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Category : Current Affairs
As I write this, it’s Mother’s Day, and I happen to have been born on Mother’s Day oh those many decades ago. I’m home, my mom is long gone, and I realized writers have been sending in a LOT of questions, so I thought I should take a Sunday afternoon and try to do a bunch of them, in order to catch up on the pile a bit. Again, all this month we’re inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. Here are some that have come in recently…
I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” How do you define a platform. And what does a big platform look like to you?
A platform is a number. Do 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, more people you have the potential to reach out to, 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
All last month I was 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? I’d like to continue down that path for another month. 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 manuscript, 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 novelists 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. Does that help?
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 with strong female leads
Okay, so I’ve been asking people to send in questions — What is it you’ve always wanted to talk with a literary agent about? If you could sit down over coffee and just have a conversation, what would you ask? Here are some questions that came in…
Do you recommend self-publishing with your authors?
Absolutely. I think authors today have to think about doing a variety of projects through a number of venues. That could mean they are working with traditional publishers, non-traditional publishers, niche publishers, and self-publishing some projects. I’m a big supporter of what I consider the “hybrid” author.
What are the challenges of agenting in today’s publishing climate?
Well, agenting (like writing) has never been easy. You have to understand the market, have relationships with the editors, know what each house is looking for, keep current on things like trends and publishing contracts. Most importantly, in today’s market agents are called upon to be part of the marketing effort — something that we didn’t used to do much of. But in terms of the recent challenges, I would say advances are down, and slots are limited, making a debut for an author harder than ever. There are more books available, so it’s tougher to help an author get noticed. And there’s also been a bit of an anti-agent movement going on among the indie-publishing crowd, which I think is fueled by people who really do not understand the publishing business. I have faced that a bit over the past couple of years, and it’s been interesting — people who really don’t know the industry, but are absolutely certain they know that an agent is unnecessary. I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t a challenge we’re all facing today.
I’ve heard you mention a couple times that you have some reservations about Amazon — can you explain to me in simple terms what the problem is?
So this month we’re going to let you ask whatever you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. You send me the questions (or send them to me on Facebook, or stick them in the “comments” section), and I’ll try to answer them, or get another agent to answer them. First up, some questions that came in last month…
Suppose you have a character in your novel that would be perfect for a particular actor. Should you tell your agent about it and let them handle it?
You could… but it probably won’t get very far. It’s rare that a project gets pitched to an actor in a role, unless it’s a major author with clout. (So, for example, if you had a role that was perfect for Leonardo DiCaprio, you could try and talk with his agent. Um, and you would be author #5962 who has the “perfect” role for him.)
If I have an agent, then decide to write a self-pubbed novel, how can I include my agent in the process?
This is one of the things happening in publishing these days that is still in process, so there’s no one right answer for every situation. You could ask your agent to help you with it — the editing, the copyediting, the formatting, the uploading, the cover, etc., then pay a percentage as a commission. OR you could see if your friends are producing a line of books, make it part of that line, and pay a certain commission to him or her. (For example, we helped our authors create a co-op line of clean romances.) OR you could do it all yourself and not pay the agent anything. OR you could do it yourself, but work with your agent to help with things like marketing and selling, and pay a commission.
I am brand new to the industry, and delving into the potential of writing fiction. So
Someone wrote to say, “I got a terrible review on Amazon. I hate even going there to look at it. Tell me, what do you do with a bad review?”
You know, one of the things unpublished authors don’t realize is that once you put something into print, it’s there forever. If you say something stupid, you’re stuck with it. You can go to the person and apologize, but the words are still out there, waiting to be discovered by millions of other potential readers who will never get to hear your personal explanation or apology.
Writing is a scary thing.
I’ve often done fairly blunt assessments of books and articles, and at times I’ve hurt people’s feelings. But I never set out to do that. I mean, it’s not like I saw the book, didn’t like the author, and decided to toast them just for fun. When I’ve said something was stupid or badly written, it was because I was trying to offer an honest evaluation of a project. But that’s not universally respected. Let’s face it — plenty of people ONLY want you to stay something nice, or to say nothing at all.
So if you’re asked to review a book that’s awful, what are you supposed to do? Lie about it? It seems to me like the best thing to do is to be honest but as gracious as possible, speaking the truth (or at least the truth as you see it) in love. It’s those sorts of jobs that can get you into trouble.
Unfortunately, a bad review like that can hurt an author’s career (to say nothing of the author’s feelings). So I find that when I’m simply asked to review a book for a friend, I tend to simply stay away from reviewing a book I didn’t love. That means the title will get a falsely-positive set of reviews, but I don’t have to
As we jump into the new year, I’ve had several people write to ask, “What is the process of getting your proposal selected by a publishing house?”
Okay. First, think of a publishing house as being an actual building. Your proposal probably isn’t walking in the front door. More than likely it’s sliding into the building by way of a window known as an acquisitions editor (often an acquaintance of your agent, sometimes a person you met at a conference, or maybe a guy who lost a bet). He or she will read through it, make some suggestions, talk it over with your agent, and eventually make a decision on whether or not they think it’s worth pursuing.
