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Category : CBA
I’m taking the month of April and letting people send in ANY question they have about writing and publishing. If you could sit down for an hour over a beer with a literary agent, and ask him anything you wanted, what would you want to know? Here are questions I’ve been sent recently…
If I am offered a contract, should I then get an agent?
That depends on the situation. Although I’m a longtime literary agent, I’m not an agent-evangelist, insisting everyone needs an agent. So think about the big picture here — your agent didn’t discuss the idea with you, or help you sharpen your proposal, or introduce you to editors, or send it out to publishers, or offer career advice. Once you’re offered a contract, the agent is going to step into it and earn a commission. So here’s my thinking… IF the agent can bring value, in terms of doing a great negotiation, and improving the contract & terms, and getting involved in the marketing, and stepping in to help with dramatic and foreign rights, and offering advice for your future, then it might be worthwhile to have an agent step in. But if all he’s going to do is say “yes” to the offer, it may not be worth paying him 15%. Consider talking with a good contract evaluation service, which might only charge a couple hundred dollars. (Or you might talk with an attorney, but be careful — they tend to charge by the six-minute increment and want to keep the clock running, so it can be expensive. Maybe consider this option if you’ve got something complex, such as a series offer or a movie deal.) But don’t sign with someone just so you can have the honor of saying, “I have an agent!”
If my novel is women’s fiction, is it best to target a female agent?
It’s best to target an agent who
by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]
Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.
The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.
As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.
This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.
I know, I know…
You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.
I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.
So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero
I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)
I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.
Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls
Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…
Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.
Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use
My novel Digging Up Death, the one Chip signed me with five or six years ago, made its debut last year at this time. Yes, I know. I did the math (and the waiting,) and the fact that it didn’t sell right away had nothing to do with the efforts of my brilliant, hard working, loyal agent. (Brownie points, Chip?)
From the feedback I got, I believe it had more to do with it not being a good fit or timing, or something. for the inspirational fiction market. Then we shopped around another, similar story. The comments from editors: “Too edgy, not CBA enough, too melancholy.” Again, the project just didn’t fit. Big surprise? I was beginning to see a pattern, and starting to think my stories were just never going to fit the Christian market. Or maybe I didn’t fit as an author?
And maybe that realization was a good thing.
Really? How could not fitting the market be a good thing?
Okay, maybe it wasn’t good for my bottom line, but I have to put a positive spin on things in this business or I’m in trouble. So back to not fitting the market being a good thing… Let’s face it, every novel preaches something. There’s some kind of faith or world view in every story. And your novel will speak what you believe, no matter if it’s pro-Christian or anti-Christian, pro-faith or anti-faith.
But faith in your fiction shouldn’t be about fitting into a mold or a box someone else built. It should be about sharing the unique story you have inside you — your faith as you see it, as you believe it, as you live it, because chances are there are readers out there who see it just like you and need to hear your message of faith.
That’s all good, but I want to make money at this.
So do I. And you
In light of the last couple posts, some wrote this: “For the uneducated among us, what exactly does a literary agent do in CBA, and why is one even necessary in Christian publishing?”
A good literary agent will help an author focus an idea, respond to the writing, perhaps offer thoughts to give shape to the manuscript, assist in the creation of a strong proposal, know who will be interested in the project, have the relationships to get it in front of publishing decision-makers, solicit offers, walk the author through the decision-making process, negotiate the deal, and ensure contract compliance. Depending on the relationship the author and agent have, the literary agent may very well serve as encourager, timekeeper, counselor, career guidance officer, and sounding board to the author. Or the agent may serve as a business manager, helping the author map out the details of making a life in the arts.
Why is an agent necessary? Because most authors don’t necessarily know how to do all of those things, and need a specialist to assist them. And because a good agent brings access through his or her relationships in the industry. AND because publishers long ago realized the value of agents, and generally won’t look at unsolicited manuscripts, but ask that all proposals come through a legitimate agent. Think about selling your home — you can do it on your own (my wife and I have sold houses “by owner”), but it ain’t easy. You’ve got to educate yourself in order to make sure it’s all legal and that the deal is done appropriately and fairly. And if you own an expensive home, it’s awfully tough to sell it yourself — buyers want the professionalism that comes from having the assistance of a good realtor overseeing the sale. Similarly, when you sign a book contract, you’re agreeing to a series of legal clauses that will govern your book for
Our discussion yesterday about CBA and the general market lead to several questions, including someone asking, “So what are the differences between CBA and ABA books?”
There are many similarities between the religious market and the general market. Both markets want to offer good books. (I’ve never met the guy who wanted to produce or sell a bad book.) Both want to entertain in some way. Both intend to have most of their books foster some sort of understanding.
