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Archive for agents

Agent intelligence flows from Writer’s League

I took a deep class this month on attracting a literary agent. Offered by the Writers’ League of Texas, it was provided good intelligence on getting books considered for representation. It might have been the single best $52 I’ve spent as an author and coach. For example, I learned that some agent businesses are a “solo shingle.” That’s a single agent, successful at a larger company, who starts their own business and finds books to sell to publishers.

In another example, the instructor Becka Oliver (director of WLT, she worked at William Morris as an agent) had advice about writing the Compel section of a query letter. Despite all the other options of contacting agents, the query letter remains the lingua franca of agent pitching. By crafting your Compel paragraph, you try to lure the agent into requesting pages they might agree to represent.

Some agencies permit the submission of sample pages with your initial outreach. The agencies nearly always request a “cover letter.” No surprise, that’s your query letter. In order of materials requested for fiction, the readers at an agency dig into the query letter, then the writing sample. If they request a synopsis, Oliver said that agents are likely to look at it only if they’re well along in the book and need a map to see where the story’s headed. Nothing is absolute about this process, of course.

In another example, a query’s Context paragraph is the best way to assure an agent you know where your book should live on the shelves. One phrase that I’ve used in query letters is, “This book is for readers of [commercially successful book like yours] and [critically successful book like yours].” Both these kinds of books like yours help the agent place your book prospects.

There was plenty to learn. Oliver drew out maps of the Big 5 publishing empires, plus independent presses like Coffee House and Dzanc. Both of the latter group will consider non-agented projects. They do prefer agented submissions, though. Lots of authors don’t remember to check up on the indies while querying. Those kinds of queries to the indie presses can go straight to publishers. The Big 5 imprints — and there are so very many of them — demand agented material.

Query letter advice was only a part of the WLT class. What to expect to hear when you get a call from an agent. What questions to ask an agent when you’re offered representation. Ask them what they specifically love about your book, for example, just to see if they really read it. How to follow up: Wait for something significant to happen — a contest, a publication of a short story. You want more good news to add to the submission.

You also will wait “as long as it takes” to hear from an agent. After a matter of months, it can be permissible to send a little email saying, “I know you might be just getting ready to read, and…” The submission of your book for consideration is a humbling affair. But agents, acting as gatekeepers, are a very good means to get a professional publishing contract.

Be an artist. Be a professional. Write your story and sell out, too.

This is why there are blogs for authors. Sometimes a careless comment from an entitled, successful vendor-author just shades good authors. Somebody’s got to call BS.

(See how I used the verb “shade” there to go all current on the language? It means to diss, rag on, or denigrate. But I’m all woke about English. Dude.)

What’s set me off this morning is a comment by the omnipresent Joanna Penn. She’s everywhere these days, especially in my inbox. Being interviewed for a podcast produced by distributor Ingram Spark, Penn said writing a personal memoir was really unprofessional. Or maybe she meant getting it published, by whatever means necessary, was the mark of a non-pro.

The comment stung me because I’m in the last inning of writing a baseball memoir. And no, I don’t look back on a career in a uniform. Almost 25 years ago I took my 11-year-old son Nicky on a two-week baseball trip. It was a divorced Dad’s vacation dream and a way to discover if I had the stuff, as a pitcher would say, to stay in the fatherhood zone on my own. Stay in the zone better than my dad did, the fellow who killed himself before I was 21.

It’s very personal. This may not be the kind of memoir Penn was yapping about during her 30 minutes with IngramSpark. She might’ve been talking about a book without a pro edit. Or one that hadn’t been workshopped for years. Or one that didn’t get pro advice on querying. Or one that won’t be shopped to six hand-picked agents this month. (Don’t blast a query to everyone. Unless you like tracking no-replies and rejections on a spreadsheet. Do your comparison and deals homework and get a subscription to Publisher’s Marketplace. Sign up for Edelweiss+. Start taking a free email sub to Shelf Awareness Pro.)

I’m doing and did all of that and more for my book. Memoir is a tough sell, yes.

What’s bugged me is that her advice sounds smug. She tells a story of her own transformation in her life’s work, of being in business as a consultant before she turned to writing thrillers. While they’re professional and acceptable books in their craft, art they are not. She’s glad to say as much, if anyone would ask her about those books of hers which do not deliver publishing and writing advice.

I’ll be fair here and let her own words represent her opinions.

