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Category : Current Affairs
Today we’re featuring a guest blog from Amy Haddock, Senior Marketing Manager at Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Penguin Random House. Amy helped create the popular “Novel Crossing” website for inspirational fiction readers…
Writing a book is one thing. Getting that book discovered by readers is a whole other thing, right? It doesn’t take long to see that marketing a book can be an exhausting labor of love. As a marketer myself, I understand completely. For me, the goal is always to find readers, connect them with new books that they would like, and to get them to share it with their friends. As simple as that sounds, we all know that to get to this end result requires hours and hours of work, careful educated guesswork, detailed information about these consumers, a collaborative partnership between publishing house and author, and a way to target these readers as a group. That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Novel Crossing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first thing I should probably tell you: I love books. I’m enamored with reading. I have whole bookcases full of titles from decades past that show just how long I’ve had my nose perpetually in a book, but more than that, I love Christian fiction. I grew up on Janette Oke, Gilbert Morris, and Robin Jones Gunn—reading that my Mom deemed “safe” from her own bookshelves—and during countless moves from city to city during my formative years, these books were my constant companions.
I’ll admit, I struggled during my college years to retain my love for reading. I became a “skimmer” extraordinaire to make it through the stacks of articles and textbooks that professors gleefully assigned. Looking back, I realize they were just doing their job but at the time it was all I could do to stuff enough knowledge into my brain to pass my courses, let alone pick up a read-for-fun
Keeping up on some of the latests news for authors…I loved this article on Harvard Business Review — “Should You Write a Book” http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/06/think_you_want_to_write_a_book.htmlAnd this is wonderful — DBW on “The Top Ten Book Recommendation Platforms”http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2013/top-ten-book-recommendation-platforms/?et_mid=633358&rid=2642779And, just to make sure you’re paying attention, have a look at the Supreme Court decision on US copyrights: http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2013/03/19/kirtsaeng-v-john-wiley-sons-and-the-death-of-geographic-rights-in-fiction__,_._,___Some great words about fabulous writer Mark Bertrand and his books: http://www.firstthings.com/blogs/firstthoughts/2013/08/16/murder-escapes-the-vicarage/An interesting take from last year on “What agents are facing” that is worth a read: http://www.indiesunlimited.com/2012/06/24/agents-–-who’d-have-’em/And in case you missed this bit of news from last year — about an agent who rejected someone: http://www.latimes.com/features/books/jacketcopy/la-jc-literary-agent-assault-twitter-20120914,0,7168502.storyBy the way, if you’re a fan of noir fiction, the second issue of Grift is now live. You can find it here:
http://www.lulu.com/shop/john-kenyon/grift-2/paperback/product-21113829.htmlAnd some important bits of business for MacGregor Literary:–First, we had an author graduate with her PhD: Congrats Sandi Glahn! Check this out: www.aspire2.blogspot.com–Second, novelist Mindy Clark won the Romantic Times Career Achievement Award a couple months ago – read about it here:–Third, nonfiction writers Sheila Wray Gregoire of Belleville, Ont. won the $5000 Grace Irwin Prize for the top religious book in Canada with her The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, published by Zondervan.–Fourth, we’ve had a number of books on the various bestseller lists, including Rachel Hauck’s The Wedding Dress hit #1 on Kindle.–Fifth, Amanda Luedeke’s great book about marketing on social media, The Extroverted Writer, continues to sell and get wonderful things said about it. If you haven’t seen it on Amazon yet, have a look.–And last, two books that Marie Prys and I wrote, The Prayers of the Presidents and The Faith of the First Ladies are available and selling. You can find them at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00BJTGRTOI doubtless missed a bunch of things — so use the comments section to add in the news I
Recently I got behind on a bunch of questions readers sent in, so I’m going to try and catch up by offering shorter answers to a host of questions…
Someone wrote to say, “I’ve seen a number of writers call themselves ‘best-selling’ authors. Quite a few are self-published. What exactly does it take for a book to be considered a bestseller?”
That’s easy — if an author has hit a bestseller list, they can legitimately call themselves a bestselling author. So if your book hit the New York Times list, the LA Times list, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, CBA, ECPA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other bestseller lists, you can promote yourself as a “bestselling” author. The problem that’s come up recently is that authors will rise up the Amazon sales ranking, notice they’re in the top five or ten in their sub-category, and suddenly start telling everyone they’ve become a superstar. Um… Let’s just say that rising up the Amazon rankings are great, but they segment things so much it’s considerably easier to make their list than, say, the New York Times Bestseller list. And editors and agents aren’t stupid (no matter what you’ve heard). If your book spent an hour in the top ten of Amazon’s “inspirational historical fiction” category, that won’t really impress editors. Stick to the major lists, and you’ll figure out who is a legitimate bestseller.
Another writer wants to know, “How many words are in a standard romance novel? A thriller? A literary novel? What about a novella?”