Yet there are real differences. Many people writing in CBA are largely doing so because they feel they have a “message” they want to pass along. I meet these folks at conferences all the time – in their way of thinking, God has given them this great story, and they must be obedient and tell it to others. They have “Truth” that must be communicated. Sure, they want to be successful in the market, but even more important is the promulgation of the Gospel, and the notion of being obedient to share that message. Perhaps we could say “effective ministry” supplants “making money” in the hearts of many religious authors (not all, but many). And, of course, one could argue that there are certainly plenty of people in the general market who believe strongly in their own message, and feel that same need to share it, whether it be “how to lose weight” or “how to save the planet” or “why we shouldn’t go to war.” The notion of “calling” is a bit ephemeral — one author can be totally committed to a cause, and another can be totally committed to the opposite cause. In publishing, we understand the importance of exchanging ideas, of making a case, or saying it well. That’s the author’s job, no matter what market you’re in.
However, I think it’s safe to say that, if faith-based authors are often driven to share some sort of message,
Just back from a fabulous BEA convention, where the mood was upbeat, nobody was whining about the future of books, and everyone involved (authors, publishers, agents, sales people, marketing folks) seemed excited about the future of the industry. Loved being back in New York and seeing all the great titles coming out. I like to watch trends, and noticed several at the show (which I’ll talk more about in future posts), including the changes to faith-based publishing. So while I was at the show, someone sent this: “You seem to be one of the few literary agents who works in the general market (what a lot of people call the ABA) as well as working in the Christian market (the CBA). I’ve published two books in CBA, but think my next book fits more of a general market audience. My question: is ‘crossing over’ from CBA to ABA a reality?”
Okay, if you’re not terribly religious, stay with me for a minute…. I think this stuff is interesting to talk about. First, for those not in the know, CBA is the Christian Booksellers Association, and it’s the realm of all things faith-based in publishing. ABA is the American Booksellers Association, and it’s sometimes used (though less and less) as a descriptor for the general, non-religious world of publishing. Now, if you’ll indulge me, let me offer a theological reflection that speaks to this issue of CBA and ABA books: Christianity teaches that when you meet God, you are changed. (I don’t care if you believe that or not, just hear the argument.) A Christian would argue that everything about you is different, because you’ve been exposed to God. So, from a theologian’s perspective, a Christian probably won’t be completely understood by those who are not Christians. He or she is speaking a different language. And any cultural anthropologist till tell you that the longer you’re a Christian, the fewer non-Christian
We’re continuing our “ask an agent anything” series, where I’m trying to offer some short answers to your general publishing questions. If you’ve got a question you’ve always wanted to ask an agent, send it to me or leave it in the “comments” section. One reader wrote to ask, “What is “voice” in writing? “
Voice is the personality of the author, expressed through words on the page. When you write, your word choices, your phrasing and structure, your thinking and themes — they all help establish your personality as a writer. So the way I write is different from the way someone else writes — my personality comes through, and shows how I’m different and unique as a writer. (An example: Stephen King and William Faulkner both like long sentences, psychological implications, semicolons, and the use of the word “and” in their works… but nobody ever picked up a Stephen King novel and mistook it for a William Faulkner novel. Though they share some characteristics, each writer has his own personality, and that comes through on the page.) Of course, not every writing voice is good — just as not every singing voice is good. A great writer has a voice that is appealing and interesting.
Similarly, another person asked, “How does a writer know when he has established a strong voice in his work?”
It takes time and effort. I’ve always thought a writer recognizes his or her own voice over time, so the more you write, the better you hear yourself in your words. My experience is that, as I write more and more, my personality becomes clear on the page. When we talk, your words don’t sound like mine. Your stories don’t sound like mine. Your personality is unique, and getting that to be clearly expressed on the page will help you define your voice. (So, for example, when I tell my story of being
Recently a friend said to me "it must be so cool to get paid to read
manuscripts for a living." I knew then that he really had no idea what
my job entailed. Reading manuscripts and reviewing proposals is an
important part of what I do, of course. But, honestly, it's just the
beginning of what can be a long process.
For me, sometimes reading manuscripts is soothing. It reminds me that
there is always the possibility of finding something fresh, or a
potential perfect fit for an editor, or simply a gem I want to
seriously consider. Other times it's stressful because I wonder how
I'll ever find time to help with another project. But, it ebbs and
flows, and all works out in the process. Publishing is a lot of things,
but one thing it most certainly is is a process.
Sometimes I think writers forget this.
For example, right now I'm working on submitting a project I've been helping an
author shape since January 2009. Yep, you read that right. 18 months of
work. Admittedly the author is a busy mom and works full-time, so it's
been a bit of an off and on process for her. But, I believe in her work
and her message, and I know when the time is right, we'll be ready. For
some authors I represent, patience (on both our parts) is the primary
speed. For others, sometimes, we have to hasten things a bit.
I'd love to hear from some of you who are willing to share how long it
took you to get published. I mean from first submission to book on the
shelf. Just to give some perspective. Anyone willing?
While we wait for your responses, here's a smattering of NEWS for you:
A COUPLE NEWISH BLOGS by a couple editor friends of ours we thought you'd like to check out:
Nick Harrison – Harvest House Publishers Nick