Category : Current Affairs

  • November 12, 2014

    Ask the Agent: How can a publisher create a success?

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    I’ve had a number of people ask me about the recent reports of Grand Central Publishing trying to create a big splash with Christopher Scotton’s debut novel, The Secret Wisdom of the Earth. The questions are basically, Why did they decide to put a hundred thousand dollar marketing budget behind an unproven writer’s obscure novel? Why did they choose that book? And Does this happen very often?

    The process by which the leadership at Grand Central decided to pick this one book out of the pile and promote it like crazy is interesting and rare. It’s what we call in the industry a “make book” — that is, neither the author nor the project is well known, so we’re going to decide as a company to “make” the book successful. And we’re going to do that by treating it as though the author is already a bestselling writer, the story is already well known, and that big orders and big sales are expected to happen. It’s not as simple as buying their way onto the bestseller lists, as some have suggested. Instead, it’s putting the best resources of the company behind a particular project and risking that everybody else is going to buy into the vision.

    Grand Central is part of the Hachette universe, and I know them pretty well. I was an associate publisher for the company back when it was part of the old Time-Warner Book Group, and the process they’re using on The Secret Wisdom of the Earth is the same they used on some other titles. Robert Hicks’ The Widow of the South, about an old woman tending the graves of Rebel soldiers who died at the Battle of Franklin, was a make book. The company just got behind that book because it liked the story, marketed it like crazy, and saw it rise to the bestseller lists. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones was a great

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  • October 3, 2014

    My name is Jenny, and I'm an indie author (a guest blog)

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    Hi, I’m Jenny B. Jones, and I’m an indie author. It feels weird to say. Even weirder to say it on a literary agent’s blog. Chip (who is the literary agent who helped me land my traditional publishing deals) asked me to stop by and share a bit of my story. I asked him if I could share my Worst Date Ever Story, but he convinced me this one was more relevant. Before I jump into a discussion about why I went rogue, let me say this is just my story. For every point I make, you can find an author who can disprove it with her own experience. Traditional publishing has done a lot of things right by me, and I’m grateful for most of that season, cow book covers notwithstanding.

    WHY DID I CHOOSE TO GO INDIE? 

    I wrote nine books in traditional publishing. It’s humbling to admit, but I was not the queen of the bestsellers. I was more like the lady’s maid who helps the queen get into her corset and says things like, “No, that bustle does not make your butt look big.” I once heard Debbie Macomber say something to the effect of, “I’m not called to preach. I’m called to write.” Amen and testify. My gift is not in delivering spiritual messages, but in creating a story often about Christian characters and always from a Christian world view. I was always too secular for CBA and too sweet for secular. I heard this so often, I thought about working it into my next tattoo.

    Almost four years ago I left publishing. I thought at first I would take a year’s absence, then that year turned into “probably forever.” I had a full-time day job, and years of doing both gigs just wore me out. The last few years of traditional publishing wore me out. The return just wasn’t enough, and I was swimming

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  • September 17, 2014

    Ask the Agent: What are the new companies making a mark in publishing?

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    My recent blog posts on trends shaping the publishing industry has led to a number of people writing to as about other new companies that are doing significant things in the world of books. Several people simply asked, “Who are the new companies I need to know about in publishing?” I can think of several…

    BookBub — This is a site that offers a daily deal for certain ebooks, and they have a huge database of readers they market to. Publishers and authors suggest titles and pay a fee to BookBub, and the company has an editorial team that selects the titles they want to offer. The price is usually very low (sometimes free), they send out an email advertisement to a couple million followers, and authors have been raving about the results. Another company, Riffle, is trying to do the same thing, only by offering more choices by letting the readers select the books they want to see discounted.

    Oyster — A company that is the ebook version of NetFlix. You pay them a monthly fee, and you can read all the ebooks you want. They’ve recently signed a couple of deals with publishers, and their popularity is growing. (So much that recently Amazon created Kindle Unlimited, which does the same thing, only with a larger number of self-published books.) And, if you’re not familiar, Entitle is another company that does something similar. Right now these two and the company below are leading the way with ebook subscription services.

    Scribd — They also offer a monthly subscription service to ebook titles, but they’re best known for document sharing and digital distribution. What you may not know is that Scribd does a nice job of working with authors, offering a bunch of analytics on who is reading what, which ebook device they’re using, which genres are most popular, etc. In my view, this is one of the key companies to

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  • September 15, 2014

    Ask the Agent: Which e-book publisher should I choose?

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    I’ve been one of those agents encouraging writers to consider becoming hybrid authors (that is, publishing with traditional publishers, as well as self-publishing some titles). That has brought me this question from several people: Which e-book publishers do I need to consider? 

    There are a number of choices for authors who want to indie-publish a book. Everybody tends to immediately think, “I’ll just post it myself on Amazon,” but we’ve seen countless error-filled books done on Amazon, so if you want to take a step forward, there are some options to consider. Of course, you need to know what you want in a publisher. For example, do you want to pay extra for marketing help? Does your non-fiction book need photos or maps in the text? Will you want the capability of adding an audio version of your novel? There are a bunch of choices, so let me suggest some places to consider checking out.

