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Category : The Business of Writing
Once again, Steve Oates is the VP of Marketing for Bethany House Publishers, and he sent me a blog post as a follow-up to her previous post…
When we set out two years ago to do a complete analysis of the Christian fiction market, we were pretty shocked at what we found. As the leader in the Christian fiction market for decades, we at Bethany House were amazed when we saw that a competitor had come out of nowhere in just 10 years and very quietly gained 40% market share in print units. It was a publisher who pretty much never appears on the Christian fiction bestseller lists, but clearly does an enormous volume.
Know who I’m talking about? Harlequin, of course, doing business under the Love Inspired imprints, selling largely at Walmart, but also in other receptive outlets for mass-market sized books, mostly at $5.99. The market share numbers are not quite so daunting when you do them on a dollar basis, as they only get half as much share, but they are still the largest player in the arena.
What does this mean for all of us in Christian fiction? More competition. Harlequin was a new (well… new for CBA), low-priced competitor, joining those at the bottom of the market offering free eBooks, or self-published books put out at low cost and with low prices, and publisher specials of older books, such as $5 print specials in stores and $.99 or $1.99 fiction specials in eBooks. That means if you are a customer who doesn’t have to get the latest and greatest new book, you can find lots of ways to read, often for free in eBooks, and almost never above $10 in print. At a minimum, I think this devalues the worth of our new, full-length novels, and, at worst, it satisfies demand for book entertainment so that some buyers completely disappear from the full-price market
So if you could sit down at Starbucks with a literary agent, and ask him any question you wanted, what would you ask? I’m taking a few months to let writers ask those questions they’ve always wanted to talk over with an agent…
Does being a self-published author with several books help or hurt your chances of getting an agent to read something?
If the books are well written and have a good track record of sales, that will improve your chances. If the books are poorly done, or if you can’t show that you’ve sold many copies (or worse, the Amazon numbers reveal you haven’t sold many books), it will hurt your chances. I guess that’s not a surprise to you. But understand that indie-pubbed books don’t disqualify you from landing an agent, nor does having a printed book you did on CreateSpace help your cause very much. An agent is going to be looking for a great idea, expressed through great writing, from an author with a great platform who has a strong track record of sales.
What advice would you give a first-time author? I’ve been trying to network, but not sure what else to do.
Know your audience. Take charge of your marketing. Have goals. Talk with someone who really knows how to market. Go to everyone you know. Do everything the publisher asks you to do. Research where your likely readers are online — maybe make a list of the top 100 sites your potential readers are gathering — then find ways to get onto those sites and get your name and book title in front of those readers. Learn to talk about your story in a way that’s interesting, and find venues to do that. Solicit reviews. Use the Amazon tools. Figure out some strategies you are comfortable with, and which you think will be effective, then do them. Don’t expect miracles. Don’t give
As I write this, it’s Mother’s Day, and I happen to have been born on Mother’s Day oh those many decades ago. I’m home, my mom is long gone, and I realized writers have been sending in a LOT of questions, so I thought I should take a Sunday afternoon and try to do a bunch of them, in order to catch up on the pile a bit. Again, all this month we’re inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. Here are some that have come in recently…
I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” How do you define a platform. And what does a big platform look like to you?
A platform is a number. Do 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, more people you have the potential to reach out to, 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
All last month I was inviting writers to send in their questions — If you could sit down and be face-to-face with a literary agent, what would you ask? I’d like to continue down that path for another month. Here are some of the questions that have come in…
At a big writing conference last summer, I noticed that most agents and editors now insist on seeing a “completed manuscript.” I have a manuscript I’ve rewritten several times — you even once took a look and suggested I work with an editor to improve it. So what is the definition of a “completed manuscript”?
I have two answers for you… First, when an editor says they’re only looking at completed manuscripts, that means they aren’t going to seriously consider a proposal and sample chapters. They insist on an author showing them a finished manuscript, so that they lower their risk (no worries about missed deadlines, or the story going off the rails, etc). That’s the industry norm for first-time novelists these days. But my second answer is that “completed” to an agent can also means your manuscript has been revised, rewritten, and is ready to show to a publisher. I frequently see novels that have promise, but they need more work, so I’ll suggest changes to the manuscript, or I’ll encourage the author to work with a writing coach, or I’ll just give the author the names and emails of half a dozen editors and encourage them to get some professional assistance. Does that help?
I know you represent a lot of thrillers. Is it possible to have a female protagonist in a thriller? Does she have to be teamed with a strong male in order to survive?
Sure, it’s possible. In fact, there are some publishers right now that are looking for strong female leads in some contemporary thriller novels. Examples of books with strong female leads
So this month we’re going to let you ask whatever you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent. You send me the questions (or send them to me on Facebook, or stick them in the “comments” section), and I’ll try to answer them, or get another agent to answer them. First up, some questions that came in last month…
Suppose you have a character in your novel that would be perfect for a particular actor. Should you tell your agent about it and let them handle it?
You could… but it probably won’t get very far. It’s rare that a project gets pitched to an actor in a role, unless it’s a major author with clout. (So, for example, if you had a role that was perfect for Leonardo DiCaprio, you could try and talk with his agent. Um, and you would be author #5962 who has the “perfect” role for him.)
If I have an agent, then decide to write a self-pubbed novel, how can I include my agent in the process?
This is one of the things happening in publishing these days that is still in process, so there’s no one right answer for every situation. You could ask your agent to help you with it — the editing, the copyediting, the formatting, the uploading, the cover, etc., then pay a percentage as a commission. OR you could see if your friends are producing a line of books, make it part of that line, and pay a certain commission to him or her. (For example, we helped our authors create a co-op line of clean romances.) OR you could do it all yourself and not pay the agent anything. OR you could do it yourself, but work with your agent to help with things like marketing and selling, and pay a commission.
