• August 25, 2015

    Why does everyone want to be published?

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    I thought you’d like to see this question someone sent me: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY so many writers want to become published authors?”

    A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically Keyboardwant to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.

    That’s not to say most new writers don’t also have something they want to say — they do. It’s just that many newer writers struggle with having a worthwhile story. Think about it — we all know it takes a while for a writer to become competent. Rarely do you see a novelist get her first completed work contracted. The industry average is five complete books before landing a deal… in other words, if you’re starting out, it will probably be your fifth completed novel before you get a contract. That’s why so many writers give up after one or two — it takes persistence to complete five novels before a publisher will pay attention to your work. So, in my opinion, many writers get into the business as a way to express themselves; as a way to get noticed.

    Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and

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  • Brian

    August 20, 2015

    Freeping the Hugos

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    Publishing & Technology: Freeping the Hugos

    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 discussing the upcoming Hugo Awards, freeping, and literary awards in general. This weekend in the seventy-third annual World Science Fiction Convention comes to Spokane, Washington, bringing with it the annual Hugo Awards ceremony, with all the pomp and circumstance one might expect from an awards ceremony. But this year, the awards are somewhat embroiled in a bit of controversy. It seems that a fringe group of conservative sci-fi writers and fans was able to freep (stack the poll results with a swarm of votes) the nomination process for the Hugos and secure nominations for a group of like-minded writers. For an in-depth article on the controversy, click here.

    The first question that comes to mind is, “why?” Why would anyone, much less a whole group of people, devote their time and energy to so seemingly pointless an exercise? Are the conservative minority so offended by the ongoing swell of social consciousness invading their beloved genre? Or have they been angry since say 1956, when Heinlein’s thinly-veiled social commentary Double Star won the Hugo for Best Novel? Or are they just angry because authors who don’t look like them (white men) are getting good work published in the genre that is selling and winning awards?

    Regardless of the point of the freeping of the Hugos, I’m led to question the value of the awards in general. Are they truly “prestigious”? Do readers “looking for a good science-fiction or fantasy book…look for the distinctive rocket ship logo of the Hugo Award,” as recent NPR coverage claims? I’ve heard that booksellers may be swayed by a titles status as award-winning, and I’ve witnessed firsthand

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  • August 17, 2015

    The Family Christian Follies

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    Okay, it’s all settled. After months of arguing, pointing fingers, and making late-night calls that threatened to screw up the entire deal, the country’s largest Christian retail chain is going to remain open. That’s good news for writers (in a way). It’s also a mess (and I’ve reported on it here and here).

    Late last week a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) to a “new” entity, called FCS Acquisitions, which happens to be owned by the same folks who owned FCS. The price tag? About $55-million — which is interesting, since FCS owed about $127-million. So by going through a Chapter 11, they shed millions of dollars in leases, rent contracts, loans — oh, and debts to publishers. According to two sources, Credit Suisse (the largest of the creditors owed money, and the bank that kept FCS in business with a huge loan a few years ago) will be paid roughly 17.5% of what it’s owed.

    Publishers, on the other hand, who were owed roughly $14-million, will be paid about 15% of what is owed them. Several publishers, including Baker, Harvest House, Tyndale, B&H, Crossway, Barbour, and others, are taking huge losses — many in the half-million dollar range. HarperCollins is having to write off millions. Gospel Light Publishing had to file for bankruptcy. And this means authors, whose books will be sold from store shelves, won’t actually receive any royalty from those sales because the publishers will never be paid for the books they shipped. I also heard from at least two suppliers that were going out of business because of the money that had tied up in products FCS took in and will never pay them for. And, despite their claim that all 266 stores will remain open and nobody will lose their job, estimates are that they’ll close at least 20 stores. It’s been a total black eye for Christian publishing.

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  • Brian

    August 13, 2015

    Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood

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    Publishing & Technology: Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood

    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 I’m not writing about technology. I’ve just come off my first appearance as an agent at the venerable Willamette Writer’s Conference and, though I had an excellent time hanging out with writers and other industry professionals, I’m afraid that I’m just too mentally exhausted to do any meaningful research into what is happening in publishing at the moment. It’s as if I was deep, deep in the ocean, under the relentless pressure of a six eight-minute pitches an hour, every hour, from nine in the morning to five in the evening for three days straight, and after all that, I came up for air too fast and developed a case of what feels like the bends.

    I know, if I were still working for a living (and I mean with a shovel), I’d probably scoff at the idea of being exhausted after three days at a writing conference. But, I’m not lying when I say that it can be completely tiring hanging out with several hundred introverts all doing their best to be extroverted enough to sell their work to agents, editors, and the like. And to have so many of them pay to sit in front of me and try valiantly to explain their plots and characters and platforms was both disheartening and absolutely beautiful at the same time. The least I can do to honor their courage is to offer up one little insight that I have for authors as I walk away from this experience for the first time.

