• February 23, 2015

    Ask the Agent: Should I write for a specific publisher?

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    Questions from around the world today, in our International Version of Ask the Agent…

    Someone from the UK wrote in to ask me, “Should I write my proposal for a specific publisher? I was at a conference recently and an agent suggested we identify and target one publishing house for our manuscripts. Do you agree?” 

    I think that’s one way for a category writer to get ahead of most other writers who are submitting proposals. If you research a publisher, you can often find out things like the word count they want, the types of stories they prefer, the topics that interest or don’t interest them, etc. That allows you to shape your proposal specifically for the publisher. That may not work for literary fiction, but it certainly helps with romances, romantic suspense, thrillers, historical romances, cozy mysteries, westerns, and other “category” lines.

    Someone from New Zealand (I just thought it was cool that someone in New Zealand was sending me a question) asked, “When I’m sending a query to an agent, should I tell him or her that this is a series?” 

    The answer probably depends on the series. It’s always easier to sell one book than to sell a series, just as it’s easier to sell one car than a fleet of cars. But at the same time a publisher will often want to know if your novel idea, if successful, could be turned into a series of stories. So don’t pitch the series — pitch the book, but mention the series, probably at the end of your proposal. That answers the “sequel” question without making it seem like you’re trying to get someone to commit to an entire series of books.

    And keeping on our foreign-soil theme, someone from Germany sent this: “What advice would you give to an author who self-published a book, only to realize later it was a mistake? I posted my novel on

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  • February 20, 2015

    What it means to be an ethical author (a guest blog)

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    I’m shocked at the behavior of authors recently. One story after another features an author responding badly to a review, manipulating numbers or stalking their readers.

     

    I’m baffled at what my response should be to this bad behavior. I find little guidance (this excellent blog notwithstanding) simply because much of contemporary publishing is new or so reformed it’s unrecognizable from a decade ago. I’m new to the writing scene and admittedly impressionable. It’s tempting, even as a Christian, to look what other authors are doing in their self-promotion, their marketing, and their relationship with readers and wonder isn’t all publicity good publicity?

     

    In a free market, none of this should be surprising. There have been slimy salesmen ever since the exchange of goods and services began. But perhaps we writers could unify and deliberately encourage good, ethical behavior within our own groups. Perhaps we can all benefit from some conversations about good behavior. Perhaps, through our communities and our tribes, we could gentle encourage each other, especially the newbies, to choose the path of honor, even if it means fewer sales. We can’t assume, that because a writer calls himself a Christian, and writes from a Christian worldview, and may even have an altar call type conversion ¾ of the way into his family saga, that the way he behaves in public is ethical. I’d like to suggest we need encouragement and wisdom in this area.

     

    I’d like for you to join me for Ethical Author Weeks, February 1-14, 2015. In these two weeks I’m going to start conversations about ethics on my own blog (www.10minutenovelists.com), during my weekly Twitter chats (#10MinNovelists) and on my own Facebook group (10 Minute Novelists). I would be very honored if you joined me in the conversations, not just at my events, but also within your own circles of influence. You have an opportunity here to gently encourage new writers

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  • February 19, 2015

    Thursday with Amanda: Which Comes First? A Book Deal or Platform? (FICTION)

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda 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.

    In the journey of publishing, what is the typical order of events? Does an author come out with a book first? Or do they develop a platform first?

    I think many of us in the industry see this as an easy question to answer.

    For fiction, the book comes first.

    For nonfiction, the platform.

    But it never fails that I’ll inevitably run into authors who either don’t understand this, don’t agree, or flat out don’t fit the mold. So here is some insight into the fiction side of this topic:

    WHAT COMES FIRST FOR FICTION? A BOOK DEAL OR PLATFORM?

    If you’ve ever tried to build a platform for your fiction career without actually having a novel, you’ll find it’s near-impossible. I mean, what do you blog about? What do you Tweet? You don’t have characters anyone knows, you don’t have product to push, and you certainly don’t have much reason to share when your next draft is done or when you’ve had a 10k writing marathon.

    Marketing your fiction career without a product is HARD. So that’s why the general rule is that the book comes first, then the platform.

    BUT! there are always exceptions to the rule. For fiction, a huge exception would be an author who has found an audience not for their fiction writing, but for some other hobby or focus. Let’s say Trina writes fiction. But she also bakes. She has a recipe blog with a decent following. So in a sense, Trina has a platform and this platform will actually help her

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  • February 18, 2015

    Before You Write: Part 6, Next Steps

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    brick green no smile b:wI’m wrapping up my “Before You Write” series today with a post that’s a bit of a cheat, since it actually has more to do with the end of the writing process than the beginning; that is, what you’re going to do with the finished manuscript when you’re done. It’s worth mentioning because, as I’ve said once or twice (or seventeen times) during this series, the purpose of pre-writing exercises and plans is to make it easier to sustain your momentum during the actual writing process. To that end, knowing in advance what you’re going to do with your completed novel when it’s finished can help you avoid the post-writing slump and take some meaningful action with the result of all your hard work. Having a plan for your finished novel can also help motivate you to stick with it when you hit those middle-of-the-book doldrums.  Here are some suggestions for next steps you may want to have in mind on the front end of the process.

