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Category : Current Affairs
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You know, one of the things unpublished authors don’t realize is that once you put something into print, it’s there forever.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
Hey, it’s Christmas. Nobody in publishing really works much over the Christmas break. On top of that, we’re in the midst of a major overhaul of our website and blog, so in a week or two, you’re going to see an all-new look on this site. And on top of THAT, Chip is having shoulder surgery, so he’s going to be down for the next couple of weeks. But we’ll be back soon, with a new look, new questions, new posts, and a whole new vibe. Thanks for sticking with us… and MERRY CHRISTMAS!
—The MacGregor Literary team
This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about audiobooks. As Yasmine Askari reported on the Digital Book World last week, Barnes & Noble recently announced the launch of a Nook audiobooks app for iphone and ipad, as well as a new website to support the app with more than sixty thousand audio titles available to download without the purchase of a subscription. I’ll leave the prognosticating around whether or not this will be the magic bullet that saves Barnes & Noble from the same fate as Borders to smarter industry analysts. I’m more concerned with the audiobook as a product and it’s future in publishing.
My first attempt to get into audiobooks revolved around my year and a half stint covering the Inland Northwest territory as a B2B salesperson calling on grocery stores from the eastern side of the Washington Cascades all the way to the Billings, Montana – a vast, beautiful, and relatively empty landscape. I would sometimes drive as much as six hours in between sales calls, this in the days before rental car stereos came with audio jacks and in a land with almost no local radio signals. It was dull. So, I tried to spice up the windshield time by bringing along one of those suitcase-sized collection of audiobook CDs.
I couldn’t tell you the title or author of that book so many years later. What I can tell you is that I almost died listening to that book, lulled to sleep while driving a desolate Montana two-lane highway by the sultry voice of whomever was narrating. Like so many people, I walked away from the whole audiobook thing because of lack of convenience and a love of reading the actual text and fleshing out the characters with the voices my imagination created for them in my head. I figured that audiobooks were fine for older folks losing their sight, or for drivers that
Someone wrote with this question: “When someone is hired by a publishing house and allowed to acquire new books, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team?”
An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. Most are brought up through the system. They know if the company does well with historical novels, or if they like self-books, or if they struggle to sell memoir. So most ack editors know the list and the company culture — and yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. If an editor likes thrillers, and is charged with building the list, you can pretty much expect his or her preferences will begin to be reflected in the books they’re doing. (Though not always — an editor at Harlequin is generally responsible for acquiring romantic novels, no matter how much she happens to like spec fiction… Again, knowing the corporate saga and culture is essential.) Editors shape houses. That’s the way it’s always been in publishing. So a publishing house that hires a bunch of new acquisitions people gets reshaped by the editors who work there.
That said, few editors (just a handful of executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire. The system looks like this:
Step One is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possible.
In Step Two the idea is usually taken to the editorial team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, they determine if it fits the corporate identity, they explore other factors (such as “is this book too similar to one we did last season?” and
So last week I was supposed to fly from Denver (where I was having publishing meetings) to Nashville (where we were hosting a marketing seminar for our authors). I’m the type that always tries to keep travel expenses low (in the technical term, a “cheapskate”), so I used some Delta miles to purchase a one-way ticket back in April. I made sure to get a ticket in the late afternoon, figuring if there’s any sort of problem, Delta could always stick me onto a later flight. I had to be in Nashville at 9 the next morning to speak.
So I get to the airport in plenty of time, go to one of those Delta machines… and it won’t check me in. It says there’s a problem, and I have to go stand in line. Grrr. Okay, so I stand in line a half hour, am greeted by a very nice Delta employee who looks sharp but, unfortunately, has the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel, and who informs me that my flight, which routed me through Atlanta, was changed, and they’d be getting me to Nashville, not that night, but THE NEXT DAY. AT 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON. She smiles sweetly as she says this.
I keep my cool, explain that no, that plan won’t work, I’ve got to speak in the morning, and they need to find some alternative. She looks around, as though I’m speaking a foreign language, then says she can’t find any alternatives. “Um… really?” I ask. “Because I used to live in Nashville, flew in and out all the time, and there are plenty of flights into BNA. It’s only 4 PM, there’s no weather, so maybe you could look again?” She does, but I can’t tell if she really understands the routes, since she twice talks about getting me to Charlotte — which, technically, isn’t Nashville, although I hear they also have great