Category : Questions from Beginners

  • May 28, 2014

    What comes first, the platform or the contract?

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    I had several people send in marketing questions recently…

    “In publishing, which comes first — the chicken or the egg? Do we need to have a book published before we start building a platform? Or do we start building a platform before we have a book to push?”

    If the platform is the chicken, it’s definitely the chicken that comes first. If I walk into a publisher’s office with your nonfiction book, the FIRST question he or she will ask is, “What’s her platform?” I can sell good writing and a good idea from an author with a great platform. But it’s tough to sell even great nonfiction writing that comes from an author with no platform. So that’s easy — start building your platform NOW.

    “In laymen’s terms, can you tell me what a marketing platform is?”

    Your platform is a number. In simplest terms, your platform is the number of people you can influence to buy your book — and these days your publisher is going to expect the author to be responsible for about half the overall number of copies sold of your nonfiction book. So add up the people you can influence — the number of people you speak to at conferences, the number who read your blog, the number who get your newspaper column, the number of people in your organization, the number who listen to you on the radio or watch you on TV. All those media contacts you have can be turned into a number — and that’s the number the publisher will look to when they think about selling your book. If it’s a smaller house, they might be hoping to sell four-to-eight-thousand books. (That means you’d have to sell between two-and-four-thousand copies — which is a lot of books.) If it’s a medium sized publisher, they’re looking to sell twelve-to-twenty. If it’s a large publisher, they may only be interested in

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  • April 30, 2014

    What would you ask a literary agent? (the wrap up)

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    A handful of leftover questions from our month of “sitting down with a literary agent” series…

    Can a person who does not aspire to fame be a successful writer?

    Of course. Some writers are looking for fame, but in my experience most get into writing because they have a story to tell. By the same token, some writers embrace the “fame” aspect of getting published, and love the attention it creates, while others hate it, and just want to write and maintain their privacy. There are plenty of examples of both. Perhaps this is getting skewed today because of social media, which can sometimes make it seem like every author is required to be an extrovert. But my feeling is that there are a lot of introverted writers, who don’t seek to be everywhere, all the time, commenting on everything.

    If I have a really well-written book, how can I meet literary agents?

    You can go to conferences and meet some agents face to face. You can go to a book show or industry event and get in touch with agents. You can talk to published authors about their current agent. You can look at Chuck Sambucino’s Guide to Literary Agents, or Jeff Herman’s Guide to Book Publishers, Editors, and Literary Agents. You can go to the Association of Author Representatives website, or to AgentResearch.com. You can find out who the busiest agents are, or which agents tend to work in your genre by joining Publishers Marketplace and researching their database. Or I suppose you could do it the old fashioned way and try to get a face-to-face meeting by sending them a fabulous proposal and showing up to talk. No matter what you do, spend some time researching the agent to make sure he or she is a fit, what they require in a proposal, and how they work with authors. You can also go to Predators & Editors

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  • April 25, 2014

    If you could sit down for an after-dinner drink with an agent…

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    Okay, so all month I’ve been having readers send in questions they would ask if they could just sit down and be face to face with a literary agent. Here’s the most recent batch of questions I’ve received…

    Is it standard for most debut authors to have their manuscripts read by an outside copy-editor before submitting to a publisher? I’ve heard this is now common practice, but with the low advances publishers are now paying, it seems unfair to insist on the author funding the cost of an outside edit.

    I think it’s an exaggeration to say publishers “insist” on an outside copyedit. The author is best protected when a manuscript comes in clean, since they’re not relying on some minimum wage, entry-level person to do the edit. And as the business has gotten harder, publishers seem to be doing less editing, and they love having their costs cut by having manuscripts come in as clean as possible. But I don’t believe we can say that’s any sort of official standard, except perhaps with mom-and-pop ebook publishers who can’t afford a good copy editor.

    When it comes to book proposals, should a narrative non-fiction proposal follow the rules for a novel, or for a nonfiction book?

    It’s a nonfiction book, so it should basically follow a nonfiction proposal format. But this is a great question, since narrative nonfiction is really a blend of the two. Still, you’ll find the core of a narrative book is telling a nonfiction story, so stick with the nonfiction proposal model.

    I’ve seen contradicting opinions on using blog content in books… If I write a blog, does a publisher consider all content “published,” and therefore unusable in a future book?

    If you write a blog post and stick it on your website, it has, in fact, been “published.” But no, that doesn’t preclude you from using that material in a future book, assuming you own

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  • April 23, 2014

    Hiring a Professional Editor

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    A guest blog from Holly Lorincz –

    Many of you know me as the newest agent at MacGregor Literary but I’m writing today from behind my Editor Desk. I was originally hired by the agency as an editing and publishing consultant, having run an editing service for years. Now that I’ve dealt with the publishing industry from a number of angles — from that of a reader, to a writing instructor, to an editor, to a novelist, to an agent — I believe I have some insight that may be helpful to writers at various stages in their career.

    WHY YOU SHOULD HIRE A PROFESSIONAL EDITOR

    I wish with all my heart I had taken my own advice and hired a professional to do a line edit on my first novel before I published. I’ve learned the hard way I can spot errors, typos, awkward sentences and developmental issues in anyone else’s text but my own. When I read back over my own novels, I know what I meant to say . . . and that’s what my mind sees. So, I’ve relied on my beta readers to help me catch errors. But the problem is, while amazing at feedback, they are not trained, tried-by-fire professionals, paid to dissect my every word and thought. I was cocky when I decided to independently publish without hiring someone else. I’m not saying the book was a mess but there were a handful of homonym errors any paid professional would have spotted in a second. Soooo, yeah. “His voice a horse whisper.” That’s embarrassing. Edit much?

