Category : Questions from Beginners

  • July 22, 2010

    How to Study the Market

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    Clovis asked, "If you are seeking a market for a particular idea, how do you study the market? What steps are critical in matching the work to the right publisher? How much do you rely on the guidelines, samples, catalogs, etc.? And what other sources are helpful?"

    My answer: If you want to take steps like this , get to know the industry. I can think of a number of things that would help a writer do that…

    1. Read frequently.

    2. Read outside your genre (for example, if you’re a CBA person, read books outside of CBA).

    3. Study the bestseller lists (New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, your local newspaper — all have them). Spend time on Amazon.com and BarnesAndNoble.com to see what's selling.

    4. Note who publishes the books you read and the books on the bestseller lists. (In case you haven't figured it out, not all publishing houses were created equal.)

    5. Take a look at trade journals to find what's hot/what's not/what's happening. These journals would include Publishers Weekly, the email version of Publishers Daily, maybe Library Journal, or Christian Retailing, or Writers Digest, possibly Bookstore Journal. You may also glean some good information in some entertainment journals.

    6. Keeps tabs on the economic climate of publishing and bookselling. Right now everybody is talking about what bad shape the industry is in… but this year there will probably be more book pages published and sold than ever before in history.

    7. It's important that you study a publisher before sending anything to them. Harvest House may be the right place for your gift book, but it's the wrong place for your commentary on Habakkuk. So go to web sites and read catalogues to figure out who publishes what. If you research the house and its list, you'll be better able to target the right publisher.

    8. Check out market resources like the Writer's

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  • April 22, 2010

    Agent Questions (and cool news!)

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    Darlene asked an agent question: "I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"

    Sure. A good agent should (1) give you career advice, (2) introduce you to people you don't already have connections with, such as editors and publishers and marketers, (3) offer wisdom on book ideas and writing, (4) help give guidance on your marketing, (5) negotiate your contract [and do a good job of it], (6) ensure contract compliance, and (7) be your insider — the person who knows the industry and offers some experienced wisdom, serving as your advocate when necessary, taking on the hard issues and conversations when necessary. I suppose many times the agent also serves as the author's friend and encourager, though that doesn't always happen. If you ended up basically doing the deal yourself — well, that's a shame. It happens sometimes, but you probably need to have a conversation with the agent and clarify expectations, Darlene. 

    Bobbie asked this: "How do agents feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?"

    Well, I TRY to get back to people within three weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I'll admit that I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). Those folks have forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Sorry if I sound cranky, but I got two of these today, from two people I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re

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  • April 22, 2010

    Agent Questions (and cool news!)

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    Darlene asked an agent question: "I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"

    Sure. A good agent should (1) give you career advice, (2) introduce you to people you don't already have connections with, such as editors and publishers and marketers, (3) offer wisdom on book ideas and writing, (4) help give guidance on your marketing, (5) negotiate your contract [and do a good job of it], (6) ensure contract compliance, and (7) be your insider — the person who knows the industry and offers some experienced wisdom, serving as your advocate when necessary, taking on the hard issues and conversations when necessary. I suppose many times the agent also serves as the author's friend and encourager, though that doesn't always happen. If you ended up basically doing the deal yourself — well, that's a shame. It happens sometimes, but you probably need to have a conversation with the agent and clarify expectations, Darlene. 

    Bobbie asked this: "How do agents feel about writers following up on a query or proposal submission? What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up?"

    Well, I TRY to get back to people within three weeks. The fact is, I’m often much faster. But I'll admit that I hate having people send me short notes in order to remind me that I’ve failed them (“I sent you my proposal a month ago!”). Those folks have forgotten that I don’t owe them a reading. If I agree to read their proposal, it’s because I choose to. (Sorry if I sound cranky, but I got two of these today, from two people I’ve never heard of. My first reaction is to say something snarky like, “Okay, if you’re

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  • February 5, 2008

    Thoughts for Beginning Writers

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    A grab-bag of questions about publishing and writing today…

    Mary-Lynn wrote to ask, "What do I need to know about creating a proposal for an agent? Is it like filling out a form, or do I create the story for them to see?"

    I guess you could say that creating a proposal is a bit like filling out a form, in that there are certain elements you really need to include: title, subtitle, author bio and sales history, notes on the manuscript (word count, when it will be completed), genre and audience notes, overview of the book, table of contents or story synopsis, comparable titles, sample chapters, and marketing information. If you’re a first-time novelist, you are doubtless going to have to show the agent the entire manuscript, whereas with a nonfiction book you can still sell it based on a great proposal and some sample writings. If this is a non-fiction book, you want to show an agent what the need is for this book, why you’re writing it, and what your qualifications are for writing the book. Those are fairly universal. If it’s a novel, you want to reveal a brilliant story, interesting characters, and snappy writing. An agent isn’t usually going to agree to represent your book based solely on the idea. He or she will also want to know that you’re a fine writer, that you have other ideas, that you’re willing to help with the sale and marketing of the book, and that you’re a person who is easy to get along with. (This part doesn’t get talked about as much as it should. An agent/author relationship is similar to both a creative friendship and a business partnership — so you need to be a match, or neither party is going to be happy.) If you’d like to see some sample proposals, I keep both a fiction and a non-fiction proposal on my business web

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