• December 3, 2008

    Black Wednesday


    Ouch. I don't mean to be the bearer of bad news, but today was a really, REALLY lousy day for all of us who work in publishing. Today…

    -Simon & Schuster cut 35 people (2% of its workforce).

    -Thomas Nelson cut 54 people (10% of its workforce).

    -Random House axed some of its top people and announced it is restructuring — and will disband the Doubleday Publishing Group.

    -It has been reported that Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has let go of several employees (the company doesn't comment on personnel matters). Becky Saletan, the publisher, has been let go.

    -And Borders' stock price fell under one dollar. That's a very bad thing — if their stock price stays under $1 for ninety days, they have to do a consolidation of stock (the  opposite of a stock split).

    This qualifies as a really crappy day. And yes, most of it traces back to the lousy economy.

    Yeesh. The one bit of good news? Retail sales on "Black Friday" looked better than expected, proving that books are still recession-resistant. Today's news reveals that they are certainly not "recession proof." But people are still buying books, so that's something to take to heart.

    UPDATE: While there was some other news that wasn't too encouraging (Penguin has put a freeze on any raises this year), there was also some good news for everyone… Books sales in November rose 6% over this time last year, according to a story by Jim Milliot on PW Daily. He also noted that children's book sales rose more than 33% in that period (!), and YA sales were also up (thank you Stephenie Meyer!). When times are hard, people still read books.

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  • December 2, 2008

    What’s Happening in the Industry Right Now?


    I've had a number of people asking state-of-the-industry questions, so…

    — In case you haven't heard, the Author's Guild (along with most of the big New York publishers) finally settled their lawsuit with Google over their Library Search program. Basically, Google was scanning books from libraries and making them available, which seemed like a clear violation of copyright laws. In the end, Google paid $125 million and agreed to set up a new licensing system. The goal is to give readers more access to out-of-print books, make it easier for libraries and universities to access hard-to-find pages, and offer new avenues for people to buy copyrighted books online. The $125 M will be used to set up a nonprofit book registry, and it's expected that most American publishers will participate. This is good news for authors, who won't be getting jobbed by Google any more.

    — Publishers Weekly has come out with its long list of the "Best Books of the Year," and in the religious fiction category, there are only two titles: Anne Rice's Christ the Lord and Susan Meissner's The Shape of Mercy. Woo-hoo! SO glad to see Susan's book on that list. From the moment she turned that manuscript in to her editor, I expected to see this sort of response. If you haven't read it, go buy a copy. Honest — it'll be one of the best novels you'll read this year.

    — Rob Eager, the president of Wildfire Marketing in Atlanta, has done a fascinating study of CBA publishers. He dug into the sales numbers of 15 publishers on Amazon, and made some determinations based on the sales of each company's top twenty books. It's an interesting study, since it doesn't allow one hit to skew the results, but bases its research on each house's top twenty books. His findings:

    1. Zondervan's top 20 titles have an average sales rank on Amazon of 1807. (Their

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  • November 24, 2008

    A Miscarriage of Justice


    Okay, so the new People Magazine is out on store shelves… The one promoting "The Sexiest Men in America." I'd just like to point out that they list 25 guys in that issue, and they failed to mention me.


    How can this sort of thing happen, you ask? Beats me. A clerical error, perhaps. Or a vast, right wing conspiracy. However, my sources tell me this, like everything else in this country, is the work of George W. Bush.

    All right — I just had to get that off my chest before my lawyer contacts them. Now let me get to some of the more general queries people have sent my way recently…

    Ashley wrote to ask, "How many queries do you get each day, and how many of those do you accept? How many times in a month do you ask to see the full manuscript?"

    In 2008, I've received an average of about 175 queried proposals per month. Of those, I'll ask maybe 10 to send me the full manuscript. Of those, I might choose to represent one or two.

    Gwen asked, "As an agent, do you value the full person and relationship as much as the person's writing? For example, if you agreed to represent an author, and they didn't make you any money, would you remain friends with that person? Would you keep them as a client and encourage them in ways to be successful?"

    There's no way to answer that question without sounding self-aggrandizing, so get ready… Yes, I value the person as much as the person's writing. Most of the authors I represent become personal friends, and we work together for a long time. I try to represent people for the long haul — not just for the current book. And we're creating books together, not just locating money sources. In many ways, a good agent is a business partner with an author, offering writing

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  • November 22, 2008

    Authors Getting Paid


    I've had several questions lately about how authors get paid…

    Deonne wrote and asked, "Can you explain what an advance is, and how it is paid?"

