have great solutions to suggest to you. I don’t do a bunch of conferences any more, because my schedule won’t allow it, but I try to go to RWA and ACFW every
Cameron Bane is the pen-name for an author who has written several thrillers, seen mild success but a bit more failure, and is finally starting to see some movement forward in his career. We wanted to let him have the floor, to speak to those authors who have been trying for years, but have yet to see big success…
A few years ago I wrote a couple inspirational novels that sold well, but don’t really reflect my style now. The split came when I wanted to explore darker, more mature themes than that market would allow, and rather than force the issue, I simply left it. With my newer works, including PITFALL, I was looking for a pen-name that was memorable and a little dangerous-sounding; thus, Cameron Bane.
I’ve been writing professionally for more a couple of decades, with six novels commercially published. I’m also a member of the Authors Guild, and for three years I was on faculty at a nationally ranked writers conference held near Santa Fe. There I taught tracks on plotting, theme, dialogue, and character development. Also, with a background in broadcasting and journalism, I’m very comfortable in dealing with all aspects of the media. I have an active on-line presence, and I’m a member of such diverse sites as AbsoluteWrite, deCompose, and James Lileks’ blog, who’s a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Finally, I’m close friends with my mentor, writer James Scott Bell, author of the popular Plot and Structure, published by Writers Digest Books.
I’ve been at this game for a long time now, and people sometimes ask me how I got started. Glad to oblige. The truth is, I’ve always liked to write, even from my early teen years when as a seventh-grader our English class was challenged by our teacher to write a one-page story each week. “Challenged” is probably the wrong word — a “requirement” is what it was,
Amanda 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.
Have you ever said or heard a published author friend say the following?
“I have to write this spin-off book because my fans are demanding it.”
“I don’t have time for marketing right now, because my fans are going to kill me if I don’t get them the sequel asap.”
“My readers won’t stop bothering me about my character Jack! They want a book about him and I’m stressing out because I don’t know how to fit it into my schedule.”
The pressure readers can create is impressive. But it can also be distracting.
Let’s say you’re a rock star and you’re in a big arena doing a concert. You get done with a song and are about to move on to the next one on your set list when a group of fans in row two demand a very particular song from one of your lesser-known albums. What do you do? Do you obey them at the risk of making everyone else in the stadium frustrated at you for replacing a known and loved song with one of your b-side tunes?
Or let’s get even more specific. Let’s say you were a writer for the show The Office. From season one, fans were chiding you about getting Jim and Pam together. Would you have given in to their demands even though you knew that if you dragged it out for a few seasons, it would be even more rewarding?
In both of these cases, it’s easy for us to answer with resounding NO’s. Of course you wouldn’t
A bunch of interesting questions have come in, so let’s get to them…
“Every couple months I find one of my novels online illegally as a free download. I complain, they usually take it down, and then someone puts it back up soon after. My publisher says they’re sorry, but it’s part of the biz. (I assume that’s true because they’re losing money too.) Are there any tech innovations that might prevent this?”
There are tech innovations that will locate a pirated manuscript, but I don’t know of any that will prevent it. And yes, this is a growing and annoying (and potentially expensive) problem in the industry. Pirated tracks helped kill the music business, and publishers tend to come down hard by threatening legal action against those who violate copyright. Publishers tried to protect themselves by using DRM with ebooks, but that has proven to be ineffective to stopping piracy. My guess is that the government will continue to seek out methods for strengthening copyright, just as pirates will continue to look for ways to cheat authors out of their rightful income. (I’m one of those who has no patience with people who want to illegally give away the artistic creations of others.)
“At the age of fifty I began writing professionally. I’m now past sixty, and over the last decade I have typically been able to bring in between $1500 and $12,000 a year via my writing, mostly through articles. I enjoy my full time job, and it fits well with my writing, so I do not foresee ever having a writing career or a platform sufficient to make an agent beg. Do I have a shot at getting an agent? If so, what can I do to improve the odds?”
If you are mainly writing articles, you don’t stand a great chance of landing an agent in today’s publishing world. But I know from your note