I’ve heard people want to do their granddad’s war diary or their personal memoir that they’re not intending to be turned into a movie. Lots of products which will come back to you, but books that are not necessarily part of running a business. I guess what we’re talking about is how to turn the creative side of being a writer and publishing a book into something more professional which, for me, kind of means you are thinking about the money. You are thinking about marketing and thinking about getting the book out there, which of course, you can get out there through IngramSpark.

The preceding testimonial was brought to you by IngramSpark. They won’t create sales for your book. That’s your job.

I believe Penn’s strongest sellers are likely to be those nonfiction business books. She doesn’t seem to acknowledge that she’s writing that kind of nonfiction business book — actually a bush-load of them — while a memoirist is writing another kind of nonfiction. Memoir, she probably knows, relies on the stellar caliber of the writing to get sold. And published. And agented, to run the gauntlet backwards in the long journey of writing to selling your own books.

It helps to have a YouTube channel, a deep base of readers in place, or a television audience to get a memoir published.

There’s no doubt that memoir is a tougher sell than a series of thrilling stories. What’s really selling, it seems from the viewpoint of a guy who’s got no access to her accounts, is her nonfiction. Publishing advice and process, instead of the novels, are at the top of her landing page. I own a sea of this kind of advice in book form, even one title she’s sold. And sold and sold and sold, I’ll bet.

Because if there’s one thing this former business consultant can do very well, it’s sell. She’s allied with a deep bench of other advice-writers. Every time you go to buy advice in 2018 you learn she’s got a partnership with whoever you’ve sought out. Oh, these advisors do love one another. There’s always a discount out there for you on another product once you’ve already purchased one $497 video series or another. Read More →

Sell your books easier than the Big 5 does

Independent authors can count on more resources than it seems, sometimes. The latest advice of the day is that your author website needs to be a sales portal. I don’t mean a check-out cart. The landing page for your site should have links to your sales outlets, though. You don’t have to take orders from your site. At the least, you should point to Amazon (where many of us sell books) and collect the sale there.

Amazon’s not on the list of links at the website of Juliet Marillier. She’s got a fleet of award-winning historical fantasy novels, having written since the early 2000s. The Big 5 publishing house imprint Tor publishes some of the books that run in excess of 700 pages each. Such a book demands a lot of resource to put into print. Macmillan, one of the Big 5, is Tor’s mothership company.

A Big 5 deal is supposed to include the full outfit for an author: website, reviews, publicity, editorial direction, sales resources. Marillier is a generous and accomplished author, and one whose website has no links to a sales outlet. Oops.

Fair enough oversight, and if you have 23 novels and 20 years of career, you can be excused for not driving sales. That’s supposed to be the publisher’s job, right?

Except the publisher seems casual about driving a sale, too. Marillier’s landing page at Penguin Random House doesn’t include any link to purchase a book, unless you click on a cover.

What the publisher is doing is collecting email addresses for the author. Sign Me Up for News, says the box on her Penguin Random House webpage. (It’s not clear who’s holding and using those email addresses.) It’s one more click onward to get to the Penguin Random House purchasing page, where this morning the checkout through the publisher’s sales cart is down for maintenance.

You can do better yourself. Put a link on your author website’s landing page that directs readers to an outlet to purchase. Get your book for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, iBooks, and more. (Bookbaby and Draft2Digital sell books, too.) Take care of your author webpage at Goodreads as well.

You might be an independent author who wants to sell books more easily than the Big 5 do. Retail booksellers stock just a fraction of the titles available, though. An agent can argue for better sales resources on your behalf, but it’s up to the publisher to sell your books. Indies take care of their own careers. Give yourself the leg up on sales from your author website.

Write Stuff news: Getting noticed, at a conference and elsewhere

More than 300 writers huddled at classic 8-person rounder tables at the start of the 2017 Agents & Editors Conference hosted by the Writers’ League of Texas. The sellout meeting was two afternoons and two mornings of hopeful pitches, two receptions where agents listened for new book concepts, amid hearty hugs and even a squelch of a skeptic on a panel. Writers learned things about the business, as well as more than a few tips about how to create a book that readers want and publishers might buy. Several of our writers from the Workshop were at the conference to take notes and take meetings. Every one of them got requests for samples of their books, so congratulations!

