Category : The Business of Writing

  • 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 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 27, 2014

    Thursdays with Amanda: How the Movie “UNDERWORLD” Perfectly Portrays Today’s Publishing World

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    2014Amanda

    Amanda 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.

     

    Have you seen Underworld?

    In this rather awesome and yet equally terrible movie, the vampires and the lycans are at odds (duh). The vampires are snooty and privileged and literally SLEEPING UNDERGROUND while the world passes them by.  The lycans, on the other hand, are rule-breakers and thugs. They do what they want and for obvious reasons don’t get along with the vamps.

    There is a particularly attractive lycan-hunting vampire girl who is tracking a lowly human that most women my age would know as Ben from Felicity. Ben from Felicity is being followed by lycans, and the hot vamp chick wants to know why. The truth is soon revealed when the lycans bite Ben from Felicity and turn him. By now the hot vampire lady is torn! She has grown to care for Ben from Felicity, and how can she love her enemy?! She eventually decides to get over herself and love him anyway, but then he is once again injured and near death (wimp). She does what she has been warned not to do and bites him, thus making him both vampire and lycan–a creation that is rumored to be stronger than either species. They call him a hybrid. Eventually, he is able to bring about peace between the clans.

    So why do I bring this up? Why walk you through the ENTIRE movie premise?

    Because it adequately portrays what’s happening in publishing, and every time I hear the term “hybrid author,” I immediately think of Ben from Felicity (and I wanted you to

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  • March 25, 2014

    And the biggest successes of 2013 were…

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    In this week’s issue of Publisher’s Weekly, they have their annual report on the bestsellers of the previous year. I always enjoy reading about it and discussing it with authors, because nothing gives perspective more than a number. You see, authors like to talk about having books “sell a million copies,” and I’ve frequently seen proposals in which writers make wild promises about selling millions, since the audience for a particular topic is considered huge. (“There are 246 million people with dandruff in this country! There’s a ginormous market for my book on hair care!”)

    But then every spring PW releases its report, and everyone gets a dose of reality. How many hardcover novels sold a million copies in 2013? One — Dan Brown’s Inferno. How many hardcover nonfiction books sold a million copies? Three — Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus and two of the “Duck Commander” books, Happy, Happy, Happy and Si-Cology. How many trade paper books sold a million copies? One — and it was released decades ago… F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There was only one mass market book that sold a million copies, proving that this formerly big-number format is quickly dying off, replaced by digital books — George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.

    On the children’s side, there were a handful of books that passed the million mark. Jeff Kinney’s Hard Luck: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8 sold more than three million copies, and was the biggest seller in one format of any book sold last year. But Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Insurgent, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars also hit the mark. (Two other titles probably did: Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham, but the numbers are unclear because of several factors.) Still, when it comes to print copies, that means there were

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  • March 21, 2014

    Engineered Bestsellers, Rock Star Pastors, and Rosie Ruiz

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    by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]

    Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.

    The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.

    As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.

    This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.

    I know, I know…

    You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.

    I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.

    So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero

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  • March 19, 2014

    Making sure I get the story straight…

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    I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)

    I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.

    Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls

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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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  • February 22, 2014

    Author Earnings, Amazon, and the Future of Ebooks

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    There has been a ton of discussion over a report on author earnings  by ebook authors (which you can find here: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/), the response to it (http://tinyurl.com/pcebsd5), and the responses to the responses (two of the best are http://tinyurl.com/kbjts5s and http://tinyurl.com/omkjz6v ). If you follow this discussions in our industry, you already know what’s going on: successful self-published author of Wool, Hugh Howey, did a bunch of research and came to the conclusion that self-published authors are selling more books and making more money than those publishing with traditional publishers. It was quickly pointed out that there were some problems with Howey’s work — he sells his books on Amazon, did all his research on Amazon, and (surprise!) came to the conclusion that Amazon is a great place to do your ebooks. Nevertheless, there were really some interesting things that showed up in his research:

    —Indie-published ebooks have generally higher ratings on Amazon than Legacy-published ebooks.

    —Indie-published ebooks generally cost less than Legacy-published ebooks, possibly leading consumers to the sense of getting better value from indies.

    —Indie-published ebooks may be outselling Legacy-published ebooks (this is more inferred than proven).

    —Indie-published ebooks constitute a larger percentage of books sales than we’ve been led to believe in the past (Howey estimates it’s more than 50% of all book sales, though his methodology lacks stringent validity testing).

    —Indie-published authors of ebooks are earning more per book than Legacy-published ebook authors. (Though his argument that Indie-published authors are making more overall is based on very shaky evidence.)

    It’s all fascinating stuff, and I believe his conclusion that publishing’s brightest days are ahead is spot-on. As an agent, I’ve never felt I was one of the people who needed to protect the status quo — the fact is, I believe in authors self-publishing.. Unfortunately, the debate that arose after Howey released his findings was considerably less than insightful. It’s become a fairly

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  • February 19, 2014

    What does a writing budget look like?

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    A couple of people read my Tuesday blog and asked me, “What does a writing budget look like?”

    Here’s the basic idea…

    1. The author sets a financial goal for the year. It’s got to be something that is livable (if the writer is attempting to make this a full-time job) and reachable (so there’s no setting a goal of “a bazillion dollars”). Let’s say, for someone just moving into full-time writing, the goal is $24,000 per year. Skinny, but a real wage for most writers. So figure out how much you need to earn in a year from your writing.

    2. I encourage an author to break that annual figure into monthly chunks — so in our example, the author’s goal is $2000 per month.

    3. The next step is to add up what the author expects to earn on the writing they are doing. How much in contracts does she already have? What other writing does she know she’ll be doing and getting paid for? That will help her figure out how much money is coming in, and how much she needs to add. Let’s say an author has a royalty check coming in May, expects to have completion money on a book contract in July, has a couple of self-published books releasing in April and August, and is expecting to sell a project in October. All you have to do is to figure out the amounts and write them onto your writing calendar. Nothing will give an author more clarity than hard numbers written down on a calendar — it’s a way of saying, “I’m making this… so now I need to work to make that.”

    4. The obvious thing to do next is to match up dates and amounts. If you know you’re going to be working on a book in March/April/May, you can write down how much you’re making on that project. By

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  • February 18, 2014

    How can an author create a career?

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    If you are unaware, there is a ton of discussion going on right now over a report on author earnings done by a self-published author, what he discovered when he did some research, and how authors, agents, and publishers have responded to his findings. I’m in the midst of studying the whole schlamozzle before I respond, but all the discussion basically comes down to this question: How can an author have a career in today’s publishing climate? 

    I have a background in organizational development — that is, the study of how an organization grows and changes over time. My graduate training was in organizational theory, and during my PhD studies at the University of Oregon, I had a Graduate Teaching Fellowship to work at the Career Planning office, helping create tools to assist those graduating, particularly those getting graduate degrees in the arts. During my studies at the U of O (Go Ducks!), the focus eventually was on helping people  in the arts map out a career plan, and that experience allowed me the opportunity to apply the principles of organizational theory to the real-world setting of  trying to make a living via one’s art.  In my job as a literary agent, I’ve found that experience has proven helpful when talking to writers about their careers. You see, my contention is that some people pay lip service to “helping with career planning,” but many don’t really have a method for doing that. (Actually, from the look of it, some don’t even know what it means. I think “having a career plan” to some authors is equivalent to “having a book contract.”) So here are a few things I like to consider when talking with a writer…

    First, I want to get to know the author. Who is he (or she)? What’s the platform she brings to the process? Does she speak? If so, where? How often? To whom? To how

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