• August 29, 2008

    Talking Agents and Agenting

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    Here's how this blog works: You send in publishing questions, and I give you a straightforward answer. Nearly all of the recent questions relate to agents…

    Rita wrote to ask, "I've been offered a contract on my novel… When an author is offered a deal and they don't yet have an agent, should they seek one at that point? And if an agent accepts, should the agent still get 15% of the royalties, even though he or she didn't market that book or secure the deal for them?"

    Ten agents might give you ten different answers to this, Rita. Here's mine: Unless you know publishing, contracts, negotiations, and what's considered standard in the industry, you'd probably benefit from having an agent. So yes, I'd seek out an agent to help you, in most cases. However, I wouldn't feel right about taking the full 15% commission unless I somehow improved the deal for you. If I didn't sell it or find you the deal, it would seem unfair for me to take a full commission. Not every agent agrees with that perspective, so be aware as you talk to people.

    Julie wrote regarding a related question: "If I already have an offer from a publisher, will an agent negotiate the contract for a fee?"

    Negotiate it for a fee? No. But some will do a contract reading or contract evaluation for you for a fee. Or you could pay a lawyer to review the contract and make notes (be prepared to pay a good sum of money), OR you could pay someone who specializes in contract evaluations to look it over and make suggestions. When someone does an evaluation, they go through the contract, mark it up, tell you what's fair, and suggest things you can ask for in order to improve the deal. But that requires you to actually do some negotiation — so if you're really not comfortable negotiating,

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  • August 20, 2008

    Kristy and Karen and Mike

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    When my son Colin was about five years old, we took him to the Rose Parade in Portland. He got one of those helium balloons that have a Mickey Mouse head inside a second, larger balloon. Colin loved it, and enjoyed bouncing it around the car and the house, but then we walked outside, he let go, and… off it sailed into the Northwest sky, lost to the winds.

    We talked about it a little bit. I didn’t scold him. Accidents happen. He was sad, and crying a bit, and upset that he’d done something so silly as to let go of the string. "Papa," he said to me (for he has always called me Papa), "when I grow up, I’m going to have a job where I go around and collect all the lost balloons, and take them back to the kids who lost them."

    I don’t tell many "little children" stories — too much W.C. Fields in me, believing that children and dogs should be offered in small doses. But today I’d love to be five years old again, with dreams of doing something great for people; something big and nice and sweet, without being held back by an adult explaining why you can’t do it. Here’s why…

    A month ago, my friend Krisy Dykes died of a brain tumor. Kristy was a writer, and a very nice person, always opening her emails with the same words: "Greetings from sunny Florida!" Late in her career, she called me and asked if I could help her. As it turns out, I couldn’t. Not very much, anyway. But I always appreciated her positive, joyful spirit, and her willingness to be an ambassador for Christian writing.

    Then last night, I got a call from someone. An author I represent, Karen Harter, is in the hospital suffering with the late stages of cancer. They don’t expect her to last more than another

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  • August 17, 2008

    The Christian Book Expo

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    Next spring, everything about the marketing and selling of Christian books is going to change. The ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) is going to host the Christian Book Expo in Dallas, March 20-22. Modeled after the very successful Guadalajara Book Fair and the Los Angeles Festival of Books, I think this is going to be the next big thing for Christian publishing.

    Why? Because of the direction the organizers are taking. Instead of being focused on retailers, the focus of this show is going to be on authors and content. The public will be invited, and the whole idea is to expose readers to authors and their work. Think about this: there are going to be 180 workshops at the Expo. They are planning readings, and performances, and dozens of speakers. There are going to be mini-events where authors discuss contemporary and theological issues. There will be activities for families, and an entire area dedicated just to children’s books. They are planning 11 different panels, with world-class participants, to explore what the authors have to say about today’s significant social issues. (The panels are going to be sponsored by Christianity Today.) And they’re expecting major media, the participation of every ECPA publisher, as well as most general market publishers who produce Christian books. I think this event is going to raise the awareness of Christian publishing in this country. Best of all, this will be a books only event, meaning all of us get to focus on authors and their works.

    Here’s something that might surprise you: The Guadalajara Book Fair attracted 525,000 people last year. The LA Festival had 140,000 attendees earlier this year. The fact is, people are still interested in books. And since last year was the biggest year ever for selling religious books, it’s fair to say that people care about Christian books (even  if CBA and their retailers convention is struggling to survive). So

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  • August 11, 2008

    The Future of CBA and ICRS

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    I’ve had a bunch 0f questions about the future direction of publishing, especially the future of CBA (the Christian Booksellers Association). Let me try to tackle some of the questions that have been posed to me or posted in the "comments" section…

    Carol asked, "How is the much-touted Christian Book Expo different from the current ICRS?"

    ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show) is a collection of everyone who sells into religious stores. It includes jewelry companies, art distributors, t-shirt and tie manufacturers, card companies, music and entertainment corporations, and all the wacky stuff from Testamints to Gospel Golf Balls. There’s a sense that the show has lost its momentum. Next March, the ECPA (Evangelical Christian Publishers Association) will host the Christian Book Expo in Dallas. Many are viewing it as an alternative to ICRS. The focus will solely be on books, it will be open to the public, and they are hoping t0 line up major media for the authors at the show.

