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Category : Trends
BY CHIP MACGREGOR
I’m one of those agents who believes in the future of publishing. I respect the past, but I understand that the old way of doing things won’t work today — everything has changed, we’re in a state of revolution, and people who want to make a living in this business will have to adapt or die. I know that’s true of agents, who must change the way they’re doing things if they expect to make a living in 2014. I think that’s true of publishers, who are big and successful for a reason, and who will continue to try to change their models to remain in business and make money. And I believe it’s also true of authors, who simply have to accept the world has changed and look to the future with a new plan.
The old plan for most authors was clear: write a great book, find an agent, and let him help you land a deal with a publisher. Most authors relied on an advance to make a living, and the full-timers tended to live from one advance check to the next. Royalties were great, when they showed up once or twice per year, but could barely be counted on. The power was in the hands of publishers, and there were a number of middlemen (distributors, retailers, agents) intruding on much of a relationship that SEEMED like it should have been simply “author-to-reader.” In that old system, the roles were clear: the authors wrote books, the agents negotiated books, the publishers produced books, the marketers promoted books, the distributors provided books, and the retailers sold books. Sometimes it didn’t seem fair — as though the authors who were churning out the art didn’t have much control, and were at the mercy of a sometimes fickle or arbitrary system.
Then things changed. Amazon came along and, in essence, removed many of the middlemen. An author
AGENT and VICE-PRESIDENT at MACGREGOR LITERARY
Glad to be back. I’m excited to start the year with a monthly blog series, HERE’S THE DEAL.
I often find the story behind the deal – the journey to publication – as exciting as making the deal itself. Given that, on the first Friday of each month, I’ll be offering glimpses into the backstory of how a particular book came to be published. And not from hearsay, but directly from the perspective of the acquiring editor.
Of course it is a big day when an author hears those long-awaited words from their agent “we have a deal!” But as anyone who works in traditional publishing knows, getting to that point is rarely quick and never, never easy. And it’s not just the author and agent who labor to sell a book, but also the acquiring editor who works diligently to champion and support a project all the way through, from initial discovery all the way through acquisition, editing, marketing, release, and beyond.
To kick things off, I interviewed Marc Resnick, Senior Editor at St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan. In addition to having an office in the Flatiron – one of the coolest buildings in New York City – Marc is a pretty cool guy himself, and we’ve kept in touch since first meeting at a conference a few years ago.
Though he and I have yet to do a deal together, we share an affinity for military topics. So, when we spoke for this interview I wasn’t surprised he chose to tell me the story behind the acquisition and success of the 2011 title SEAL TEAM SIX by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin.
The Team Behind SEAL TEAM SIX
Marc told me that when he received the proposal, originally titled Confessions of a Navy Seal Sniper, he read it immediately. A big part of his motivation
I sometimes hate reading people’s predictions for the new year, since they tend to be incredibly safe (“a new author will arise and start selling well”) or so obvious a moron could have guessed it (“it will rain a lot in Oregon”). But I enjoy the notion of trying to guess what will happen, since I’ve spent my life in this business, and I tend to try and stay ahead of the curve. So here are my un-safe, non-obvious thoughts on what may happen this year…
1. Amazon is going to start a chain of stores. Maybe it’ll be in airports, maybe they’ll start micro-stores like the kiosks you see selling headphones and chargers in airport terminals, but Amazon NEEDS to find an outlet for their Amazon-branded books. No brick and mortar store will touch them, and they need a presence in paper somewhere.
2. Barnes & Noble is going to be sold but remain in business. Okay, I don’t have ANY insider information, even though my wife worked for them for years. We all know B&N is struggling. They may sell off their Nook business (and I’m a huge fan of my Nook, as I’ve noted on this blog several times), but I don’t think America’s largest book retailer will go under. Instead, I’m wondering if the good folks at Microsoft (who propped up the Nook with an infusion of cash two years ago) might buy the entire chain. Someone will.
3. We’re going to see a bunch of publisher mergers. Hear me out: the rise of ebook readers led to a flood of category novels. That in turn led to the creation of countless smaller publishing houses — start-up companies that focused on one genre. But with ebook sales gone flat, and dedicated e-readers failing due to tablets, a bunch of those semi-successful smaller houses are about to be taken over by the Random Houses and HarperCollins of
So we’re in a state of revolution in publishing — a season where everything about books is changing. The writing, the editing, the production, the marketing, the sales channels, even the way we read books is different from the way we did five years ago. In the midst of all that change, there has been a lot of debate over the state of the industry, with some people decrying the changes and other embracing them. Some folks (see the letter from Richard Russo that I shared on the blog last week) are worried about the decline of bookstores and the takeover by a handful of conglomerates. Others (see Konrath’s harangue via the comments section) are celebrating that power has begun to move from publishers and bookstores to writers. There are strong feelings on each side, and no doubt some truth to be gleaned from several sources.