    Happy to. When an author signs a book deal with a publisher, he or she is usually paid an advance against royalties. Think of that advance as getting a loan against your future earnings. If the publisher has, for example, agreed to pay you a $25,000 advance, it means you're in the red that amount. As each copy of your book sells, your account is credited the amount you've earned. At some point, you sell enough copies that your book has "earned out" its advance. (So if you were paid $25,000 and you're earning $1 in royalty on each book, you'll earn out your advance when your book has sold 25,000 copies. Clear?) From that point on, you're making new money on each book. Your publisher will settle with you either quarterly or semi-annually, sending you a check for the money owed due to book sales.

    Most advances are paid either in halves (half upon signing, half upon delivery of the manuscript) or in thirds (one-third upon signing, one-third upon delivery, one-third upon publication). Lately, publishers have been pushing authors to accept being paid in thirds, since it spreads out the payments a bit.

    Dreema asked, "If my book doesn't earn out the advance, do I have to pay back the unearned advance?"

    This is a common question, and the answer is "not normally." An advance is a shared risk — the publisher is risking that the author is going to write a good book, deliver it on time, and it's going to catch on with readers. The author is risking that he or she is going to take months out of life in order to create the book, then hand it over to a publisher who will do a good job of selling

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  • November 18, 2008

    Ten Questions


    A while back, a website manager said she wanted to ask me some questions, in order to find out more about my role and my life. Most of the time I'm answering questions about the industry on this blog, so here's a post that's a bit different… I'm answering questions from Ashley Weis, who runs a very funny and creative blog.

    1. As an agent, what is a typical Monday like for you?

    I get up early, go running, drink a huge mug of Starbucks (which I now make myself, since I can't see paying $4 a pop each morning), then face mycomputer. It seems like Mondays are the days I need to catch up on emails and phone calls… um,this doesn't sound very exciting, does it? I've been teaching a couple writing classes for a university, but that's coming to an end in a couple weeks, and I've decided I'm done with teaching for a while. I'd love to tell you that I generally do a million dollar deal on Mondays, or that Monday is the day I solve world hunger or pray until I glow in the dark, but it's not. Mondays are my day for catching up on stuff, so it's pretty much a day filled with talking — via the phone or the internet. Patti usually has Mondays off (she works for Barnes & Noble), so she quilts and reads and occasionally interrupts me. We have dinner together, she goes to her Bible study, and I watch Monday Night Football. Clearly you were hoping for something more when you asked the question. (TUESDAYS! It's on Tuesdays I routinely do those million dollar deals and promote world peace. Trust me on this.)

    2. What is the best book you ever read?

    Ack. Asking a book guy for one favorite book is always a Herculean task. When I was a kid, I thought Treasure Island was the best

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  • November 11, 2008

    Ten Things Happening Right Now


    Some good and bad news in the business of publishing…

    1. Bad News: The financials for publishing look awful. I'm not an alarmist, because I happen to think the people racing out of the stock market are simply skittish, and that's made stock prices of publicly-traded companies artificially low, but we're seeing real problems with publishers and retailers. Harper-Collins announced that their sales were off 4.5% from last year (and, um, last year at this time they were 10% down from the previous year). Simon & Schuster and Hachette are also down. In fact, a report on the top 17 publishers of hardcover adult books reports that sales in September were down 30% (sales of trade paperbacks and mass markets were down 8%). Many publishers are announcing that they're trimming their lists. Some are cutting jobs (Rodale announced they were axing 10% of their work force). The chairman of Barnes & Noble flatly said he is expecting "a terrible holiday." Ouch.

    2. Good News: On the up side of the business, there are numerous areas of growth. Children's titles are on an upswing. YA fiction is selling well. Harlquin is actually growing in a shrinking economy. And publishers are still in the business of creating and selling books, so they still need to buy books from authors. Things might be moving more slowly right now, but eventually publishers will remember that they need new books, and acquisitions will pick up. I see publishers working smarter and leaner — which is not a bad thing.

    3. Bad News: There is a passing of the torch in publishing these days. Three excellent writers have passed from our midst. First, the wonderful mystery writer Tony Hillerman passed away — the man who created Navajo policemen Joe Leaphorn and Jim Chee, and brought us all great cultural details about Native Americans in his books. Second, non-fiction writer Studs Terkel died last week. His book Hard

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  • October 24, 2008

    Writing, Websites, and Craft


    Here's some cool news: This blog was just given the "Writers' Inclusion Award" from Stepping Stone Magazine…so we're now officially an award-winning blog.  :o)

    Pierce had a question related to my last post: "Do you have specific recommendations for companies that can help beginning writers with creating the necessary tools for a business — letterhead, business cards, website, etc?"

    There are countless companies that can print you nice business cards, and it seems like you can't swing a stick these days without hitting a web designer. So instead of naming a bunch of companies, let me simply tell you who I work with, and you can use that as a starting point, Pierce.

