• June 7, 2016

    Ask the Agent: What do I do with my finished novel manuscript?

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    Someone wrote to ask, “If a writer has never published before, but has a completed novel manuscript ready to go, what would you recommend he/she do with it?”

    I like this question, since it’s a situation I see frequently. If an author has a manuscript done, I’d encourage him or her to spend some time creating a few other pieces: a one or two page synopsis, a quick overview, a one sentence hook, a good list of three or four comparable titles to give the novel context, and a one-page bio that focuses on platform. All of those things are going to be important when you get to the important stage of talking to an agent or editor.

    Then, I’d probably say, “The first draft of any novel is usually bad.” So if this is actually a first draft, I’d encourage the author to use the next couple months to polish it. Take it to a critique group. Have writer friends read and comment. Get it in front of an editor. Pay for a professional critique, if that’s possible. Not every bit of advice you get will be great (or even correct), but listening to the wisdom of others, particularly those who are farther down the path, can help you improve your book. Take your time to improve it, rather than typing the last word and sending it off. Make it as sharp as possible, since that’s the best way to get it published.

    Getting your first novel done is an accomplishment, and you should feel proud. But the fact is, not many authors get their first book published. The average in the industry is six or seven — meaning most writers have completed six or seven novel manuscripts before they get done with one that is ready for publication. (You don’t have to take my word on that — check out my numbers. It’s pretty widely accepted in

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  • June 6, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How can we create a book launch party?

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    Some wrote to ask, “I’ve been told we should have a launch party when my book comes out. Is that a good idea? And what what makes a good launch party?”

    I think a book launch party is a great idea — it allows an author to involve friends and acquaintances in the release of the book, is an easy way to garner some local media, and can help you kick off book sales. (Besides, it can be great for an author’s ego, if done right.)  Let me offer a couple of suggestions to help make it a success…

    First and most important, you want to make sure you INVITE people. In other words, don’t sit around and hope people show — be proactive and make sure you get a house full. That means you need to find a big group who can be supportive, like your local writer’s group, you church congregation, the organizations you belong to, all your relatives, people at the clubs or sports you’ve joined, and all your fans in the region. Pick a venue you can fill up, since getting 40 people in a tiny bookstore makes it feel like a great party, but getting those same 40 people in a huge shopping mall gallery can feel empty. Determine a definite start and end time, and make sure everyone sees it’s a celebration. Again, you’re trying to get the word out, and get commitments from some folks to attend.
    Second, if you really want to make people show up, offer an incentive — books at a discount, or free chocolate, or wine and cheese (a few big boxes of wine don’t cost much and seem to bring people out of the woodwork). If you can’t do wine, ask a couple people to bring their latte machines and offer free lattes to everyone. Your only expense is the price of coffee. But have something that is
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  • June 2, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How do I read a royalty report?

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    Someone wrote and said, “I get a royalty report twice a year from my publisher, but I don’t really understand it. What tips can you give me for reading a royalty report?”

    I swear some companies hire Obfuscation Technicians, just to try and make royalty reports hard to decipher. And remember, each company has their own format for royalty statements, so it doesn’t always pay to compare, say, a Hachette royalty report to a HarperCollins royalty report. Many authors simply get confused when trying to dig into the details of the thing. Even an experienced author will complain that the Random House statements don’t look anything like the Macmillan statements, which are different from the Simon & Schuster statements. And, unfortunately, some of the smaller companies seem to be purposefully trying to make them impossible to read. (One mid-sized publisher just revised theirs — and they are now worse than ever.)

    In addition, there are some companies that do a good job of breaking things down (like Harlequin), but may not do a good job of aggravating the numbers — so you can see a book did great in large print, but you can’t actually see how many copies it has sold overall. Some companies do a wonderful job of telling you how your book did this quarter, but they fail to include life-to-date information. Ugh.

    With all that crud in mind, there are about ten questions I need to keep whenever I approach any royalty statement…
    1. Who is the author?

    2. What is the project?
    3. How many copies sold?
    4. In what formats?
    5. What was the royalty rate(s)?
    6. How much money did it earn this period?
    7. What was the opening balance?
    8. How much is being paid now?
    9. Is any being held back? (a provision allows the publisher to retain some of the earned money in case of future returns)
    10. Is any

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  • May 27, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How do I get the most out of a writers’ conference?

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    I had someone write in to say they were attending three writing conferences this summer, and asked me, “What advice would you have for me to get the most out of the conferences?”

    I love writing conferences, since it gives you a chance to network with other writers, see what’s going on in the industry, meet editors and agents, and get away from the routine for a few days. As you begin preparing for this year’s writing conferences, I’d like to suggest you keep 10 words in mind . . .