In the midst of all the noise, I thought it would be good to review some of the biggest publishing stories of the last year (before we all start making predictions about what will happen in 2014).
Before I offer my thoughts, let me just state that I’m of the opinion there’s never been a better time to be a writer. There are more readers than ever before. There’s moire training available than ever before. The industry is producing more books than ever before. And the web has created more opportunities for writers than ever before. So consider me an optimist when it comes to the publishing future. With that in mind, here are what I consider the ten biggest publishing stories of 2013:
1. Flat sales for ebooks. While it’s true we’ve watched ebooks capture a huge percentage of the market over the past five years, the expected rise to a 50/50 split between print books and ebooks hasn’t materialized. Instead, ebooks make up about 20 to 23% of all books sales… and
It’s all changing, right before our eyes. Not just publishing, but the writing life itself, our ability to make a living from authorship. Even in the best of times, which these are not, most writers have to supplement their writing incomes by teaching, or throwing up sheet-rock, or cage fighting. It wasn’t always so, but for the last two decades I’ve lived the life most writers dream of: I write novels and stories, as well as the occasional screenplay, and every now and then I hit the road for a week or two and give talks. In short, I’m one of the blessed, and not just in terms of my occupation. My health is good, my children grown, their educations paid for. I’m sixty-four, which sucks, but it also means that nothing that happens in publishing—for good or ill—is going to affect me nearly as much as it affects younger writers, especially those who haven’t made their names yet. Even if the e-price of my next novel is $1.99, I won’t have to go back to cage fighting.Still, if it turns out that I’ve enjoyed the best the writing life has to offer, that those who follow, even the most brilliant, will have to settle for less, that won’t make me happy and I suspect it won’t cheer other writers who’ve been as fortunate as I. It’s these writers, in particular, that I’m addressing here. Not everyone believes, as I do, that the writing life is endangered by the downward pressure of e-book pricing, by the relentless, ongoing erosion of copyright protection, by the scorched-earth capitalism of companies like Google and Amazon, by spineless publishers who won’t stand up to them, by the “information wants to be free” crowd who believe that art should be cheap or free and treated as a commodity, by internet search engines who are all too happy to direct people to on-line sites that
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.
(I’m taking a break from all-things-marketing for the rest of 2013…so if you’re here for posts on platforms and promotions, stay tuned…they’ll come with the new year).
It never fails. Each November 1, my Facebook news feed is full of bright-eyed, hopeful, excited writers, eager to embark on their quest to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The camaraderie is awesome. The energy, infectious. And each year there is a teeny tiny part of me that wonders if I sign up, too.
Then, week one ends. The energy, though still pulsing, is a tad weaker. The number of people talking about their goals, less frequent. Then comes the first admittance of failure:
“Stuff came up with the family…can’t finish NaNo this year. :(”
Not a big deal. Those still in the trenches assure that person that there was nothing they could have done to change their situation and that NEXT YEAR it will be different.
But then week two hits. And week three. And you get to the 21st of the month (the day I’m writing this post), and it’s as if NaNoWriMo isn’t even taking place. Of my thirty-plus Facebook friends who had advertised their participatin in NaNo, a small handful remain. And even then, their updates are sparse, full of stress. Full of doubt. They’ve been beaten down and they don’t know how they’ll pull through.
This is why I hate NaNoWriMo. It sets writers up to fail.
As if writers need yet another reason to question their craft. To doubt whether they’re cut out for
I’ve been talking about authors trying to make a living at writing recently, and a couple people have written to ask me, “When can I know I’m actually making a living with my words?”
To me, the answer is personal. One author may feel she is making a living when she’s earning $1500 per month; another may feel she isn’t really making a living until she’s making $3000 per month. I think you have to pick an amount based on your own situation. What are your household income needs? What’s reasonable for you to earn over the course of a year? How much time do you have to devote to writing?
When I started free-lancing, I was working other jobs (I hosted a radio show called “On the Record with Dr Chip MacGregor,” and taught some classes). At first my writing income was slim, but over time I had more writing and editing projects coming in, and I saw my monthly income from writing move from $100 to $300 to $500 to $1000 per month. I had a big jump from $1000 to $1500, then to $1800 per month. When I began making an average of $2000 per month, I realized I could make more money if I gave up my part-time jobs and just focused on the writing and editorial work. Granted, this was a number of years ago, but I had three kids and a mortgage payment, and making more than $2000 each month was enough to live on.