    • Take your manuscript to a writers’ conference. Even if it’s not ready to be published, a writers’ conference can be a fabulous place for a manuscript to continue to take shape. Between writing workshops, opportunities for private critique, and chances to pitch your book to agents and editors, you can leave a good writers’ conference with some really helpful feedback and a better sense of what should actually be next for your manuscript. If you’re an experienced writer or a really fantastic first-time writer, you might come away with some good leads as far as editors or agents who might be interested in your book, and if you’re newer to the writing scene, you will most likely get some valuable direction for how to improve your pitch or your manuscript before seriously attempting to get it published. If you have a rough idea of when you’ll be done with a draft of
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  • February 16, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What's the biggest news in publishing?

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    I’m trying to catch up on all the questions people have sent me, so let me see if I can tackle several of them having to do with current affairs…

    First, a  couple of people have asked what I think the biggest story is in publishing right now. 

    To me, that’s easy… Harper Lee, who wrote one of the most iconic books in American publishing history, is releasing a second book. I loved To Kill a Mockingbird, and thought Lee’s personal story (assisting Truman Capote with In Cold Blood, winning a Pulitzer for her only book, withdrawing from the public eye, starting and stopping but never finishing anything else) was fascinating for any writer. But her second book, Go Set a Watchman, was actually written before she started on Mockingbird — and Lee agreed to let a publisher produce her earlier work. Watching this play out is fascinating to anyone interested in a writing career. There’s still hope for that bad first novel you wrote years ago!

    Second, someone sent in a simple question: “What’s the biggest problem facing publishers today?” 

    I suppose it would be easy to point to profit margins, or discoverability, or the issues facing illegal sales and copying, but I don’t think any of those are really the biggest problem. To me, the biggest problem publishers face was made clear in the Publisher’s Weekly salary survey. Less than 1% of those working for publishers are African-American. Hispanics make up about 3%. Asian-Americans make up another 3%. Various others combine for roughly 4%. And that means 89% of everyone working for a US publisher is white. Eighty-nine percent. Yikes. That’s shameful — and perhaps the first place to look when wondering why we’re not building more African-American readers. You want to diversify your readership? Hire some minorities, fer cryin’ out loud.

    Third, I had several people ask me, “What’s the biggest news in CBA publishing recently?”

    And,

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  • February 13, 2015

    Writing an Inspirational Memoir (a guest blog)

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    I remember running down the road by my house one day in fall, the fields ripe with gold, red silos on the horizon and the smell of chaff, the sound of the combines whirring. And I heard God say, “I want you to tell the world what I’ve done for you.”

     

    Later, as I sat in the living room at my laptop, the boys in bed, Trent folding laundry for me in the office while he played a computer game, I looked out the bay window. What qualified me to write this story? All I saw was a very tattered, frayed thread, broken and retied in a number of places. And yet, somehow it wrapped around the entire story.

    It was the thread of redemption.

    With inspirational memoirs, what qualifies you to tell your story is your experience of redemption. That is the story being told, the journey your readers want to take. And if we can whittle down our lives to reveal how God has brought redemption to us, readers will be inspired to believe it may happen to them.

    Show the purpose behind the pain and you may bring hope to many lives.

    So what creates a good foundation upon which to build? We see three main considerations: Location, consistency, and solidification.

    Wierenga

    1. Location

    Location means context for your story. Of course, you are still living it, but to see how “large” your story is, where this portion will begin and end, consider what is the contained, distinct journey of redemption you have seen come about. It may be bold or subtle, but it defines what you share. Find specific words and phrases like “coming to my own faith,” “finding comfort in true love,” or “receiving permission to feel, deal, and heal.”

     

    Then, where did the shift occur? What places? Who did it involve? When did it happen? And what unrelated info can be trimmed? Someone said

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  • February 12, 2015

    Thursday with Amanda: 5 Pitfalls of Using Kickstarter…and How to Avoid Them

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    Amanda LuedekeAmanda 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.

    Kickstarter is a popular way for artists and entrepreneurs to get the funding they need to bring a project or idea to fruition. It’s been used by everyone from Reading Rainbow to TLC to Zach Braff. So clearly, some big names (along with plenty of little guys) have adopted the unique platform.

    For awhile board games and the like dominated the Kickstarter platform, but more and more I’m seeing authors and even publishers launch their book projects through the site. It’s definitely a tempting idea. The thought of having $5,000 or $10,000 as opposed to the few hundred I used to put together my own indie book The Extroverted Writer, is…mind-blowing. Oh, what I could have done with that kind of money!! My book could have been edited by Stephen King and had a large print edition and a Spanish language edition and a braille edition and an ad in Times Square to boot.

    Okay, maybe not, but this is the lure of Kickstarter. It creates this “the sky is the limit” mentality. And it works.

