• September 10, 2015

    What's the best step for my novel writing career?

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    Someone wrote to me, “What do you think is the one best step I could take in my novel writing career?”  

    I’ve thought about this a lot, since I represent a number of novelists. I suppose part of me wants to say to beginners, “Take a class so you’re forced to write” or “find a writing partner so you’ve got someone to hold you accountable.” But, after having mulled it over, here’s my response: Spend some time hanging out with other successful writers.  I just believe there’s value in doing that, if you want to take the next step in your career. How to do that?

    First, attend a great writing conference, then force yourself to attend stuff and meet people. It just seems like most of the novelists I know (not all, but most) found their careers moved forward by a writing conference. They got a chance to learn from really good writing instructors, they got to hear about the bigger industry, and they got to rub shoulders with a bunch of other writers.

    That last part is part is particularly important. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s easy to go into your cave, produce something, and have no context for knowing if it’s any good (besides having a firm belief in your own abilities, and a loving partner who tells you how wonderful you are). So being able to sit and talk with other writers is a blessing — you find out they are facing some of the same obstacles you are, and you’ll be encouraged by the people who overcame those problems and moved on to the next step. You’ll discover creative people who you like, and who inspire you, and who sometimes have great solutions to suggest to you. I don’t do a bunch of conferences any more, because my schedule won’t allow it, but I try to go to RWA and ACFW every

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  • Brian

    September 9, 2015

    The Argument for Metamedia

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    Publishing & Technology: The Argument for Metamedia

    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about the prematurely forecasted death of the codex and the emergence of “metamedia” and the “bibliographic” writer. I recently was afforded the opportunity to peruse an advance copy of Alexander Starre’s forthcoming title Metamedia: American Book Fictions and Literary Print Culture after Digitization due out this fall from the University of Iowa Press.

    In the book Starre examines a new phenomena in contemporary American literature, a rediscovering of the print book as an artistic medium in and of itself. Starre argues that this trend, as exemplified by a fusing of design and text, is a direct reaction to the proliferation of e-book readers and the ongoing conversation surrounding the digitization of reading.

    He looks at Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and other works, Jonathan Safran Foer’s books, and a variety of offerings from McSweeney’s, attempting to establish these works as metamedia for the way in which they challenge traditional notions of the way in which books (and authors) communicate with readers. He argues that these works are expanding on our ideas of the book, or the text, as a flat communicative device.

    Unfortunately, while Metamedia provides readers with an excellent investigation of what is at play (and in some ways at stake) in these works, it does little to advance its assertion that what is happening is truly a new development in the world of publishing. Except for the fact that these works may represent initial forays into metamedia territory for “serious” literature, they are no more revolutionary (or reactionary to the digital delivery of text) than the pop-up books you may have read as a child.

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  • September 8, 2015

    How long should I wait before following up on a submission?

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    Someone asked, “What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up on a proposal to an agent? And how do agents feel about writers following up on a query or submission? ”

    I’ve answered this question a couple of time, so let me set some ground rules. First, I’m assuming if you sent me your proposal, we met somewhere, and I asked to see it. Remember that if I didn’t actually ask for your proposal, I don’t owe you a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read your query and give you a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing you a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I have current projects and authors, that are already making me money, and those are the priority. (Again,not trying to sound hard; just offering a reality check.) I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the new proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.

    All right, so when an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for at a conference or because we met through a mutual friend, I try to get back to people within four to six

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  • September 4, 2015

    Nurturing the Writer's Spirit (a guest blog from novelist Danica Favorite)

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    One of the things we talk a lot about at conferences and workshops is how to improve the craft of writing. But I believe we’re missing an important layer of what it means to be a writer. As writers, we have to dig deep into our inner being so that we can convey stories that reach our readers. Technique is easily learned, but the essence that goes into what we write, that’s something that can only come from deep within, the core of who we are as people.

    Which is why we also need to focus on nurturing our writer’s spirit.

    Writing is an incredibly deep and emotional process. Writing is one of the few endeavors where a person lays their soul bare, gets heaping criticism flung at it, then comes back for more. Yes, there is positive feedback, but many writers will agree that there’s far more negative than positive. How do you nurture a soul that faces regular criticism in the face of all the other doubts and fears that come with the job?

    Writers, your work has value. The problem is, we’re so busy learning about techniques, markets, trends, social media, and whatever new toy the writing world has come up with, that we forget the absolute core of what we do and why we do it. All of us have different reasons for writing, different stories to tell, and a different impact we will have on the world. Yet sometimes, we lose sight of that because we’re so focused on the business of writing that we forget the soul of our writing.