So, as you look at your situation, how much do you need to make? You may choose to set a small goal from your writing at first, then grow it over time as your writing career moves forward. You have to begin to see “words” as “money” — that is, your writing having value. One of the things you’ll discover is that when you look at words that way,
Today we’re featuring a guest blog from Amy Haddock, Senior Marketing Manager at Waterbrook Multnomah, a division of Penguin Random House. Amy helped create the popular “Novel Crossing” website for inspirational fiction readers…
Writing a book is one thing. Getting that book discovered by readers is a whole other thing, right? It doesn’t take long to see that marketing a book can be an exhausting labor of love. As a marketer myself, I understand completely. For me, the goal is always to find readers, connect them with new books that they would like, and to get them to share it with their friends. As simple as that sounds, we all know that to get to this end result requires hours and hours of work, careful educated guesswork, detailed information about these consumers, a collaborative partnership between publishing house and author, and a way to target these readers as a group. That’s why I’m excited to tell you about Novel Crossing. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first thing I should probably tell you: I love books. I’m enamored with reading. I have whole bookcases full of titles from decades past that show just how long I’ve had my nose perpetually in a book, but more than that, I love Christian fiction. I grew up on Janette Oke, Gilbert Morris, and Robin Jones Gunn—reading that my Mom deemed “safe” from her own bookshelves—and during countless moves from city to city during my formative years, these books were my constant companions.
I’ll admit, I struggled during my college years to retain my love for reading. I became a “skimmer” extraordinaire to make it through the stacks of articles and textbooks that professors gleefully assigned. Looking back, I realize they were just doing their job but at the time it was all I could do to stuff enough knowledge into my brain to pass my courses, let alone pick up a read-for-fun
Recently I got behind on a bunch of questions readers sent in, so I’m going to try and catch up by offering shorter answers to a host of questions…
Someone wrote to say, “I’ve seen a number of writers call themselves ‘best-selling’ authors. Quite a few are self-published. What exactly does it take for a book to be considered a bestseller?”
That’s easy — if an author has hit a bestseller list, they can legitimately call themselves a bestselling author. So if your book hit the New York Times list, the LA Times list, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Denver Post, CBA, ECPA, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or any other bestseller lists, you can promote yourself as a “bestselling” author. The problem that’s come up recently is that authors will rise up the Amazon sales ranking, notice they’re in the top five or ten in their sub-category, and suddenly start telling everyone they’ve become a superstar. Um… Let’s just say that rising up the Amazon rankings are great, but they segment things so much it’s considerably easier to make their list than, say, the New York Times Bestseller list. And editors and agents aren’t stupid (no matter what you’ve heard). If your book spent an hour in the top ten of Amazon’s “inspirational historical fiction” category, that won’t really impress editors. Stick to the major lists, and you’ll figure out who is a legitimate bestseller.
Another writer wants to know, “How many words are in a standard romance novel? A thriller? A literary novel? What about a novella?”
At Harlequin, a contemporary category romance is 55,000 words, and a historical romance is 75,000 words. At other houses (those that aren’t selling to a subscriber list) those numbers are larger. Most contemporary stand-alone novels are in the 70 to 80,000 word range, and some publishing houses prefer they stretch to 90,000 words. Thrillers tend to go long — 90,000 words. Spec
I just got back from a writing conference, and I kept track of several interesting questions that writers wanted to ask me…
“What is New Adult?”
A number of people asked me about this relatively new term — we’re using it in publishing to talk about books aimed at the 18-to-25 year old audience. These are basically readers who grew up buying “young adult” books (those aimed at the 13-to-18 year old audience), and they’re ready to move to new topics, but perhaps are looking for books that explore the transition from “young adult” issues to standard “adult” themes. So most of the “new adult” (or “NA”) titles focus on that transition — relationships, independence, identity, sexuality, empowerment, moving, career choices, etc. It’s a growing category in publishing, even if you may not have heard the term yet.
“If a publisher expresses interest in my manuscript at a conference, does that change the way I approach another editor or agent?”
I doubt it changes the way you approach other editors at a conference (and the words “another editor asked me to send it” tend to mean little, since every experienced conference faculty member can tell you that new writers tend to take ANY encouragement from an editor as “they love my book and are going to publish it!”). Most agents won’t be swayed by the thought that an editor asked to see your proposal, since the agent has to like it personally (I’d never agree to represent someone based on the fact that an editor liked the manuscript). So no, a publisher expressing interest at a conference, while certainly fun and encouraging for you, probably doesn’t mean you should change the way you approach others.
“If an editor asked me to send my manuscript at a conference, should I mention that in the query letter?”
If an editor asks you to send your manuscript to him or her, by all