    I have long advocated Christian publishers focus on BEA (the annual general-market book show) by sending editors, setting up media, and asking the folks who run it to put all the religious publishers in one location. But BEA just doesn’t thrill the old CBA crowd. Too expensive, too much competition, and too much liberal nuttiness to make Christian publishers comfortable. (They all attend, but it’s more of a sales show, so they don’t bring many authors or editors.) Will the new Christian Book Expo work? Beats me. But when your current plan isn’t working, you need to try something else. One of the weakest aspects of ICRS this year was the lack of media, so the ECPA types have decided to focus on a Bible-belt city, try to draw commercial crowds, and make it a "happening" that will attract TV/radio/print people. I’ll be hoping for the best.

    Another person asked, "Will the new ECPA show make up

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  • August 1, 2008

    Online Rights and Other Things We’re Seeing Now…

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    Dana wrote to ask, "Was ICRS really as bad as everyone is making it out to be? Were numbers down all that much? I recieve emails from CBA (the sponsoring organization), and they shared some pretty good news to their membership."

    You know, I don’t take any pleasure in predicting the demise of CBA. I’ve been a member for years, am supportive of its goals, and have established some wonderful memories at the annual book show. But no matter how you spin it, the numbers are terrible. Ten years ago the convention drew just under 15,000 participants. This year the number was half that. And the number of "industry professionals" who attended the show was half the number of what it was ten years ago. The floor space is obviously shrinking (and word is many publishers may pull out or significantly reduce their floor space even more next year). So, yes, it’s a significant downward trend. No matter how they try to spin it, the show is in deep trouble (in my humble opinion).

    Sheri asked, "From walking the floor at ICRS, can you tell us about some of the book trends you’re seeing?"

    We’ve continued to see growth in fiction, and particularly in fiction sub-categories. (So while we used to just see "romance," we’re now seeing "historical romance," "contemporary romance," "romantic suspense," "romance with characters named Fiona," etc.) We’re also seeing more emergent writers. More reformed writers. More spriritual journey writers. More charismatic writers. More writers with professional platforms (MD’s writing on health, or investment guys writing on finances, for example). More "social justice" and "green" books. More audio titles. A continuing movement toward celebrity. The beginnings of narrative nonfiction titles. Fewer books from pastors. Few homeschooling books. Very few education titles. Few men’s books. Few humor writers. Few Bible studies. Almost no CBA gift books. More small presses starting up (hoo-ray!). And a handful of companies (Moody is

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  • July 26, 2008

    The Leftovers from ICRS

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    There are a handful of leftover things happening in the world of publishing that should be mentioned. In no particular order…

    1. The Christy Salon: In case you didn’t hear, at this years’ Christy Awards (given for the best religious fiction), they featured a "salon" — a discussion of experienced people talking about the history and future of Christian novels. It was an interesting discussion, with Dave Lambert of Simon & Schuster, Karen Ball of B&H, and Carol Johnson of Bethany House (who was also given a lifetime achievement award at this dinner for her 20+ years in the industry). The most interesting part of the salon was the talk about the books that have shaped contemporary Christian fiction. Once you got past Grace Livingston Hill and Catherine Marshall (the Christies are named for her novel), the panel suggested these books have had the most influence: Jeanette Oke’s Love Comes Softly, Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, Bodie Thoene’s Gates of Zion, Jan Karon’s Mitford books, Francine Rivers’ Redeeming Love, and Jerry Jenkins’ Left Behind. It was pointed out that each of these books broke the mold. Each was different from the current popular reads, and each had a publisher who believed in them and worked to promote them. Interesting to think about in our "me-too" world of writing.

    2. The Man We All Must Thank: I was glad to hear people in several venues say nice things about Jerry Jenkins. The fact is, we all know Left Behind doesn’t qualify as "great literature," but Jerry’s books hit at the right time, changed Christian fiction, and opened up the rest of the world to the whole notion of religious books. Borders, Books-a-Million, and Barnes & Noble used to have one shelf devoted to religious fiction. Now they have an entire aisle. The New York Times used to not count Christian books when compiling their bestseller list — but they couldn’t ignore

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  • July 22, 2008

    Back from the Front Lines…

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    Just got back from a week at ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show) in Orlando. Some notes…

    1. Attendance: In a word, awful. One insider told me this is the lowest attendance they’ve had at a CBA convention since the 1980’s. There were only about 7000 people at the show. Ouch.

    2. The Bad News: There wasn’t much buzz at the show. Zondervan introduced an interesting idea (more on that later), but the whole event had a bit of a gloomy atmosphere. As you know, Thomas Nelson, the largest Christian publisher on the planet, pulled out of the show. That helped create a sinking ship mentality. My guess is that more publishers are going to follow their lead (more on THAT later as well). In addition, they’re going to have to cut the whole thing back. NOBODY was there on Thursday — you could have whacked golf balls down the aisles and not hit anyone. So, overall, a bit of a negative vibe at this convention.