    Over the last two years, I have focused on editing novels. My best clients recognize their job is to tell a good story and my job is to help polish that story. There is no ego involved (or, at least, it’s hidden). They recognize that typing out 80,000 words in a short time will lead to typos

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  • April 22, 2014

    If you could sit down to dinner with a literary agent…

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    Imagine this: You get to sit down to have dinner with the literary agent of your choosing. You can ask anything you want? So… what would you ask? I’ve been taking the entire month of April to let people send in the questions they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. Recent questions include…

    A friend of mine in our writers’ group asked me if she can be sued if she uses the name of a real town — i.e., Witch Hazel, Oregon, in her novel. Is that true?

    Okay– I’m not a lawyer, so I’m not giving you legal advice. If you need legal advice, go talk to an attorney. What you’re getting is my take as an agent… Sued? For what? No. You can be sued for defaming or libeling someone, but you can’t be sued for simply using the name of a town. Does she think she can’t say, “The plane flew to New York”? (But thanks for the call-out to my hometown of Witch Hazel!)

    It’s my understanding that publishers will often pay higher royalties for hardcover than softcover. Why is this?

    It’s true. The standard book contracts pays 10% of the retail price on the first 5000 hardcopies sold, 12.5% on the next 5000 copies, and 15% thereafter. A trade paper pays a flat 7.5%. The cost of the hardcover is higher, the production costs are a bit higher, people are willing to pay more, so there is more money to divide. Thus the royalties are higher. (By the way, most CBA publishers pay on net contracts, so it’s a bit different.)

    I’d like to know what goes on in a Pub Board meeting, and why does it sometimes take so long for them to make a decision on a book?

    The pub board is where a decision is made to publish or not publish a book. Usually it includes the editor presenting the project,

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  • April 21, 2014

    Sitting down for a martini with a literary agent…

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    Okay, so this month I’ve invited writers to send in the question they’d love to ask a literary agent, if only they could sit down over, say, a martini. Pretend the two of you are face to face. Relax. Take a deep breath. What would you ask? Here are several of the questions people sent…

    When a contract with a publisher expires, I assume the rights to the book revert back to the author. Does the author then have to get a new cover, ISBN number, etc, to put the book out as an e-book or POD? And is that something usually covered in a contract?

    Great question. First, with most publishing contracts these days, the rights do NOT automatically revert to the author when the book goes out of print. Instead, the book stays with that publisher as an e-book, and they’ll want to keep it as long as it’s selling some copies and making money. Even when it’s not, you’ll have to write and request your rights back. So let’s say the publisher does indeed revert rights — all that gets reverted to you is your text. You’ll need to create a new cover (unless it’s the rare instance where you own the cover art or can buy it from the publisher), get a new ISBN (since this is a new edition of the book), probably re-edit the book (to make it clean and up to date), then load it to Amazon, Smashwords, etc. And no, your current publishing contract won’t say much of anything about this process, other than to offer some confusing, multi-step process to try and get your rights back.

    Is there any chance of getting an agent when you DON’T have a platform? And if I’m just starting, how long do you feel it will take for me to build a platform?

    Sure there is. It’s just easier when you have a platform —

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  • April 18, 2014

    If you could sit and have a beer with a literary agent…

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    I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…

    If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?

    That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”

    If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?

    It’s best to target an agent who

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  • April 11, 2014

    Sitting down with a literary agent over a cappuccino…

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    So I happen to be sitting at Cafe Greco in North Beach (the Italian section of downtown San Francisco), and thought this was the perfect place to suggest authors sit down to have a cappuccino and talk. This month we’re just inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. I’ve been sent a bunch of questions, and I’m trying to get to each of them…

    I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?

    A platform is a number. 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, 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 platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.

    Is it pointless to seek publication before launching a blog? I have substantial Facebook and growing Twitter followings, but haven’t launched my

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  • March 28, 2014

    What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

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    So it’s spring break for most people. You might be heading out of town, or driving to the beach, or trying to find a place to relax and dive into that new book you bought. I’m going the same thing — well… I live at the beach, so I’m not heading there, but I am trying to ditch the crowds find some quiet so I can read today. I have a long list of projects I want to get caught up on, so instead of doing emails and taking phone calls, I’m going to try and get away and just read for a while.

    And that, of course, means I don’t think I’ll take the time to create a new blog post. Instead, I’ll let you YOU create it. One simple question: What is the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

    It might be something about craft, or a trick you learned, something about writing quickly or leaving writer’s block behind. It could be advice on creating characters, or raising the stakes, or leaving people with a memorable lesson. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, you’ve no doubt heard (or read) some great bit of wisdom that you took to heart and you noticed it changed your work. Share it with us. Just click on the “comment” bar below and offer the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever received. You’re welcome to give us context, and tell who said it and what the circumstances were, if you want to — but don’t feel you HAVE to. You’re welcome to just offer one sentence with the advice you’ve got.

    I do this once each year or so, and I have gleaned some wonderful tips from people over the years. Would love to hear what you have to share with your fellow writers. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

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  • March 14, 2014

    What's wrong with buying your way onto the bestseller list?

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    Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…

    Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated  word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.

    Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use

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