Most publishers are relying on agents to do the initial filtering of junk, so the slush pile has sort of moved from the publishing house to the agent’s office…which means you’re probably going to have to sell it to an agent first, therefore adding one more step to this process.
Once it’s actually in the building, if the acquisitions editor likes it he or she will take it to some sort of editorial committee, where they sit around grousing about their pay and making editorial jokes. (“I’m having a DICKENS of a time with this one!” “Yeah, let’s catch a TWAIN out of town!” Editorial types love this sort of humor. That’s why they’re editors and not writers.) Eventually they’ll run out of bad puns and be forced to discuss the merits of your proposal. If it’s a non-fiction book, is it unique? Does it answer a question people are asking? Is there a perceived market for it? Does the writing feel fresh and offer genuine solutions to the question that’s posed? If it’s a novel, does the story have a clear hook? Is there a well-defined audience for it? Does it feel new, or as though it’s
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?). 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
So today, November 2, 2016, is the ten year anniversary of the blog. Just writing those words is amazing to me… When I started, I’d just been let go from from my role as an associate publisher at the Time-Warner Book Group, which had been sold to Hachette Livre. It was one of those seasons where I knew I was facing something new and scary — two kids in college, one in high school, new home in Nashville, mortgage payments to make, and suddenly I’m out of a job in my 40’s. I talked with other publishing houses, but I’d worked as an agent for several years before joining Time-Warner, and I knew I wanted to go back to agenting authors. So I talked with friends, and made some moves to set up a new literary agency.
One of the people I talked to was my friend Robert “Dammit” Smith (also known as “The Robert D,” and the guy behind the success of Andy Andrews for the past twenty years). Robert was a big encouragement to me to start the agency, and he had some recommendations… He had been teaming with a bunch of guys who had overlapping gifts, so he suggested I talk with Nick Francis at Project83, who would help me create a company website, and Kevin Burr of Ocular Ink, who would help with the design and logo of everything related to the agency. They helped me launch a great company website. I was also talking with friends I’d made in the industry, including the very wise Michael Hyatt, who told me if I wanted to get the word out there about my new company, I really needed to start a blog.
So I did. It’s been fun to do, and we’ve had good success. Blog posts have been picked up by major media. I’ve had bestselling authors come to visit. Writers Digest magazine
I started this blog nearly ten years ago (we’re coming up on the ten year anniversary for this blog), as a way to simply answer the questions writers have about the process. Some people wanted to ask about writing, others about publishing, still others about marketing. Writers asked about careers, they asked about proposals, and they asked about contracts. Lately we’ve had a ton of people asking about indie publishing and working with Amazon to become a hybrid author.
Over the next couple of months, I thought we’d do an “ask me anything” segment. So… what have you always wanted to ask a literary agent? I’ve got a backlog of questions, but I thought I’d begin by simply asking the people who read this blog a question: If you could sit with me over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine somewhere, and ask anything you wanted, what would you want to know? What would you like to chat about?
Drop a question in the “comments” section below, or send me an email at chip (at) macgregorliterary(dot)com, and I’ll try to offer short answers to your questions. You can ask about books, about proposals, about writing, career planning, marketing, platforms, proposals, or anything else. If I don’t know an answer, I’ll ask someone who does. If they don’t know, I’ll just make up something that sounds good. (Or maybe I’ll ask someone else.)
So there you have it — October is gong to be “ask the agent” month. Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled questions yearning to breath free. I’ll do my best to get you a good response.
We’re doing “Ask the Agent” for the entire month of April, so you have a chance to send in that question you’ve always wanted to discuss with a literary agent. The other day someone sent this: “What does it take for a book to transition from being self-published to being picked up by a traditional publisher? If an author wanted to make that transition, what would you recommend? Do I take down the manuscript and pitch as fully revised?”
Great questions (and there were a bunch of other questions asked by this author, which I’ll try to speak to in my answer). Let me try and cover some important ground with ten thoughts…
First, just to be clear, I am very supportive of indie publishing. We represent more than 100 authors, and all of them have heard me say that I think they need to at least consider self-publishing as a means of helping to make a living in a competitive and changing publishing environment.
Second, I don’t believe that indie publishing is second class citizenry, and that traditional publishing is necessarily the preferred means of making a living. I think authors need to look at all their options. (For the record, I also don’t believe in the myth that all you have to do is post your book on Amazon, and watch the Publishing Fairy show up and sprinkle you with golden coins. Both traditional and indie publishing can work — but both can also fail. Making a living writing is a lot of damn work.)
Third, if you’re successfully self-publishing, selling books and making money, you’d have to think long and hard before transitioning to a legacy publisher. The benefits they offer include giving you potential distribution in stores, more marketing muscle, and obviously taking on the production, warehousing, and order fulfillment of your books. But you’ll make less per book, and have less control over things like