Category : The Business of Writing

  • Brian

    November 20, 2015

    Can the Audiobook Save B&N?

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    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about audiobooks. As Yasmine Askari reported on the Digital Book World last week, Barnes & Noble recently announced the launch of a Nook audiobooks app for iphone and ipad, as well as a new website to support the app with more than sixty thousand audio titles available to download without the purchase of a subscription. I’ll leave the prognosticating around whether or not this will be the magic bullet that saves Barnes & Noble from the same fate as Borders to smarter industry analysts. I’m more concerned with the audiobook as a product and it’s future in publishing.

    My first attempt to get into audiobooks revolved around my year and a half stint covering the Inland Northwest territory as a B2B salesperson calling on grocery stores from the eastern side of the Washington Cascades all the way to the Billings, Montana – a vast, beautiful, and relatively empty landscape. I would sometimes drive as much as six hours in between sales calls, this in the days before rental car stereos came with audio jacks and in a land with almost no local radio signals. It was dull. So, I tried to spice up the windshield time by bringing along one of those suitcase-sized collection of audiobook CDs.

    I couldn’t tell you the title or author of that book so many years later. What I can tell you is that I almost died listening to that book, lulled to sleep while driving a desolate Montana two-lane highway by the sultry voice of whomever was narrating. Like so many people, I walked away from the whole audiobook thing because of lack of convenience and a love of reading the actual text and fleshing out the characters with the voices my imagination created for them in my head. I figured that audiobooks were fine for older folks losing their sight, or for drivers that

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 19, 2015

    How do I fire my agent without hurting any feelings?

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    Someone wrote to say, “I have published one nonfiction book, and have a contract for another.  But I’m not happy with my agent, and would like to change. What suggestions can you give me to make this happen without hurting feelings?”

    You want advice for ending a relationship with no hurt feelings? I have none. The end of any relationship usually has some hurt feelings. If you’re decided, I’d bet that there will be some pain. But before you move forward with that, I’d like you to consider something… 

    Most of the time an author wants to fire an agent it’s because some expectation wasn’t met — the project didn’t go out fast enough, the phone calls weren’t frequent enough, the money wasn’t great enough. The frustration builds, and they eventually get to the point where someone says, “That does it — I’m leaving!” But in my experience, having a good conversation can often clean up the bulk of the problems. (Not always, but a lot of the time.) So go back and talk to your agent before racing into this decision. And by the way, having clear expectations, for what both sides want, can resolve a lot of issues. Frequently a good conversation about the struggles you’re having will give the agent a better picture of how to move forward with you.

    Case in point: I once had an author fire me and state, “You can never remember my children’s names!” My response was something along the line of, “Um… you have children?” I didn’t realize that part of the relationship was so important to her — turns out she felt it was critical. Now I try to do a better job of gauging what each author wants. Just so you know, there is no “one right way” to have an agent/author relationship, just like there’s no “one right way” to have any friendship. Each is unique.

    So make

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 15, 2015

    How does an acquisitions editor acquire books?

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    Someone wrote with this question: “When someone is hired by a publishing house and allowed to acquire new books, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team?”

    An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. Most are brought up through the system. They know if the company does well with historical novels, or if they like self-books, or if they struggle to sell memoir. So most ack editors know the list and the company culture — and yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. If an editor likes thrillers, and is charged with building the list, you can pretty much expect his or her preferences will begin to be reflected in the books they’re doing. (Though not always — an editor at Harlequin is generally responsible for acquiring romantic novels, no matter how much she happens to like spec fiction… Again, knowing the corporate saga and culture is essential.) Editors shape houses. That’s the way it’s always been in publishing. So a publishing house that hires a bunch of new acquisitions people gets reshaped by the editors who work there.

    That said, few editors (just a handful of executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire. The system looks like this:

    Step One is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possible.

    In Step Two the idea is usually taken to the editorial team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, they determine if it fits the corporate identity, they explore other factors (such as “is this book too similar to one we did last season?” and

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    October 12, 2015

    I can't make sense of my royalty statement!

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    A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that said, “I get a royalty report twice a year from my publisher, but I don’t really understand it. What tips can you give me for reading a royalty report?”

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    I swear some companies hire Obfuscation Technicians, just to try and make royalty reports hard to decipher. And remember, each company has their own format for royalty statements, so it doesn’t always pay to compare, say, a Hachette royalty report to a MacMillan royalty report. Many authors simply get confused when trying to dig into the details of the thing. Even an experienced author will complain that the Random House statements don’t look anything like the HarperCollins statements, which are different from the Simon & Schuster statements. And, unfortunately, some of the smaller companies seem to be purposefully trying to make them impossible to read. (One mid-sized publisher just revised theirs — and they are now worse than ever.)