The Andy Ross squelch: At one panel, the speakers all nodded in agreement when the bromide “a good book will find a good home” got trotted out. “I have a different point of view,” said agent Andy Ross, to some laughter, which was followed by a retort: “Andy, we have medication for that.” Writers came away with the retort in their hopeful pockets when they relayed the exchange. Good books do find good homes, even when agents have to pass on them. Ross said in an interview with the League that for debut fiction, “publishing decisions usually get made based as much on marketing as on literary merit. The best I can do is find authors with talent, telling stories that grab me by the heart.” Indie presses, taking good books into the world, were on the minds of many writers who arrived to learn how their beloved stories might become books for sale.

Milo and his Dangerous numbers: A quick report from Publishers Weekly follows up on the claim that the memoir from Milo Yiannopoulos, Dangerous, sold 100,000 copies on Amazon at its launch. Not likely, PW notes. The story is another example of how publishing is unlike most other entertainment businesses. Nobody knows how much any book has sold. There’s no Boxoffice Mojo for books.

Structuring using a premise: A thorough article from The Writer about how a premise takes you beyond a situation and into a story. Larry Brooks’s craft book Story Engineering handles this well, too.

Print numbers continue to rise: Another Publishers Weekly article said that all categories of books were selling better in 2017 than in 2016. A Dr. Suess favorite continues to lead the pack.

Here’s five things Hemingway said we could all do to write better.

Hats off to Octotillo Review for its debut literary journal reading at Malvern Books. Poetry. Fiction. Truth. Great mantra for a journal that includes nonfiction. Kudos to Workshop writers Marilyn Duncan and Flor Salcedo for reading their contributions at Malvern.

Don’t tell the kids when they ask, but the concept of bedtime is a social construct. It’s also great for reading to them, to get ready to narrate your own audiobook. Or read at a Creation Night at the Workshop.

Indie-publish, get an agent: success with sub-rights

As it turns out, the money is not just in selling your ebooks on Amazon and Kobo. It’s getting your popular books’ sub-rights sold—by an open-minded agent.

Laurie McLean answered a Q&A for the Writers’ League of Texas and noted that self-published titles are part of her client list. Authors publish their own novels (McLean represents genre books, too) and then she gets the chance to sell sub-rights: movie tie-ins, audiobooks, foreign rights and more.

I’ve got half a dozen indie authors who have no interest in traditional deals because they’re making mid-six figure income from their self-published genre fiction. And I love selling their subrights. Heck, I just negotiated a six-figure advance for books 7 and 8 in Brian D. Anderson’s epic fantasy series The Godling Chronicles with Audible. Six figures for audiobook rights? It’s a wild, wild time to be an agent!

So mid-six figures is $500,000 for a self-published genre book. That ebook success makes those sub-rights a swifter sale for McLean. Neither she or the author have to prove the book’s success. The titles are already selling on ebook outlets by the time a movie rights deal gets negotiated. These authors work very hard at selling their ebooks. That kind of success is more likely, most of the time, than getting an agent to pick up a debut author for representation and then winning a deal for that writer.

This is not a suitable path for the author who simply wants to write, revise, and answer a few blog Q&As for publicity. The world is brimming with self-published books with little means of being discovered or sold. McLean wants to do business, a desire that authors also want, to establish a career.

Six years ago I heard McLean speak at the San Francisco Writers Conference. Self-published books were a novelty in those days. Well, not exactly true: the successful self-published book, making $50,000 or more, was rare. But even in 2011 McLean saw a genuine career path for the indie-published writer. She’d talk to somebody who desired a self-pub route, she said on a panel. Now she runs Fuse Literary, where the collective of agents oversees dozens of author careers. A career is what an author desires and what McLean works to establish for debut writers. Her specific services list that shimmers versus the public offerings of so many other agents:

As soon as they sign the agency agreement to work with me, we begin with an author branding session on the phone, Skype or Slack where we determine how to describe that author in order to attract the kinds of readers (and editors) who’ll love what they will write. We also do a career planning session as well as a social media audit. Armed with that kind of information, we progress to the work in progress. I do an edit, which might be light or heavy depending on the state of the manuscript, create a pitch list of editors/publishers and a pitch email, then I go to work.

Everybody works in a healthy author-agent relationship. Doing the heavy lifting of the writing is just the start. Getting your book noticed and read is the everlasting good work. Waiting for an agent to win you a debut deal can be a long journey.