    1. READ. Don’t just show up and act surprised at who the speakers are. Read the blog of the keynoter. Read the books of the teachers who are doing workshops. That way, when you get to hear them, you’ll already have a context for their information.

    2. RESEARCH. If you’ve signed up to meet with an agent or editor, check out their bio, see what they’ve acquired, and get a feel for the sort of books they like. By doing that, you’ll be much more apt to talk with someone who is a fit for you and your work.

    3. ORGANIZE. Before you show up at the conference, look at the schedule and figure out what sessions you’ll attend, which ones you’ll miss (so that you can share notes later), and when you can take a break to see friends.

    4. PRACTICE. When you sit down across from me in order to tell me about your book, it shouldn’t be an off-the-cuff conversation. Practice what you want to say, how you want to describe your work, and what your hook is so that you’ll grab me.

    5. GOALS. Ask yourself what your goals are for this year’s conference. Don’t just go with vague hopes. Plan to attend with some specific, measurable goals in mind. Write them down beforehand so you can evaluate yourself

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  • May 25, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How many authors do you sign at a writing conference?

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    Someone wrote to say, “I know you’re going to the Thrillerfest conference next month. Of the appointments you have at a conference like that, how many actually result in your asking for more material? How many result in you giving serious consideration to an author? How many will you actually sign to represent? Just curious.”

    For those who don’t know, at almost every conference I go to the organizers ask if I’ll spend some time having short meetings with authors. I usually agree, since I enjoy meeting writers and talking about their books. One of the misunderstood aspects of those author/agent meetings is that “the agent is trying to find new clients.” That’s partly true, at least for newer agents who are looking for salable projects to fill their lists. But for someone who has been agenting a long time (I started working as a literary agent in 1998), it’s rare that my goal in attending is to sign up a bunch of authors. That might happen, of course, but generally at a conference I’m looking to be a resource to authors. Some want my reaction to their idea, others want a brief critique. Some want to ask questions about the market, or about publishers, or are looking for career advice. Others are looking for advice on their proposal, or to ask about marketing and sales ideas. Often people just want to know what is hot and what’s not. So “finding new clients” isn’t the only topic being discussed. Sure, plenty of writers are pitching their ideas, but that’s not the only reason for meeting.

    So long as you keep that in the back of your mind, I’ll answer your question directly: When I volunteer to do appointments at a writing conference, I’d say I might have 15 to 40 appointments — some formal, some informal.

    Of those, maybe 5 or 6 result in my asking to see more. Don’t

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  • May 23, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How much should I charge for speaking?

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    This question came in: “Ever since my book released, I’ve been asked to speak several times — sometimes at large venues, sometimes at very small places. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak. A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”

    This is a question we’ve talked about on the blog a few times. Happy to begin the conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events.

    Okay, I think the first thing you have to determine is your base pay. How much is your base pay for a one hour talk? For a beginner, it might be $100. I’ve worked with some big-name celebrities that were changing $10,000 for a one-hour talk. (Nice work if you can get it.) But let’s say your base pay is somewhere in the middle — let’s say yours is $500 for an hour, or $300 for a half hour. If you are offered, for example, $300 for speaking one time for 30 minutes to a small group, but it’s a conference and they also want  you to speak a few other times, you just have to map out the extra costs. Or say they want you to speak once to a large group for an hour ($500), then lead a workshop to a smaller group for ($300 to $500?), then sit on a panel ($150?). By thinking of your base pay and the number of times you speak, you can pencil out the fee pretty quickly.

    Of course, it might take an entire day, and some speakers do a minimum daily rate. So let’s say you set a daily rate of $1000 — that makes it easy to know what to charge. And you have to fly to Atlanta to do it, you add in travel costs, so you can say to them, “That will be a

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  • May 12, 2016

    And the wiener is… The Tenth Annual Bad Poetry Contest Comes to an End

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    Like watching a kid you don’t like fall down a set of stairs, all good things must come to an end. And we here at your Bad Poetry Contest Headquarters are facing the end of the line — our time for sharing deep thoughts and showing off our sensitive side is ending. We can now go back to being arrogant, know-it-all agent jerks. With that ending, we must select one wiener from the bunch (er… “winner”) and proclaim him or her the Bad Poetry King or Queen (or, if like so many people in North Carolina, they don’t know their gender, we’ll name them “the Bad Poetry Quing” — since we want everyone to feel comfortable).

    The poems have been posted, the wisdom shared, the emotions emoted. There were some wonderful entrants this year. We had Stephanie Yuhas (who in real life works for “Mystery Science Theater”) mulling her old keys. Marie Prys, a wonderful editor, pondering the deep mysteries of a dog park. And Jim Gullo, sniffing feet while ruminating on the smell of “Earth Mother Bisquick.” Who can forget Lydia revealing she is “100% certified lonesome and there is no remedy; my weepful-juices are sloshing off my cheeks.” That’s right. Weepful-juices. Brilliant. And Tricia, who noted that she could “smell the inside of her head,” then gazed into the bleary eyes of her lover, only to find them “blue. Blue as toilet bowl cleaner.” That brilliant image sticks with me, like the tissue that just won’t go away no matter how many times you flush.