    My logo, letterhead, envelopes, and business cards were designed by Kevin Burr at Ocular Ink in Nashville (www.ocularink.com). Kevin does great graphic design work. My website (www.MacGregorLiterary.com), which routinely garners great comments from people in the industry, was created by Nick Francis at Project 83 in Nashville (www.project83.com). Nick is simply the best in the business. You can find people who will do this stuff cheaper, but you won't find anyone who does it any better.

    Tiffany wrote and said, "When I go 'live' with my author site, I want to have a different feel for my nonfiction, my suspense fiction, and my speaking pages. Do you suggest different marketing tools for each facet of a writer's business, or do you suggest we have something that represents us in all capacities?"

    That probably depends on the writer, Tiffany. I think you can have projects that share an audience on one site, but they need to be somehow related. If there are widely divergent aspects of your business, you may want to have different websites. For example, if the speaking you're doing is on time management, but the writing is on dog grooming, you'll be hard pressed to make those work effectively

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  • October 19, 2008

    Writers and Websites


    I've received a number of questions about websites and e-books recently…

    Ellen has a very thoughtful question: "I've become a smarter book-buyer because of the economy. I'm more likely to read three chapters in the cafe at Borders before letting go of my money. If the writing isn't good, I don't buy the book. If the writing is great, I'll buy it no matter what it costs. But that raises a question — could Kindle increase sales by eliminating our ability to loan out our precious books? And won't Kindles and Sony e-readers affect the used book market?"

    For those unfamiliar, the Kindle is Amazon's latest attempt to control the world. It's a small electronic book that uses cell-phone technology to download book texts, and it's great (except it doesn't do graphics). The Sony e-reader is a bit less expensive and bit sturdier, though I'll admit I like using the Kindle more. Ellen's question is one publishers have been rolling around — there's no forwarding from one e-reader to another, so will these tools keep readers from passing along books to friends? That could cut down on the readership of a book. But at the same time, if an enthusiastic reader tells all her friends to read the latest Paul Coelho novel, could they all purchase and download it, thereby increasing sales? 

    Both are good thoughts. And to this point, nobody knows what will happen. However, I used Brazilian author Paulo Coelho as a specific example because of his recent discussion at the Frankfurt Book Fair last week. Mr. Coelho takes the approach that getting his words out there in electronic form will bring him new readers, and that will lead to more people buying books. So he gets his words out there in the ethernet, and gives them away quite a bit, and he believes that is what has led to his worldwide success. "The more you give, the

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  • October 10, 2008



    How bad are things on the financial side of publishing? Publisher's Lunch today offered some startling facts:

    -Barnes & Noble stock is down 19% from their high last month.

    -JohnWiley is off 25% during that same span.

    -Scholastic is down 26% since September 19th.

    -Amazon has lost 31% over that same time.

    -Hachette's parent company Lagardere is down 31.5%.

    -News Corp, which owns HarperCollins, is down 36%.

    -CBS, which owns Simon & Schuster, is down 40%.

    -Borders is down 44% in the past 30 days.

    -Books-a-Million is down 49% over that same time.

    -And PW Daily reported that Atlas & Co. has been forced to delay its Spring 2008 list due to economic issues.


    Want some happier news? J.K. Rowling earned $300,000,000 in this past fiscal year, according to Forbes magazine.

    Continue Reading "Ouch."
  • October 7, 2008

    The Art of Fireproofing


    On this blog, I have regularly commented about art and faith — more specificially, calling for people of faith to do a great job when creating art, since I think it's too easy for believers to be lazy about their craft. Think about it — if you can claim "I'm doing this for the glory of God," then maybe that trumps any discussion of the value of your work. If your art is "God's work," who has the right to question your ability?

    I mention this because I've been hearing from Christians that I need to go see the movie "Fireproof" — a Christian film that has received fairly wide play in theaters. Several Christian writers encouraged me to go, since the film has a strong message and is directed at a good cause. I'll admit I didn't do any preparation for the movie, but instead just showed up so I could take it in and see what the fuss is all about. It turns out it's another one of those films that was written and produced by Christians who have convinced themselves that they're at the top of their game because they have a strong "message." We used to refer to these as "church basement films," since the Billy Graham Association would produce them, then they'd be shown in church basements everywhere, giving believers a chance to nod in agreement with the message and thereby making us feel like we've accomplished something great.

    Since there is a big "faith and film" conference going on right now, I'd like to offer some thoughts on "Fireproof" from an artistic viewpoint…

    1. Kirk Cameron can't act. Come on…they cast Kirk as the tough captain of a Firehouse? He's a soft metrosexual type. What next — he's going to cast himself as an NBA center? The guy is completely unbelievable in the shout/be-angry/get-in-the-men's-faces portions of the film. In addition, he always LOOKS like he's acting. The fight

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