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    In addition, there are some companies that do a good job of breaking things down (like Harlequin), but may not do a good job of aggregating the numbers — so you can see a book did great in large print, but you can’t actually see how many copies it has sold overall. Some companies do a wonderful job of telling you how your book did this quarter, but they fail to include life-to-date information. Ugh.
    With all that crud in mind, there are about ten questions I need to keep whenever I approach any royalty statement…

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    1. Who is the author?
    2. What is the project?
    3. How many copies sold?
    4. In what formats?
    5. What was the royalty rate(s)?
    6. How much money did it earn this period?
    7. What was the opening balance?
    8. How much is being paid now?
    9. Is any being held back? (a provision allows the publisher to retain some of

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    June 29, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What if another agent took my manuscript out already?

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    This question came to my in-box recently: What is the protocol for getting an agent for a book that was agented before? I don’t think I should withhold that information, but I don’t want to put up roadblocks either. I’ve let it stop me from going forward and could use your input.

     

    If you had an agent in the past who took your book to market but was unable to land you a deal, by all means reveal that to your new agent or prospective agent. For example, if my buddy Greg Johnson has taken a World War II novel manuscript out to all the houses doing those types of books, then I need to know that. Things with the manuscript would have to change for me to take it out to publishers. We may need to shift the story a bit, do some heavy rewrites, re-title it, or do some serious revising to make it work. So if you took this out to editors already once, it’s fine to try again, but you need to let me know what’s changed.

     

    So if you had an agent take the manuscript out a couple years ago, and have done serious work on it to change and improve it, talk to your agent about it. Find out where it was sent, and, if you can, what was said about it. That will help him or her when they start talking to editors about it and somebody begins asking questions.

    The thing to remember is that there’s no magic in MY taking a book out that everyone has already rejected. Occasionally I’ll have an author approach me with a manuscript and say, “Well, this other guy has shown it around to everyone already.” Okay… so why would I be able to land it? It’s not like I can take a book and place it with an editor who has already seen

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    March 25, 2015

    Ask the Agent: If I have a contract in hand…

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    Some fascinating questions have come in recently…

    “I know of several agents who edit or write on the side. Is there anything wrong with that?”

    I’m on record as having said, “You’ll do best if you find a full-time agent.” But I also recognize the times are changing – now we’re seeing agents help authors self-publish, or help with marketing plans, or have some other part-time position, so I know our role has changed. An agent who also edits or writes on the side has become fairly common. My feeling is that those agents need to be careful not to mix the two – and I’ll use myself as an example. While I will always go through a proposal and make sure it’s strong, editing and tweaking as necessary, I don’t freelance edit. I tell authors that my company is not an editorial service, so if they need a full-blown developmental edit, they’re better off hiring a freelance editor. I generally will give authors three or four names of editors who I like and trust… but I always explain that I don’t care which editor the author approaches, and I’m always quick to say these people don’t work for me, and I don’t get a kickback for recommending any particular editor. So if an agent wants to do some freelance editing, I think they have to create a bright line about separating the two aspects of their business (I recently saw one agent tell authors, “I’ll represent this if you’ll hire me to edit it first”). They have to be very careful that they don’t try to sell their editorial services to clients, which will get them kicked out of the AAR. Similarly, I know of a few agents who also work as freelance writers. So long as they’re not selling their writing services to clients, and basically running two separate businesses, I think they can make that work. I

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    March 4, 2015

    Ask the Agent: How do you feel about free fiction? (and other topics)

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    A writing friend sent this: “I need your help. A publicist sent me an email and asked me to review a client’s book.  I agreed. Unfortunately, the book is horrible. The publicist has emailed to inquire as to when I would be posting my book review. As a writer, I hate to totally slam a book. What do you suggest?

     

    This has happened to lot of us. My advice: Send a nice note to the publicist, saying, “You know, I read this, and it didn’t really appeal to me. I don’t want to say anything negative, so could I beg off, and you could ask me to review another book sometime?”

     

    And this came in to the website: “I am writing a book which will be illustrated. What is the industry standard for sharing royalties between authors and illustrators?”

     

    A book that has a few illustrations spread throughout usually doesn’t share royalties with the artist – the illustrations are usually licensed and paid for with a one-time payment. A book that has illustrations throughout (for example, a children’s picture book) will either have the artwork purchased outright, OR they will split the royalties in some way. I’ve seen all sorts of splits, by the way, but the standard is 50/50. Be aware, most children’s publishers don’t purchase the art you’re recommending. They’ll contract the text with you, then find their own illustrator whom they know and trust.

