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Category : The Business of Writing
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,
We’re doing “Ask the Agent” all this month — your chance to ask that question you’ve long wanted to run by a literary agent. It’s been nice to see so many people send in their questions. If YOU have a question you’d like to ask, leave it in the “comments” section and I’ll get to it later this week.
I am recently divorced and I really would prefer to use my maiden name on my books. Should I use my maiden name for all communication? Change my name on my blog, Facebook, twitter, email, etc.? And should I do that immediately?
As an agent, my sense is that’s a personal choice. If you want to use your maiden name, then use your maiden name. There are plenty of writers who LIVE with one name, and WRITE with another. Usually it’s because of a choice like this — using a married or maiden name, frequently after a divorce. My one bit of advice would be to keep some continuity with your marketing — ONE name on all your writing, at least at the start of your career.
What is a hybrid author?
In publishing, we use the term “hybrid author” to describe a writer who publishes some titles with traditional publishing houses, and some titles independently. Both of those routes have strengths and weaknesses, so it’s too simplistic to suggest (as some do) that one is good and the other bad. The hybrid author tries to gain the benefit of both avenues.
I know you do both Christian books as well as non-religious books, but as a Christian, nonfiction author, can you tell me what is exciting about CBA nonfiction these days?
I can try. Understand that this is always changing — what’s working right now may not be working in six months; and what’s dead today might become the next big thing tomorrow. But right now I’d say that CBA
We’re taking the month of October to do “Ask the Agent.” So what’s the question you’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent? Here are some that have come in recently…
Recognizing I have started to build my platform much later than I should have, do I give up on sending my manuscript to an agent until a platform is built (years later…) or is there a situation where sending out a proposal is valid? Should I be working towards self-publishing instead?
You’re asking several questions here… First, building a platform is important to nearly every author, so it probably has to be done. Second, building a platform takes time, no matter where you’re starting. Third, don’t spend too much time worrying that you got a late start — instead, start where you are. Fourth, there are some tricks for increasing your platform that might be helpful (including borrowing the platforms of those who have gone before you), so spend some time looking at strategies. Fifth, there are certainly times when your book can land in spite of your platform, though I’ll admit those opportunities seem to be harder than they used to be. An experienced agent or manager might be able to help you with those choices. Sixth, you’re going to evaluate each project and its fit in the market — so if there’s an audience for your book, and it’s the type of project an agent represents, it might indeed be worth sending. And seventh, self-publishing could be an option that works best for you, so don’t view it as some sort of failure. Indie publishing is simply an alternative to traditional publishing, not a compromise.
If you find a manuscript has potential do you give notes to improve the salability of the manuscript?
Love this question. And my answer is “it depends on the situation.” If an author I don’t know sends me a proposal, I generally
I started this blog nearly ten years ago (we’re coming up on the ten year anniversary for this blog), as a way to simply answer the questions writers have about the process. Some people wanted to ask about writing, others about publishing, still others about marketing. Writers asked about careers, they asked about proposals, and they asked about contracts. Lately we’ve had a ton of people asking about indie publishing and working with Amazon to become a hybrid author.
Over the next couple of months, I thought we’d do an “ask me anything” segment. So… what have you always wanted to ask a literary agent? I’ve got a backlog of questions, but I thought I’d begin by simply asking the people who read this blog a question: If you could sit with me over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine somewhere, and ask anything you wanted, what would you want to know? What would you like to chat about?
Drop a question in the “comments” section below, or send me an email at chip (at) macgregorliterary(dot)com, and I’ll try to offer short answers to your questions. You can ask about books, about proposals, about writing, career planning, marketing, platforms, proposals, or anything else. If I don’t know an answer, I’ll ask someone who does. If they don’t know, I’ll just make up something that sounds good. (Or maybe I’ll ask someone else.)
So there you have it — October is gong to be “ask the agent” month. Send me your tired, your poor, your huddled questions yearning to breath free. I’ll do my best to get you a good response.
Someone wrote in to ask, “Can you explain the difference between an acquisition editor and any other type of editor? Who do they do? How are they hired?”
There are a bunch of different types of editors at any particular publishing house. An “editor” works on the story and wording of a manuscript, a “production editor” oversees the creation of the actual book, a “senior editor” gets to lord it over the other editors and grab the first donut in editorial team meetings, etc. At most houses nearly every editor acquires some manuscripts and is responsible for editing them and getting them ready for production. But some houses have dedicated “acquisitions editors,” who talk to agents, find authors and manuscripts that will be a fit, sign them to the house, then turn them over to developmental editors, who will actually work on the writing. Usually an acquisitions editor has spent time with the company so they have a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. And yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. Therefore, a publishing house gets shaped by the editors who work there, so it’s important the people they hire know the distinctive of the house. Very few editors (just a handful of senior or executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire whatever they want.
In general, the acquisition system looks like this:
Step one is that the acquisitions editor finds a project that fits the house. Maybe an agent has called to talk with her about it, or the editor and author met at a conference, but there’s a connection, and the editor likes the project. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possilble.
Step two occurs when the idea is taken to the editorial board or team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed,
Someone wrote to ask, “Is it a big deal if my book doesn’t earn back its advance? What percentage of books earn out? And does a publisher lose money if a book doesn’t earn out?”
I frequently get questions about advances, and to answer them I need your patience… Let me answer this with hard numbers, so that I can make my case. It will take a couple minutes to run the numbers.
First, you always want your books to earn out. Every time. If your book earns out, it means your book is selling, the financials on the book aren’t going to be an ongoing concern, and the publisher is happy and is going to want to work with you again.
But second, keep in mind that only about 25% of books earn back their advance. That number goes up and down according to the year and the economy, but over the years that’s been the figure publishers have used. Which means that of all those books out there, roughly three quarters of them are in the red. That can give you a bit of perspective. (That said, remember: with the massive growth of ebook publishers and smaller houses that pay no advance, there are many more books on the market in which the author was paid nothing — he or she is earning all their income on sales.)
Third, to answer your question about a publisher losing money, keep in mind that every business can lose money. Retail shops, service business, investment firms, everyone. If you own a shoe store, order in shoes that don’t sell, and then have to drastically reduce prices, you can lose money on each pair sold. That’s business, and publishing is no different. The publishing house pays out an advance, they pay an editor, hire a cover designer, buy ink and paper, pay a printer, and cover overhead such as the light bill