    My one insight: Anyone that tells that there is one perfect way to pitch your novel to agents and acquiring

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  • August 12, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 4b, The Great and Powerful Style Sheet

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    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on editing for authors. Last week, I started to talk about the role of a style sheet in the editing process, specifically the story and character-related elements. This week, we’re looking at the craft and style-related elements of a style sheet, as well as how to use a style sheet to focus your editing.

    As I said last week, style sheets are largely descriptive rather than prescriptive– in other words, your style sheet is based on the writing voice/habits that are already in evidence in your manuscript. When you’ve finished a draft of a manuscript and are ready to start editing, you want to look at your manuscript and determine which conventions you’ve used most often and which ones you want to define your voice, and build your style sheet accordingly, adding entries addressing usage, punctuation, spelling, style, and formatting questions that will arise as you edit your manuscript.

    For example, if you hyphenated a word the first three or four times you used it (“birth-mother”), you would probably make the hyphenated version an entry on your style sheet, the idea being that you will use that entry as a reference by which to determine that you will alter any subsequent uses of that word where you didn’t hyphenate it. If, however, you hyphenated it the first time but then used it seven more times in the first three chapters without hyphenating it, you’d probably want to let the majority dictate your style-sheet entry, and use the non-hyphenated version as the rule to be followed on your style sheet, since, again, the goal of a style sheet is to define the elements of your style that are already in evidence in your writing and your voice so that you can ensure that they are reflected in your whole manuscript, since precious few of us write with perfect consistency throughout a 75,000-word manuscript. Use this

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  • August 10, 2015

    I’m a Writer Because I Write

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    A writing friend sent me this question: “Are you a writer because of your distinctive ideas, the volume of material you produce, or because of a call or skill or gift?”

    None of the above. I’m a writer because I write. It’s my venue for sharing truth and beauty and all that is important to me. It’s how I express myself. My friend Rebecca is a singer because she puts herself into her songwriting and musical performance. My buddy Brad is a doctor because that’s how he connects to the world and shares himself and his abilities. Maybe that constitutes a calling — it’s certainly a gift. But I’ve always seen books and words as a reflection of who I am. Some of us have to write, the way others have to sing or run or paint or speak or run or lead. With me, words tend to pour out.

    The thing that doesn’t get talked about very much is the fact that not everybody can be a writer, and few of us can ever be great writers. I’m all for writing conferences, because I often get to meet and encourage diamonds in the rough. And I’m a big supporter of mentor/protégé relationships because they allow an experienced person to share with an inexperienced person. But I’ve come to believe there’s a limit to the talent that can be shared. I believe I can make a writer better, but I’m not convinced I can ever make a writer great — some people just have the gift. Some people can paint, some people can sing, some people can dance – we can write.

    Occasionally I come across a writer whose talent is enormous, and it usually leaves me in TomRobbingsawe. I love that. At a conference this past weekend, I had a chance to host a salon with one of my favorite writers, Tom Robbins — an author whom many believe

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  • August 7, 2015

    Never Give up (a guest blog from Cameron Bane)

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    Cameron Bane is the pen-name for an author who has written several thrillers, seen mild success but a bit more failure, and is finally starting to see some movement forward in his career. We wanted to let him have the floor, to speak to those authors who have been trying for years, but have yet to see big success…

    A few years ago I wrote a couple inspirational novels that sold well, but don’t really reflect my style now. The split came when I wanted to explore darker, more mature themes than that market would allow, and rather than force the issue, I simply left it. With my newer works, including PITFALL, I was looking for a pen-name that was memorable and a little dangerous-sounding; thus, Cameron Bane.

    I’ve been writing professionally for more a couple of decades, with six novels commercially published. I’m also a member of the Authors Guild, and for three years I was on faculty at a nationally ranked writers conference held near Santa Fe. There I taught tracks on plotting, theme, dialogue, and character development. Also, with a background in broadcasting and journalism, I’m very comfortable in dealing with all aspects of the media. I have an active on-line presence, and I’m a member of such diverse sites as AbsoluteWrite, deCompose, and James Lileks’ blog, who’s a popular columnist for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. Finally, I’m close friends with my mentor, writer James Scott Bell, author of the popular Plot and Structure, published by Writers Digest Books.

    I’ve been at this game for a long time now, and people sometimes ask me how I got started. Glad to oblige. The truth is, I’ve always liked to write, even from my early teen years when as a seventh-grader our English class was challenged by our teacher to write a one-page story each week. “Challenged” is probably the wrong word — a “requirement” is what it was,

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  • August 6, 2015

    What's happening with Christian non-fiction?