     

    Someone asked this on the blog: “How do you feel about free fiction?”

     

    I think it can work as a marketing strategy. Authors can give away a book to a particular audience, and hope to build readers. (YA author Jenny B Jones talked about that strategy on this blog a couple months ago.) But I also think its effectiveness is diminishing due to the vast amounts of free crap available online. Let’s face it – when you’re

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  • amanda-square

    February 26, 2015

    Thursdays with Amanda: Is Your Nonfiction Book Idea Viable?

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    When I first met Chip, we were working at a college (me in admissions and he as a visiting professor). I had a BA in writing and a love for books, so naturally, I pitched him some ideas. I mean, why not?!

    I’ll never forget his reaction to the only nonfiction book I ever ran by him…

    Now mind you, I had this GREAT book idea. I was in the midst of planning my wedding, and I was super inspired by this strong desire I had to make my wedding feel like me. What did that mean? It meant embracing the traditions that fit, while ignoring the ones that didn’t–and replacing them with things that were more Amanda & Tad and less standard wedding.

    This whole concept exploded in my mind. I mean, what if you have two sports-lovers getting married?! They could plan their wedding around a particular sports event and have a reception in which they serve wings and beer while watching the game! Or what if the couple is really into theatre? They could do a murder mystery reception that is super interactive and even includes clues from the invitations and programs!

    I went crazy. I started jotting things down and obsessing and then one day I casually pitched my wedding planning book idea to Chip. (And when I say casually I mean totally on the fly…you may as well envision us walking through campus and me dropping this bomb on him. Poor guy.)

    And you know what he said?

    He said no.

    He said

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  • amanda-square

    February 12, 2015

    Thursday with Amanda: 5 Pitfalls of Using Kickstarter…and How to Avoid Them

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

    Kickstarter is a popular way for artists and entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to bring a project or idea to fruition. It’s been used by everyone from Reading Rainbow to TLC to Zach Braff. So clearly, some big names (along with plenty of little guys) have adopted the unique platform.

    For awhile board games and the like dominated the Kickstarter platform, but more and more I’m seeing authors and even publishers launch their book projects through the site. It’s definitely a tempting idea. The thought of having $5,000 or $10,000 as opposed to the few hundred I used to put together my own indie book The Extroverted Writer, is…mind-blowing. Oh, what I could have done with that kind of money!! My book could have been edited by Stephen King and had a large print edition and a Spanish language edition and a braille edition and an ad in Times Square to boot.

    Okay, maybe not, but this is the lure of Kickstarter. It creates this “the sky is the limit” mentality. And it works.

    So what are the pitfalls? Oh, there are plenty. Kickstarter is an everyman’s version of Shark Tank, except the people with the ideas tend to be artists and creatives as opposed to MBA grads and business owners, while the backers (or partners) are regular consumers, looking to get in on a new product that fits their needs.

    Clearly this is a setup that could have disastrous results. And sometimes it does. But it doesn’t have to! Being aware of the

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  • chip-macgregor-square

    December 8, 2014

    Ask the Agent: How do I determine page count?

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    I got this question in my in-box: “An agent just requested my novel proposal, and asked about the word count. I told him it’s roughly 150,000 words, but that I’ll be cutting it to perhaps 120,000 by the time I’m done. He asked me how many pages it is… But is there an appropriate way to estimate a book’s size?”
    Sure there is. The rule of thumb with most publishers is to average about 300 words per page. So a 100,000-word novel will run about 300 pages. (That’s not exactly true, but it’s a good general guideline.)
    That said, let me speak to a couple other things you mentioned…
    First, while it could generally be said that most books run between 240 and 300 pages, most NOVELS tend to run toward the longer side. Frankly, nobody is buying 40,000-word novels. The shortest that routinely gets contracted is the category romance, which runs about 55,000 words. Historical romances at Harlequin will run to 75,000 words, but everywhere else they’re longer. Most stand-alone novels run between 80,000 and 95,000 words. And now we’re seeing some publishers produce book that run from 100,000 to 120,000 words.
    I frequently get authors sending me 150,000 word novels (they always seem to be scifi & fantasy writers, who must all be longwinded), and once received a 180,000-word tome. Could it get published? Maybe. Occasionally somebody puts out a huge novel on a chunk of dead trees, but it’s rare. My thought? Unless you’re writing for a category publisher, shoot for the 90,000 word mark with your novel. People in a bad economy want value for their money — which means a big, thick book for their cash.
    Second, while most books from new authors tend to be shorter, that’s not a hard and fast rule. When I was an associate publisher with Time-Warner, we released Elizabeth Kostova’s THE HISTORIAN, which was a huge book… and, to

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