    1. Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (you’ll find them at kdp.amazon.com). This can be a great choice, since it’s quick, easy, and fast. KDP will make sure your book is available on every Kindle and every computer or phone with the Kindle app, it allows you to be part of their unlimited lending program, and has some special features such as their “countdown” deal and their free book program. KDP pays you a royalty of 35% of the list price on most sales, with the opportunity of a 70% royalty if you follow some pricing guidelines. They pay monthly, and can do direct deposits. It’s a great way to go for many authors… but the big drawback is that they will have some Amazon-only restrictions. That means people who don’t own a Kindle won’t even be seeing your book. Still, KDP is great for reaching the Kindle crowd, which is roughly 60% of all ebook readers.

    2. Smashwords (www.smashwords.com). This is who we almost always recommend

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  • September 10, 2014

    Ask the Agent: What will the NEXT big trends be in publishing?

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    In response to Monday’s blog post, I had a couple authors I represent ask me about the NEXT big trends — What are the big things that we’re starting to see that have the potential to re-shape publishing over the next few years? 

    I don’t have the gift of prophecy, but I can take a stab at several things that are around, are growing, and have the capability of significantly changing things in this industry.

    First, the Espresso print-on-demand machine has been around for a decade, but it’s only now starting to reveal what it can do. If you’re not familiar, the Espresso is a fancy computer & printer that sits in a bookstore and will produce one copy of any book you want. To this point it’s been pretty much a non-starter, but now indie stores have realized they can appeal to high-end readers, create a cozy environment for them, print one high-class copy of a book, and not have to invest in a ton of other inventory. Suddenly we’re seeing a new way to do a bookstore. No, this isn’t going to compete with Barnes & Noble, but the folks doing this aren’t trying to compete with Barnes & Noble. They want to create a completely different kind of experience.

    Second, Kickstarter and Crowdfunding can help support authors, publishers, and bookstores. A couple of companies have used this lately to raise significant funds for titles that appeal to specific audiences (basically spec fiction and graphic novels to this point). But now we’re seeing publishers and stores go to loyal readers to help support certain titles. In other words, rather than an individual using Kickstarter or IndieGoGo or RocketHub to help fund one unique book, businesses are finding ways to make it a part of their overall finance strategy. That’s a brand new way of supporting the publishing business, and I think it could significantly alter the way some

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  • August 20, 2014

    If you were building an e-bookstore…

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    Recently some people in publishing got together for a weekend to discuss this question: “If you were going to create an online bookstore to compete with Amazon, what would it look like?” 

    I think that’s a great topic to explore, since I love Amazon, love my Kindle, and regularly purchase books there. But even more than that, I love going into a great bookstore and wandering around. My office is over the Cloud & Leaf Bookstore — a small independent bookshop where Jodi features great reads, helps customers find exactly what they need, and regularly steers them toward interesting little finds. I love wandering around a Barnes & Noble, where I can get lost in the history section, finding fascinating titles the explore small pockets of time that only those of us with a nose for the past can appreciate. I love going into Powell’s City of Books, and wandering for hours through the stacks, looking at titles and covers. I’ll pull out one book, read the jacket copy, peruse the table of contents, then maybe set it down and move to another interesting title that catches my eye. That’s the joy of being in a bookstore, and like you I can sometimes be convinced that I’ve entered a time-warp, since three hours will have gone by, and I’m sure I was really only wandering the stacks for twenty minutes.

    That experience — wandering the aisles and looking for great titles, hoping to find the next book for your nighttime reading stack? It’s what Amazon can’t replicate. We call it “discoverability” in publishing, and it’s the process of getting readers to know your book exists, get them interested, and encourage them to buy and read it. There was a workshop on discoverability lately hosted by Digital Book World, and they revealed a study that showed five years ago, 31% of all books purchased by regular readers were discovered by wandering

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  • August 11, 2014

    What blogs do you read?

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    I frequently get the question, “What blogs do you read?,” and I always stumble around a bit. You see, I’m a longtime literary agent (16 years now), and I represent a bunch of writers who have blogs. I have bestselling authors (Vincent Zandri, Rachel Hauck, etc) who regularly blog, some super-gifted writing instructors (J. Mark Bertrand, Lisa Samson, Les Edgerton) who occasionally blog, and some other writers (Lisa McKay, Sheila Gregoire, Nicole Unice, etc) who often have interesting insights to share. How do I pick?

    But I figured it’s fair to ask an agent, so long as he or she didn’t focus on authors they represent. So Here are ten blogs I regularly stop by to visit.

    1. Seth Godin (http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/). He’s an interesting guy, with lots of practical thoughts on marketing and publishing.

    2. Janet Reid (http://jetreidliterary.blogspot.com). Now that Rachelle Gardner isn’t blogging much anymore, and PubRants is gone, Janet has become my favorite OTHER literary agent to read. I love reading sites where I learn things.

    3. Nathan Bransford (http://blog.nathanbransford.com). A former literary agent, now focusing on his own writing, Nathan only blogs about once a week, but it’s always interesting.

    4. Writer UnBoxed (http://writerunboxed.com). One of the authors I represent introduced me to this site, run by a couple of novelists. Insightful stuff on the business as well as the craft of fiction.