At Harlequin, a contemporary category romance is 55,000 words, and a historical romance is 75,000 words. At other houses (those that aren’t selling to a subscriber list) those numbers are larger. Most contemporary stand-alone novels are in the 70 to 80,000 word range, and some publishing houses prefer they stretch to 90,000 words. Thrillers tend to go long — 90,000 words. Spec
I just got back from a writing conference, and I kept track of several interesting questions that writers wanted to ask me…
“What is New Adult?”
A number of people asked me about this relatively new term — we’re using it in publishing to talk about books aimed at the 18-to-25 year old audience. These are basically readers who grew up buying “young adult” books (those aimed at the 13-to-18 year old audience), and they’re ready to move to new topics, but perhaps are looking for books that explore the transition from “young adult” issues to standard “adult” themes. So most of the “new adult” (or “NA”) titles focus on that transition — relationships, independence, identity, sexuality, empowerment, moving, career choices, etc. It’s a growing category in publishing, even if you may not have heard the term yet.
“If a publisher expresses interest in my manuscript at a conference, does that change the way I approach another editor or agent?”
I doubt it changes the way you approach other editors at a conference (and the words “another editor asked me to send it” tend to mean little, since every experienced conference faculty member can tell you that new writers tend to take ANY encouragement from an editor as “they love my book and are going to publish it!”). Most agents won’t be swayed by the thought that an editor asked to see your proposal, since the agent has to like it personally (I’d never agree to represent someone based on the fact that an editor liked the manuscript). So no, a publisher expressing interest at a conference, while certainly fun and encouraging for you, probably doesn’t mean you should change the way you approach others.
“If an editor asked me to send my manuscript at a conference, should I mention that in the query letter?”
If an editor asks you to send your manuscript to him or her, by all
Someone wrote to ask, “What sources are there for authors to keep an eye on writing and publishing trends?”
Publishers Marketplace, Publishers Lunch, Publishers Weekly, Digital Book World – all of those resources will keep you up to date on the industry. Watching the various bestseller lists can be helpful, as can finding some blogs that talk about the industry. I like www.rachellegardner.com and www.stevelaube.com, but there are a ton of good ones: PubRants, GalleyCat, SlushPileHell, BuzzMachine, Adventures in Agentland, BookSquare… there are too many to count.
Each year Writers Digest does a list of “the 101 Best Websites for Writers,” and they always have some great advice. I discovered GrammarGirl, InkyGirl, and Editorial Anonymous by seeing them in the magazine. (I’m one of those who still thinks Writers Digest is one of the very best resources any writer could have.) To watch trends specifically, check out Seth Godin, Mashable, and Alan Rinzler’s blog. Great spots. It often seems like agent blogs have become a key resource for writers who need to know what’s going on across the industry, so checking out your agent’s blog (or those of other members of AAR) is probably one of the best sources of information.
Going to conferences is really helpful, since it allows you to talk face to face with authors and editors, gaining firsthand knowledge of what’s happening. There’s nothing like having an editor say to you, “We’re looking for a book on Amish vampire pirates in space” to know that everyone in this industry has lost their freaking minds. (Or that they’re all thinking creatively.) If you go to a book show, you can quickly spot the latest trends in covers, colors, themes, what types of books everyone is doing, what everyone is NOT doing, and what the latest scuttlebutt is. And while I no longer do any online writing communities, I know many authors enjoy being part of the
A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that read, “Chip, I know you’ve been to BEA and RWA in the past month. Can you simply tell us what books are selling right now? What are the trends you’re seeing?”
I can try. In the ebook space, it’s pretty clear that contemporary romance, romantic suspense, and suspense thrillers of all types are selling well. That would include PI novels, police procedurals, crime novels, etc. So what we call “category” fiction (that is, fiction that follows certain rules for its genre) really leads the way in ebooks. It’s nice to see literary fiction is finally starting to sell well digitally. For a long time there was a sense that people weren’t buying literary novels on their Nooks and Kindles, but we seem to be beyond that now.
Of course, the whole notion of “fiction on e-readers” is not just a trend, it’s an established fact in the contemporary world of publishing. We all thought fiction was outselling nonfiction about 3-to-1 on e-readers, and that was the figure I often used at conferences. Then a study was made recently that showed fiction is outselling nonfiction roughly 8-to-1 in the e-book market. Wow… My guess is that people who are used to reading things electronically are simply getting a lot of their nonfiction information (recipes, health tips, medical advice, etc) on the web, leaving them to look for fiction on their readers.
In the print space, we’re still seeing the fiction bestseller lists ruled by familiar names. Nearly every big book these days is from an author who has had big books in the past, which seems frustrating to a lot of novelists… but that’s just the nature of the business. When a book breaks out (and there are always going to be breakout novels — see Gone Girl, Hunger Games, Fifty Shades of Really Crappy Writing, etc), we add
A wonderful writer friend sent me a note that read, in part, “Those of us in the industry tend to laud writers like Graham Green and Flannery O’Connor, but would anyone publish them now? No Whiskey Priest or Hazel Motes. It seems that, in both CBA as well as the general market, there’s no place for these characters; they have no appeal.”
I respectfully disagree, of course. Contemporary publishers would take both authors because they offered great craft. What would be interesting would be to see how religious audiences would respond to these clearly faith-infused stories.