    That’s not to say there’s no place in our writing careers for the business of writing. The last time I checked, writers needed to eat, too. But if we do not take the time to go back and nurture our writing spirits, if we do not care for ourselves at our very core, then

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  • Brian

    September 3, 2015

    Reading the Cloud

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    Publishing & Technology: Reading the Cloud

    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about e-readers, cloud-based computing, mobile apps, and the Fabrik cloud e-book reader.

    When I recently broadened my role with MacGregor Literary, from exclusively dealing in translation and other subsidiary rights to representing new works for publication (for clarity’s sake, I am not open to unsolicited manuscripts at this time), my reading for work increased exponentially. Initially, I was content with reading manuscripts directly on my laptop. But, over time this became an issue as more and more of my time was spent in the office “working.” And less and less “relaxing” with my family. I solved the problem by borrowing a rarely used Kindle from a friend and downloading my work reading as PDFs onto the device. I could then “relax” with the family, while “working.” For some reason the change in device represented a change in my behavior to the observers (who spend half of their time exhibiting second-screen behavior of their own). I have been happy with Kindle, but my friend has been making noises about wanting it back soon for an extended trip out of state, so I find myself with a problem.

    Recently, I finally broke my iPhone4. And, while perusing the available upgrades at my mobile provider, I was enticed with a bundled deal that would allow me to also pick up an Android-based tablet for very little extra money. So, I dove into the internet and began looking up Android-based e-reader apps in the hopes that I might find something that mirrored the features of the Kindle that I enjoyed while being compatible with the tablet that I haven’t necessarily committed to purchasing yet.

    While

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  • September 2, 2015

    How I got screwed by Delta (your Happy Traveler Note of the Week)

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    So last week I was supposed to fly from Denver (where I was having publishing meetings) to Nashville (where we were hosting a marketing seminar for our authors). I’m the type that Deltaalways tries to keep travel expenses low (in the technical term, a “cheapskate”), so I used some Delta miles to purchase a one-way ticket  back in April. I made sure to get a ticket in the late afternoon, figuring if there’s any sort of problem, Delta could always stick me onto a later flight. I had to be in Nashville at 9 the next morning to speak.

    So I get to the airport in plenty of time, go to one of those Delta machines… and it won’t check me in. It says there’s a problem, and I have to go stand in line. Grrr. Okay, so I stand in line a half hour, am greeted by a very nice Delta employee who looks sharp but, unfortunately, has the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel, and who informs me that my flight, which routed me through Atlanta, was changed, and they’d be getting me to Nashville, not that night, but THE NEXT DAY. AT 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON. She smiles sweetly as she says this.

    I keep my cool, explain that no, that plan won’t work, I’ve got to speak in the morning, and they need to find some alternative. She looks around, as though I’m speaking a foreign language, then says she can’t find any alternatives. “Um… really?” I ask. “Because I used to live in Nashville, flew in and out all the time, and there are plenty of flights into BNA. It’s only 4 PM, there’s no weather, so maybe you could look again?” She does, but I can’t tell if she really understands the routes, since she twice talks about getting me to Charlotte — which, technically, isn’t Nashville, although I hear they also have great

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  • September 2, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 5, The Big Picture

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    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back (after a couple weeks off) to my series on editing for authors. I spent the last two posts talking about the role of a style sheet in the editing process (here and here, if you missed them). A style sheet is an extremely helpful tool in making “little-picture” edits such as consistent spelling or formatting, and in keeping track of details such as a character’s hair color, mother’s name, or the kind of car she drives. When it comes to editing your book for the “big picture,” however, it’s hard to draft a checklist that can anticipate the variety of bigger-scale problems that can show up in a manuscript. Learning to recognize problems such as inconsistent pacing, incomplete plots, weak dialogue, or mushy writing voice takes a different kind of perspective and a different set of editing skills. These kind of “big picture” edits are part of the developmental editing process, the purpose of which can be boiled down to two goals: to make the manuscript coherent in content and consistent in writing quality. We’ll look at the first of these two goals this week.