    4. A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing (http://jakonrath.blogspot.com). Some people will find it hard to believe I stuck Konrath on here, and I’ll warn you that his ego may not all fit on your hard drive, but he’s interesting and offers good thoughts on the industry. Don’t take him as gospel (Joe is the presiding bishop at the Church of Amazon), but he’s often got insightful stuff to say about the industry, and he shares it straight.

    5. Reading Rambo (http://www.reading-rambo.com). I’m a huge Charles Dickens fan, so Andrea Burton’s look at literature (and the

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  • July 28, 2014

    Ask the Agent: How long should it take to hear from an agent?

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    Someone wrote to ask, “When is it appropriate to inquire on the status of a submission to an editor or agent? I sent something in to an agent four months ago, but have yet to hear. How long should it take?”

    Every agent has his or her own system. I try to get to submissions once every other week, but sometimes I go four or five weeks between looking. And that’s just for a quick look — if I like something, I have to read it through, and that means I could have it for a month or two before I can give the author a firm response. In my experience, most agents would like to have two or three months to consider a proposal before they render a “yes” or “no.” During busy times (like Christmas, summer vacation, and stints in rehab), it may take longer. So if you sent a project to an agent four months ago, and she hasn’t responded to you, it might be appropriate just to drop a friendly note — something like, “Hello, I’m just checking back with you on that proposal I sent you a few months back. I was wondering if you’ve had a chance to look it over yet, and if there’s anything more you need. I know you’re busy, so thanks very much for giving it your consideration.” No need to whine, beg, or wheedle. Just check in, and be polite.

    On a related note, one writer sent me a note to complain that an agent hadn’t responded to his proposal in a year… but when I checked with that author, he noted that he’d never actually met the agent, nor had he queried via email or letter. In other words, he had just sent in a proposal cold. And that leads me to ask,“Where is it written that an agent must respond to you just because you

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  • June 9, 2014

    Why I love Amazon

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    After some recent blog posts, it was pretty clear some readers thought I was bashing Amazon. A word about that… I love Amazon. They are the single largest seller of the books I get to represent. The are fast, inexpensive, and innovative. Amazon created the first e-reader, the Kindle, thus setting up an entirely new market for books. Their customer service is usually great. And they help me make money for the authors I represent.

    Think about this for a moment… According to a Codex Group report that was distributed at BEA last week, Amazon sold 41% of all new books in the month of March. They sold 65% of all ebooks that same month. And, not to swamp you with numbers, but that study revealed that of ALL book sales in March of this year, 41% were sold via e-commerece, and 22% were sold in bookstore chains. (If you’re interested, 3% of all book sales came from religious bookstores, 3% from independent stores, 3% from Costco & Sam’s Club, 2% from supermarkets, 2% used book stores, 2% were sold direct-to-consumer, 2% nontraditional bookstores such as craft and health food stores, 6% book clubs, and 8% from mass merchandisers.) So in other words, two sales avenues dominate book sales — bookstores chains and e-commerce. And there are only TWO companies that have a significant chunk of both the e-book and print market: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. I’d like to see them both survive. Consumers win when there is competition.

    Amazon has been incredibly well run, and they have some advantages over other booksellers, including the largest list of books of any bookseller on the planet, and a huge scale of operations to make it succeed. I own a Kindle, and I love the fact that I can go on, any time, find several million titles to browse through, then download the ones I want with the click of a

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  • June 6, 2014

    The latest on the Amazon/Hachette Fight

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    Since my blog post on Wednesday, there have been several new developments in the battle between Amazon and Hachette…

    1. After delaying orders on Hachette titles, refusing to discount them as they have other publishers’ titles, and sometimes not even listing the ebook version on their site, Amazon is now using a new tactic: Halting all pre-orders of Hachette titles. That prevents authors from getting out of the gate fast with a big first-day hit — and it effectively will keep some titles from hitting the bestseller lists.

    2. Amazon then released a statement in which it defended its tactics (http://tinyurl.com/k4ax3wd). If you take a look, it will strike you as odd, since they argue they’re doing to “on behalf of customers,” and they propose some sort of “author pool” to help authors hit hard by their tactics. Um… I don’t mean to sound like I’m taking sides here, but if Amazon is delaying books or not making them available at all, how is that working on behalf of customers? And Amazon is worried about authors losing royalties? I don’t know if that’s EVER been on their list concerns in the past. Anyway…

    3. Hachette then responded by rejecting that idea and sniffing that Amazon treats books as just another commodity, like everything else they sell on their site. You can read the response here: http://tinyurl.com/ljslu4n .

    4. Talk show host Stephen Colbert, who is a Hachette author, chimed in by telling viewers he had a “little package” for Amazon (he opened a box, stuck his hand into it, and flipped them off), then told readers how they could get a free sticker from his website that reads “I didn’t buy it on Amazon.” And, try as I might, I can’t seem to import that sticker into this blog post. Sorry. But you can watch the clip here: http://thecolbertreport.cc.com/videos/ukf9gv/amazon-vs–hachette

    5. The debate has largely put authors into two camps

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