    Those are all truly Bad Poems, offered with grace and, frequently, the use of heavy medication. I believe all of these entrants deserve you to look them in the eye and say, “Yes. You’re sensitive artists. Now go away or I’ll call the police.”

    But, of course, we wouldn’t have been able to bring you our Bad Poetry Contest for ten years (TEN

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  • May 9, 2016

    The Tenth Annual Bad Poetry Contest continues…

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    It’s your last chance… If you’re a Bad Poet, you can achieve some small measure of fame by entering our tenth annual Bad Poetry Contest. But it ends this week!

    A bit of history: Every year, on the week of my birthday, we take a break from talking books and publishing, and we focus on Bad Poetry. The lousy rhyme schemes, the faux depth, the aura of “look at how sensitive I am,” and we just let it all hang out there. So if you, too, are a Bad Poet, I extend my personal invitation to go to the comments section and let us see your worst. Lousy limericks, crappy couplets, horrible haiku, freaking-lousy free verse… it’s all there, waiting for you, like a warm glass of milk at the end of a hot day.

    So don’t delay — start emoting now! Drop in and share some of your Bad Self. This year’s winner gets a huge prize: a genuine, autographed edition of my Y2K Family Survival Guide (the book that saved western civilization as we know it). What do you have to lose except your Monday morning blues? Stop in and dump your deep thoughts, people!

    -Chip

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  • May 4, 2016

    The Tenth Annual BAD POETRY CONTEST!

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    I know you’ve been waiting all year for me to host my 10th annual BAD POETRY CONTEST at the blog — so here is another reason to go on living. One week from today is my birthday, and I always try to celebrate by inviting all the bad poetry my friends can muster. Just go to the bottom of this blog, hit “comments,” and post some lousy piece of doggerel as your way of joining in the celebration. It can be a crappy couplet, a crummy free verse, a lousy limerick (let’s stay away from rhyming with the city of “Nantucket”), or any other ditty you create that shows what a sensitive and thoughtful artist you are, when you don’t happen to be worrying about your lack of a book contract or whining about the bad job of marketing your publisher is doing for you.

    For those not in the know, this contest grows from my belief that every poet has the same message, which can be subtly summed up this way: “LOOK AT ME! I AM SENSITIVE AND REFLECTIVE AND NOBODY UNDERSTANDS ME! SO I’LL SHOW THEM HOW DEEP I AM BY WRITING POETRY!” (Feel free to edit that statement if you’re truly deep and meaningful.) I want you to know that I’m here for all you poets. In fact, I was once accused of being sensitive, and have occasionally been forced to reflect on something — that is, until I could grow up and get over it. Therefore, I’ve set aside the next week just for you. Write! Create! Sit and contemplate your navel! Do…um…whatever it is you poets do while the rest of us are out earning a living. Then send in your bad poetry! There are no rules, except that you don’t send in “birthday” poems. This isn’t a celebration of me aging — it’s a celebration of terrible writing, of faux depth, of deepful meaningness.

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  • May 3, 2016

    Ask the Agent: How can I create great memoir?

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    For a month now I’ve been doing “Ask the Agent” — your chance to ask anything you want of a literary agent. We had one person write in to say, “A memoir is a deeply personal story covering many avenues of thought. My tell-all of escaping the mental imprisionment of American Fundamental Extremism (having been inadvertently exiled because I admitted to being gay) is hard to pigeonhole. How do I determine how to present it to its broadest advantage, and find an agent who can appreciate the scope of its message?”

    Yeah, that’s too long. (The fact is, the comment was actually much longer, and meandered a bit.) But what you’re basically asking is, “How do I write a great memoir?” And the secret of success with memoir is to write it like a novel. A memoir isn’t an autobiography — who reads autobiography these days? An autobiography is a careful retelling of everything that occurred, so you’ll be spending a lot of time researching sources, and making sure each date is correct. A memoir is a reminiscence — the stories and themes that capture a place, a time, an event, a lesson, a life. So instead of writing it like a history textbook, you write it like a novel.

    That means you’re going to need to create a story arc. Not all the details will fit. You figure out which details we need in order to see your story. And the story will reveal to you where to start, and where to end, what stories will be told, and what will be left out. There will be an inciting incident, and decisions that lead to changes, because that’s what creates a story. It will have characters, whom we care about, and they’ll say and do things that matter in some way. You’ll not just talk about what you did, and what it was like, but what you

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