I am brand new to the industry, and delving into the potential of writing fiction. So
I’ve recently had a couple people write to ask me about speaker bureaus — How do they work? What do they make? Are they worth it?
Over the last twenty years, I’ve worked with numerous speaker bureaus to try and get speaking engagements for authors. Like any other business, the quality varies greatly. Some have been good; others have been terrible. Let me offer some thoughts…
First, a good speaker’s bureau is pro-active, not re-active. This is really the biggest complaint people have about most speaker bureaus. An author will sign with them, give them permission to get them engagements, then wait. A good bureau will make calls and try to find new places for an author to speak. A bad bureau sits and waits for the phone to ring. (And if that’s all your speaker’s bureau is doing, you can simply have your own phone ring.)
Second, a good speaker’s bureau provides support, not just basic information. A good bureau captures all the details. They tell the author where they are needed, when, how they’ll get there, and where they’ll be staying. They’ll offer to help with travel, offer details on how many times the author is expected to speak, on what topics, under what circumstances, and to how many people. A bad bureau simply gives the date and time.
Third, a good speaker’s bureau will work for their money. Most bureaus take 20% of the speaker fees. So if you’re being paid $3000 to speak at a conference, the speaker’s bureau will want $600 of it… and for that sort of money, you’d expect they would work hard for it, try hard to land new engagements, make sure the proposed gigs were a good fit, and spend some time negotiating the deal to try and maximize it. For the record, I rarely find that to be the case. Many wait for the phone to ring, tend to always
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
We’ve been spending the month of October doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent…
I had an agent at a conference request my full manuscript. That was five months ago, and he hasn’t read it yet. I’ve made some revisions to my original manuscript… do I send the “new and improved” version to the agent, or is that a red flag that my original submission may not have been strong enough?
Sometimes it takes awhile for an agent to read and respond to queries — even requested ones. The focus for an agent is usually on serving the clients he or she already has, rather than on finding new people, and events (such as the busy fall book season) can slow things down even more. Still, five months is a long time, in my book. I think you’re fine sending an email that says, “You’d asked to see this one several months ago. I know you’re busy, but I’ve been spending my time rewriting and improving my manuscript, so I think it’s much stronger now. Would you prefer to replace the existing version you have with my new, improved version?” Some agents will probably hate this, but to me that seems a fair question to ask.
USA Today bestselling boxed sets are the “hot new thing” in the indie world. Do publishers care?
From my experience, every publisher likes to see that an author has hit the USA Today or the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal bestseller lists, and if you’re in a boxed set that hit the list, you can legitimately call yourself a “USA Today bestselling author.” So that’s great! Do publishers care when it’s a boxed set of twelve titles selling for 99 cents? Um… not very much. As I said, they’re always glad to see a proposal from a best-selling
So… it’s been a bit of a weird weekend. On Friday, the little town I live in on the Pacific Coast was hit by a tornado. It came in off the ocean, tore right through our small downtown, damaged trees and homes, and demolished several buildings. My old office, where MacGregor Literary resided up until a few months ago, was hit. Holly Lorincz, who now runs her editorial company from that office, was in the building, had her windows blown in, 130 mph winds roar through her space, and is alive though very shaken. (She was with her ten year old son, and the two of them were nearly blown away.) My good buddy, the crime writer Steve Jackson, was on the second floor of a building that was badly damaged, and survived by diving under his bed. They’re lucky they didn’t wake up in Oz. And the really odd thing is that we simply don’t GET tornadoes here. It’s not usually warm enough, so there haven’t been a dozen tornadoes in Oregon in my lifetime that have done any real damage. Then this happens. So, as you can see, there’s been a lot activity here, and it’s partly why I’m a bit late with this blog. Since we’re doing “Ask the Agent” all this month, I’ll invite you to send in your questions in the “comments” section below…
I have a hard time keeping my mouth shut on places like Facebook and Twitter. Can you be too opinionated online and ruin your chances of getting a contract?
Sure you can. I’ve had to remind young people that posting weird stuff on Facebook is going to be seen by future employers, and I’d say to authors that posting over-the-top stuff online can bother people. (I speak from experience. I’m generally a conservative, but I think Donald Trump is a pending disaster, and my talking about it online has damaged some
We’re spending the month of October on “Ask the Agent,” where writers can send in any questions they have of a literary agent. Today’s questions…
I am a fiction author, published under my own name. I also want to publish a few nonfiction works with my name and credential since it makes sense for credibility. Is that doable? Will I be able to use the same author page on Amazon?
Of course that’s doable. There are plenty of writers who publish both fiction and nonfiction. And you can certainly do both on your Amazon author page… but you may not want to. Understand that fiction and nonfiction have completely separate audiences, so you can’t expect your fiction readers to be interested in your nonfiction writing. That’s why some writers use two separate personas and separate websites for their fiction and nonfiction work — different readership, different expectations, different approach. (I should also add that, in my experience, it’s tough to do both kinds of writing well. Nonfiction is all about telling; fiction is all about showing. Few writers really master both, in my view.)
If a published novelist wants to try writing in a new genre, do they need to submit with a completed manuscript? I am a traditionally published middle-grade author, now working on an adult biblical fiction project. My current agent does not represent religious titles, so I will need to query agents that represent Christian fiction. Should I wait to do this until I’ve completed the novel? Or am I able to query with a synopsis and sample chapters? Would an interested agent want a completed novel before going out on submission or would they consider submitting a proposal?
In today’s market, a writer jumping from children’s fiction to adult fiction will probably have to have a completed novel to get contracted. That’s not a sure thing (if you’ve had great success as a children’s book writer,