    Coherency in a finished manuscript is one of the hardest things to assess accurately as a self-editor. After all, all your manuscript’s content came out of your head– you invented the crazy plot, you know the thoughts running through the characters’ heads, you understand the connection between seemingly unrelated anecdotes or lessons in your memoir, you appreciate the significance of a piece of information in your business book, etc. Inevitably, some of this information that is so clear in our heads gets muddled when we transfer it to the page, leaving a reader confused about a sequence of events, a character’s actions, or a seemingly pointless paragraph. We can try to edit our own work for clarity and coherence, but because we invented these scenarios or are writing out of our

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  • August 31, 2015

    The View from the Bookstore (a guest post)

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    In response to the posts we’ve had on the Family Christian Stores debacle, we’re received a number great letters from people involved. Authors, editors, publishers, and agents have all written with their thoughts. But I wanted to share one note from a bookstore owner in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who I think offers some perspective on the situation. This is shared with her permission…

    People have talked about how much Family has lost in this bankruptcy, what the vendors have lost, what the authors have lost, and I’m sure what you may have lost also. However, no one seems to have mentioned the problems this has caused for the entire independent Christian bookstore industry. We have read how the vendors had to have Family stay in business because “they needed to have someone to sell their books to.”
      I am a part of the Munce Group, and we still have nearly 500 independent stores. The Parable Group has a large group of stores, too. The Covenant Group has independent stores that have faithfully served the market for years. And there are many who are not a part of any marketing group. These were stores they could sell to also.
     These were stores who have been paying their bills, and have most likely been paying more for their product than Family did. We didn’t get consignment offers, and if we did we would have understood that product was not ours – it still belonged to the vendor.
      Family talks about all their profits going to widows and orphans. If there were no profits how many widows and orphans were helped? In contrast, many of these independent stores have ministered in their own communities, and brought the gospel to thousands of people? We will not know that until we all reach heaven and see who has been touched by our ministries.
      Who is going to champion for the independent stores? Many of us
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  • August 27, 2015

    "Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores?"

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    Okay, so my recent posts (here, here, and here) on the bankruptcy, reorganization, and sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) has created a bit of a stir. Four publishers wrote me to say thanks. Several independent bookstores wrote to tell me I’ve not told the whole story. And a few folks wrote in to say, in essence, “Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores? Don’t you want them to stay in business? And don’t lots of businesses go through bankruptcy?” 

    I think there are four things to note…

    First, this isn’t your typical bankruptcy. Look, I’m a small businessman. I know that bookstores_2sometimes the market can turn on you, and you lose money. I had a friend who went big into microfiche, just as the ‘fiche industry was made obsolete by digitalization. Tastes change, technology creates new products, and a business can suddenly be facing hard times. Um… that’s not what’s going on here. According to vendors, the folks at FCS were ordering products in, knowing they were not going to be able to pay for them. Some small businesses delivered orders within days of FCS shutting down — and they have claimed the company simply had to have known it was receiving product for which they’d never pay.

    The worst example? Bibles — and at least two publishers have said to me, “This was all about Bibles.” Of the $14 million FCS owed to publishers, about $10 million of it was in Bibles. The vast majority of money they owed to HarperCollins was for Bibles that Family had ordered in. So look at the money for a moment… FCS orders in $10 million in Bibles. But instead of paying ten million, they end up, after their re-org, paying roughly one-and-a-half million. AND they get to keep that product and sell it at full retail price, so somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $25

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  • Brian

    August 26, 2015

    You’re Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy

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    Publishing & Technology: You are Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy

    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about the practice of incorporating psychological techniques into children’s books to help children with a variety of emotional, behavioral, and other problems. Yesterday, the Smithsonian published a piece on its website called Six Children’s Books That Use Psychological Techniques to Help Kids. In the article, Smithsonian writer Emily Matcher takes a quick look at The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep and five other books that use suggestions, cues, hypnosis and other techniques to facilitate a variety of reactions in children. Whether it’s going to sleep in the case of the Amazon best-selling self-published title that begins the article, working through PTSD with A Terrible Thing Happened, getting help with anger management with Calm Down Time or Angry Octopus, or dealing with stress by reading Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation, all of these titles employ a kind of embedded technology to produce a desired effect. The other thing that all these titles have in common is that they are selling well. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is currently Amazon’s number one best seller. I find this infuriating for two reasons: First of all, where was this book when my children were young enough that they needed help falling asleep (as opposed to help getting out of bed at a reasonable hour). And secondly, given that haptic interaction is one of the key qualities missing from the experience of reading digitally delivered text, one wonders if electronic publishing could learn something from the success of these titles regarding the idea of embedding technology in the reading experience to deliver an enhanced result for consumers of

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