    So what are the pitfalls? Oh, there are plenty. Kickstarter is an everyman’s version of Shark Tank, except the people with the ideas tend to be artists and creatives as opposed to MBA grads and business owners, while the backers (or partners) are regular consumers, looking to get in on a new product that fits their needs.

    Clearly this is a setup that could have disastrous results. And sometimes it does. But it doesn’t have to! Being aware of the

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  • February 11, 2015

    Before You Write: Part 5, Surefire Ways to Fail

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    brick green no smile b:wI’ve been spending the past few weeks outlining some before-you-write strategies that can help position you for greater success during the novel-writing process. Today, I’m talking about what is probably the easiest step in the whole writing process: quitting! Seriously, you wouldn’t even believe how easy it is to let your writing ambition die a quiet death while your day job and your personal life and your volunteer commitments and your own psyche chip away at your writing time and your confidence and your momentum. I’ve been droning for five weeks about all kinds of exercises and plans and busywork you can do before you even begin to write your novel, and guess what: it only gets harder from there! So who needs that kind of aggravation and stress in their lives, right? Right, you say! You’ve had enough of juggling to make room for writing and then of struggling to get published, you want out! But, you say, you feel so “passionate” about your story, or you “love” writing so much, or you feel such a sense of “accomplishment” when you finish a book, blah blah blah– how can you just let all that go, you may be asking? Well, here are some really good ways to wuss out on writing your novel before you even start.

    • Set an imaginary deadline for yourself. Wait, you might be saying. I thought deadlines could help motivate me? Well, sure, they can when you stick to the goals you need to in order to meet them, but what about when you fall behind? Example: I’ve attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) three or four times, “attempted” being a word which here means “I’ve briefly entertained the crazy notion and made vague efforts towards starting a novel during the month of November.” The problem with NaNoWriMo for me is always the reality that, if I am going to complete 50,000
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  • February 9, 2015

    Ask the Agent: What's hot and cold in publishing these days?

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    Whenever I speak at conferences, I get the “what’s hot?” question asked me. I generally offer what I’m seeing, but I try to always temper it with, “That’s just my opinion, of course… others might see things differently.” So I was happy to see the Nielsen folks put out some facts on publishing trends with hard evidence to support them.

    In the most recent issue of Publishers Weekly, they gave a summary of the Nielsen BookScan report, which tracks the bulk of printed book sales, and a handful of things stood out to me…

    First, Christian fiction is really struggling. That’s become obvious to me over the past couple of years, and I’ve discussed it with many other agents. Several houses have stopped doing inspirational fiction, others have trimmed back their lists, still others have simply put a “freeze” on new acquisitions, so it’s become evident that it’s a tough time to be trying making a living writing Christian fiction. But the Nielsen report proved the depth of the problem. Of all the categories in publishing (and BookScan tracks about 50 genres), Christian fiction took the second biggest drop. In the past year book sales were down 15%. Coupled with the previous year’s drop of 11%, we’re seeing the category shrink considerably. (The only publishing category to do worse? Occult & horror fiction, which is down 26%.)

    Second, YA fantasy and sci fi is the fastest growing category in all of publishing. It was up 38% in the past year, after having grown in double digits the previous year. So yes, all those Harry Potter and dystopian (Hunger Games, Divergent, etc) readers have made their mark. And the study noted that inspirational and holiday YA novels (an odd combination in my mind) was up 16%, and YA family & health stories (hello The Fault in Our Stars) were up 17%.

    Third, adult fiction overall is struggling. Romance is down

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  • February 7, 2015

    Speaking at some upcoming conferences…

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    People have been asking what conferences I’ll be at this year. I plan to be at the Left Coast Crime conference in Portland, March 12-15. LCC is one of the really fun conferences for fans of mystery and suspense, so if you’re anywhere on the Left Coast, I encourage you to join us. (They’re calling it “Crimelandia” this year, in honor of the TV show that has made Portland famous.) For more info, go here.

    Next I’m speaking at the Newport Writers Group out on the Oregon coast Sunday evening, March 15.  (Sorry — no link to that one!)

    Then I’ll be at the Faith and Culture Conference in Portland, April 10 & 11. I’ve not been before, but I have long heard good things about it. I’m trying to stick to west coast stuff this year, so I thought it was a good time to participate.

    In May I will be speaking to the Portland group of Willamette Writers on Tuesday night, May 5, then I’ll be with the Salem group on Wednesday night, May 13. Bestselling author Leslie Gould is going to join me at the Portland gathering, so that will be fun.

    Of course, BEA is coming up in New York at the end of May. That’s one of the best events on the publishing calendar, in my view.

    I’ll be speaking at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in mid-July, up in Seattle. Another good conference, with a great lineup this year. You can find out all about it here.

    And I’m scheduled to be at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland August 7-9, followed by the Oregon Christian Writers Conference in Portland August 10-12.

    Finally, I’ll be at the ACFW conference in Dallas, September 17-20 — one of the few times I’m away from the Pacific Northwest in 2015. I’m teaching a couple of workshops, and I have long said this is and RWA

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