But don’t misunderstand — commerciality still trumps craft. Good grief — nobody thinks of Left Behind as being great art, but the series sold 70 million copies. No critic seriously believes the Harry Potter series is great literature, but it’s now the best selling fiction series in history. That’s okay. People like commercial stories. And I shamelessly represent commercial stories. I’m happy to work with books that sell — and I also want to be doing books that make a difference in the lives of others. I don’t see life as an either/or decision. We want to create great art, AND we want to see our books sell. That’s the constant tension in working with writers.
So let me ask readers a question… Who is YOUR favorite writer, and why? Let’s have a conversation in the “comments” section on who you think we should all be reading.
I thought you’d find it interesting to know that the staff here at MacGregor Literary have a bunch of books on the market. I’ve long said that one of the best things about our agency is that we’re a group of writers — not just editors or dealmakers or marketing types. Writers. That doesn’t make us better than other agencies, but it does make us unique.
Amanda Luedeke is the author of The Extroverted Writer: An Author’s Guide to Marketing and Building a Platform. A lot of writers love Amanda’s wisdom on the topic of marketing on this blog every Thursday, and her book gives authors the tools to develop on online following. It’s very practical and packed with good information.
Holly Lorincz is the author of Smart Mouth, a funny, touching novel about a very shy first-year teacher who is manipulated into coaching the debate team. Think of it as a cross between Glee and Bridget Jones Diary, with great voice, an enduring protagonist, and memories we all have of the horrors of high school.
Marie Prys is the coauthor of Faith of the First Ladies, which simply looks at a bunch of our First Ladies, and how their faith and character has helped shape our country (as well as their families). The First Lady’s role has shifted over time, from “national hostess” to “policy influencer,” and nearly every woman in the role has put her own mark on it.
And yes, I had a new book release last year, with Bethany House. The title is 40 Ways to get Closer to God, and was simply intended as an examination of my spiritual journey. If someone feels a need to draw close to the Almighty, what does he or she do? What are some things that actually move us in that direction? (Hint: The book talks a lot about doing things for other people, rather than focusing on yourself.)
A dozen years ago, I was working as a literary agent with Alive Communications in Colorado Springs, and we had a great group of people all pitching in. Rick Christian (the boss, and the guy who basically began the notion of a literary agent working in CBA), Greg Johnson (now the President of WordServe), Kathy Helmers (a principal with Creative Trust Agency in Nashville), Andrea Heinecke (then my assistant, now a literary agent in her own right), Alice Crider (who worked as my assistant, then became an editor at Random House), as well as several other good folks. We had hired a new guy, Lee Hough, who’d been working as an editor for a mid-size publishing house, and came in with a great book sense.
Lee had heard this story, about a wealthy art dealer in Houston who had befriended a homeless African-American man while volunteering at a meals program. It was a great human story — the art dealer’s wife was dying of cancer, the homeless man had lived an incredibly hard life, he would eventually step in and take over the ministry that the art dealer’s wife had started, and somehow the characters all came together to help one another. Lee saw the value in it right away. He thought it was a one-of-a-kind, life-changing story of redemption and change.
Unfortunately, nobody else in publishing seemed to agree. I watched Lee pitch that book to house after house, continually getting turned down, people questioning the facts of the story or the salability of memoir in the Christian market. It seemed like week after week, as we’d gather for our Tuesday morning staff meetings, Lee would say he was still pitching that book, still believed in it, still trying to encourage the author to hang with him. I’m not exaggerating when I say most of us would have given up. (I might have actually said that to Lee, truth
Related to the recent posts about CBA and the general market, someone sent this: “I’m a writer who hasn’t been able to find success in the traditional CBA markets. I was told my book is ‘too message oriented for most Christian publishers.’ One house told me they want ‘values fiction, not message fiction.’ Is this a real trend? What is values fiction? How does it differ from message fiction?”
It’s a real trend. “Message fiction” is a story that gets weighed down by the author trying to deliver some sort of obvious, heavy-handed message. An example? Christian writers who want to send me their novel about the naughty 15-year-old girl who fools around, gets pregnant, then has to show me her struggle about whether to get an abortion or not, complete with angst and tears while the author hammers me with the message that “Abortion Is Bad.” WAY too heavy handed, and I see it frequenlty.
Look… I’m pro-life. But the author in that situation isn’t really trying to tell me a story — she’s trying to present me with a Major Life Message. And that’s boring. Who buys fiction to be preached life messages? Nobody. Pro-choice people won’t touch the book, and pro-life people don’t need to read it because they’re already convinced. If I want political messages, I’ll turn on MSNBC or Fox News (depending on your political leanings). If I feel a need for entertaining liberal messages, I’ll listen to NPR. But I buy a novel for the STORY. (And this isn’t limited to abortion books — there’s also the “We’re Destroying The Planet” books, the “Capitalism Is Evil” books, the “Obama Is The AntiChrist” books, and the “You Need To Fall On Your Knees And Accept Jesus Because You’re Going To Hell” books. They are all boring. Nobody wants them And they don’t work. So if you’re writing a book to share a message like that,