    3. The Good News: On the flip side, book publishing is alive and well. Even though there was a bit of a cloud over the show, a Bowker study revealed that there were more Christian books produced and sold last year than ever before. I figure that’s good news to everyone who works in the industry. And I’d argue there were some excellent new books unveiled. (I loved getting a copy of Baker’s UNCHRISTIAN, and Jossey-Bass had new books from both Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones.) So we can all stop whining. There’s plenty of good things going on.

    4. The Floor: It was nice to have all the book publishers close to each other on the floor again. And many of the art-and-trinket sellers weren’t there — in fact, I’d say they took up half the space they used to inhabit. Real shrinkage among the non-book types.

    5. The Crazies: Many of the

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  • June 29, 2008

    Talking Compilations and Agents

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    Jacob wrote to me and said, "I submitted to one of those compilation books, and the company requested I put my social security number on all my submissions. I wrote to ask them about the practice, since my submission had not yet been accepted, and was told by one of the people who helps with the project that he ‘puts his SSN on everything’ he submits. What’s your advice on this subject?"

    My advice is clear: DO NOT PUT YOUR SSN ON YOUR PROPOSALS. In fact, my guess is that anybody who routinely sticks that sort of confidential information on all his proposals is a dipstick. Don’t take career advice from that individual. Yikes.

    Belinda wrote and noted, "I have been accepted into a compilation book, but their contract has an endless non-compete. When I asked them about it, I was told they ‘don’t mean it like that.’ What should I do?"

    Sticking with the dipstick theme, if the editor said to you, "I know the contract only calls for you to make a 2% royalty, but we don’t mean it — we’ll pay you 15%," would you agree to sign? No way. The reason you have a written contract is to clarify exactly what the deal is. If they want to offer a broader non-complete clause, get it written down, or suggest some wording for them to insert into the contract. Basically a non-compete is there to protect a publisher from an unscrupulous author writing a book with one house, then writing a very similar book and producing it with another house, thereby cannibalizing sales. An author who regularly writes and speaks on a particular topic needs to gain some freedom, so as not to be prohibited from ever writing on that topic again. A good contract strikes a balance between the publisher’s protection and the author’s calling to speak to a certain issue.

    Timothy asked, "How long

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  • June 21, 2008

    Making Money, Attending Conferences, Creating Books

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    A heapin’ hunk o’ questions came in while I was on vacation, so let me catch up with them.

    Mike wrote to ask, "Could we talk about making money through publishing in ways other than writing books? Like manuscript critique, reading submissions for publishers, writing reviews, etc. Do you think there’s value in these sidelines?"

    There’s certainly value in these endeavors, Mike, but in most of them there’s not much money. Let’s put these publishing activities into two categories: the EXPERIENCE group, and the INCOME group…

    In the EXPERIENCE group, an author finds ways to get more involved with the industry, learn about the craft, and make connections. To that end, he or she can write book reviews, create a column in a local newspaper, review movies or restaurants, read submissions for an agent or editor, participate in a blog, send an e-zine, regularly post articles on a web site, and send in a short piece for a book of collected essays (like the Chicken Soup or God Allows U-Turns books). All of those are great ways to get some experience and exposure. None of them will pay much.

    In the INCOME group, a writer can set up an editorial service, offer to critique manuscripts for a fee, do copy editing for publishers (who are always looking for good copy editors), create magazine articles, do some collaborative writing, help authors strengthen their proposals, do contract evaluations (if you know what you’re doing), or take a job with a publishing-related company. That could mean working part-time doing office work for an agent, or helping a marketing company with author tours, or even taking a job at Barnes & Noble. When I was a free-lance writer, I wrote study guides for people. I have a friend who works for a travel company and writes traveler-related stories. Another friend puts together a newsletter for one of America’s largest home builders, another is paid

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  • June 5, 2008

    Getting Started in the Business of Writing

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    I’ve had a number of questions recently from people in the beginning stages of their careers…

    Deann wrote to ask, "As a beginner, is it a good idea to get published in an anthology? And what do you think about newer authors setting up book signings and doing readings from anthologies? Is that just good local PR?"

    When you’re starting your career as a writer, it’s pretty much a good idea to get ANY bylines you can. So participating in anthologies is one good way to get introduced to the business. You should also consider looking to get published in magazines, e-zines, and web sites. If you’ve got a local newspaper, by all means try to get into that regularly. Think of it as learning to play the piano — it takes lots of practice time and performing in plenty of dumpy school recitals before you get to be the star onstage at the concert hall. What you’re looking for is a chance to perform somewhere. (Or, if you prefer sports analogies: Think of it as learning to play baseball — it takes lots of practice time, and playing in plenty of American Legion games before you get to sign a contract with a major league team.)

    As for anthology participants doing readings… It’s not a bad idea, especially if you have some other pieces to read and talk about. But I sense from your question that you’re wondering if a writer might be over-selling herself. And my answer is "maybe." Still, it’s good PR for your career.

    Ashley emailed me and said, "I’ve been working on my novel for months, and finally got the first few chapters to a place I feel comfortable. But when I sent them to my editor, she hacked it up and told me what to improve. So I worked on those things, until she approved of my new, revised work, and I send them

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