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    A couple of times over the past month, I’ve talked about Christian fiction and its future, since it’s clearly going through a tough time. I haven’t talked at all about Christian non-fiction, but I’ve had a number of questions come in on the topic over the past few weeks, so I thought I’d try to get to several of them…

    People seem to talk about CBA and ECPA… can you explain what those organizations are?

    CBA is the Christian Booksellers Association, and it’s an organization for anyone who creates and sells Christian products. The organization allows members who are store owners, publishers, jewelry-makers, fine art providers, greeting card companies, t-shirt purveyors, and the like (including the guys who create Pope-soap-on-a-Rope, John 3:16 Socks, Ash-From-Sodom-and-Gomorrah Necklaces, and every other sort of Jesus Junk). They put on a big annual sales convention each summer. ECPA is the Evangelical Christian Publishing Association, and it’s the non-profit trade association for Christian publishers. Although they often overlap (and people in the industry will frequently use the term “CBA” interchangeably with anything that relates to religious publishing), they are different organizations. ECPA is conservative, evangelical book publishers. CBA is for anyone selling religious stuff.

     

    A few months ago you said there were “fewer” books in CBA coming from pastors. As a pastor who aspires to write, I was intrigued by this observation. How do you understand the fact that pastors seem to be making such a small impact on readers through the written word?

    CBA used to be filled with books by pastors, who were seen as the spiritual celebrities in our culture. Think about it — pastors went on speaking tours, led conferences, hosted their own TV and radio shows, and they did a LOT of books. We still see plenty of books from pastors, though they tend to be restricted to pastors of mega-churches, but there are certainly far fewer than there used

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  • August 5, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 4a, Meet the Style Sheet

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    brick green no smile b:wContinuing my series on editing for authors, I’m talking today and next week about the role of a style sheet in the editing process and why a good style sheet can be an author-editor’s best friend.

    To better understand the value of a style sheet, let’s consider first the earmarks of a well-edited manuscript. Compared to an unedited manuscript (or one that has merely been proofed for typos), the following is usually true of an edited manuscript:

    • The voice has been refined
    • Plot clarity has been improved
    • Story universe is more clearly defined
    • Pacing is more consistent
    • Syntax is tighter/cleaner
    • Word choice is more effective

    Some of these qualities are dependent on the author’s experience/writing skill– it generally takes a more practiced ear to pick up on and critique things like sentence structure, weak word choice, or inconsistent pacing. Others, however, are virtually entirely dependent on good record-keeping and a disciplined adherence to the established norms– plot and character details are vivid at first because the author wrote them that way, but they stay sharp and clear in the reader’s mind because the author kept track of and stuck to the initial rules he made for that universe/character. An author’s voice is most effective when it is consistent and clear throughout rather than weakened by distractingly inconsistent usage, punctuation, spelling, or grammar. That’s where a style sheet comes in.

    What is a style sheet?

    Think of a style sheet as a reference tool written especially for and tailored specifically to your manuscript. Remember the APA or MLA reference books/handouts your teachers in high school or college gave you and expected you to use when writing your papers? If a teacher wanted your paper in APA style, you consulted your APA style manual to determine whether or not to use an oxford comma, how to format a quotation, which spelling of “cancelled” to use, etc. A style sheet (and don’t be

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  • August 3, 2015

    What do you want to "Ask an Agent"?

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    This month I’m going to try and answer a bunch of publishing questions sent in by readers — some of them general, some very specific. If you’ve got a question, I’d love to hear from you. Here are some of the questions that have come in to the blog recently…

    Do you think it would be a good career move for an author to have her debut novel published as an ebook only? I’ve been offered an “ebook first” contract with a larger house, and I’m feeling a bit unsure about it.

    It could be worthwhile. It can get you in the door, and introduce you to the people at the publishing house. I’d suggest you ask the publisher what they are going to do to help you with your book. Will they edit it? Will they spend money on a good cover? Will they actively sell it? Will they market it at all, or leave all the marketing to the author? If the answer is basically “we’re not going to do much of anything,” then you have to ask yourself if you’d be better off self-publishing and keeping all the money. But if the publisher is going to improve your book, invest in solid editing and a cover, do something on the marketing side, and help you move some copies, it could be a decent introduction to the publishing world. Again, there’s no “one right answer” to these types of questions — it depends on the writer, the publisher, and the story. But what you’re proposing can certainly be a viable option, assuming the publisher is going to do some work. (And, if you’re not great at reading between the lines, that means there are some publishers who don’t edit, don’t spend money on covers, don’t do any marketing, and don’t help you sell copies… which means you’re probably better off indie-publishing.)

    I’ve been wondering why an agent who

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