Chip MacGregor

February 21, 2009

A Quick Q-and-A


I'm WAY behind in answering questions, so I thought I'd try to do some quick questions today (and limit my normally loooooooong answers). We'll see how it goes…

1. Heidi said, "I finished my first novel, don't have a contract or an agent for it yet, but I'm going to a conference soon to talk with agents and editors. Should I bring a one-sheet for both books? Or focus just on the second book?"

Huh? Why would you focus on the second book, Heidi? If the first book is completed, focus on that. Right now it's tougher than ever to get your first novel deal, so focus on the book that is complete. If you're unpublished, you're much more likely to get interest in a completed manuscript than a cool synopsis.

2. Holly asked, "Since I'm pitching a series, should I have a double-sided one-sheet — the front page would cover the first book, the back page for the series? Or should they be separate sheets?"

I'd go for separate sheets.

3. Stan wants to know, "If I'm pitching editors at a conference, should I include a proposed cover on my one-sheet?"

Only if it was professionally designed AND you've test-marketed it (preferably with people who are not relatives). Most author-produced covers are godawful. They start off the meeting on the wrong foot, sending the happy message, "I don't know what I'm doing!" No sense revealing that in the first five seconds.

4. Karen wrote, "I was in a Lifeway bookstore yesterday, and noticed they have put a sticker on some of the books that says, Read With Discernment. Um…what's up with that?"

I heard about this from a handful of people, so I checked it out. Turns out the ever-vigilent Protectors Of All Things Correct running Lifeway have put stickers on books from authors like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, and Donald Miller. (You catching a theme here?) So in other words, these guys are new generation authors pushing the envelope. They think Mr Bell is too graphic in talking about sex, Mr McLaren is too squishy in his theology, and Mr Miller…um…I don't know. He likes jazz, which is the music of Satan, perhaps. The store even set up a website to explain why the stickers are on the books (though having gone there, I think the explanations are so bland they're like reading old political speeches). Let's face it — this is Lifeway's way of saying, "Be careful! These guys may not check all the right boxes on our ultra-conservative evangelical theological/political positions. They could be dangerous. They may not be Republicans. It's even possible (gasp!) that Jim Dobson doesn't like them! The horror!"

My take: Deeply stupid. These are books, for crying out loud. And the best books are the ones that make us think. I may not agree with everything Mr McLaren has to say about the faith, but to put warning labels on them smacks of the worst aspects of Christian legalism. If you don't like the books, why carry them? If you're going to carry them, why pick on some authors rather than others? You know what will happen now, don't you? All those edgy Christian novelists are going to be in a race to see who can get stickered, and therefore maybe get some free publicity out of this. (Oh… and in a funny move, they also stickered William Young's The Shack. I guess the lesson is that "we shouldn't base our theology on interesting but poorly executed religious novels." There's something you didn't know.)

5. Bobbi wrote this: "I'm a member of a popular novelist discussion group, and we've been discussing Kindle and e-book rights. We think the royalties should be higher, since publishers don't have any ink or paper costs, nor do they have to warehouse the books. And there are no returns on e-books!"

Um… I don't see a question there (though the rant went on considerably longer). Look, I happen to agree with you to a point. Publishers still have to spend time editing, copy-editing, proofing, page designing, taking care of front matter, and creating a cover. What they don't have with an e-book is any print costs or warehousing. So they're trying to pass along the savings by paying a higher royalty. The industry standard is going to be 25%, which is higher than the 15% you're getting on regular books. I'd love it if it were 50%… but I'd also love it if I were six feet tall and looked like Brad Pitt. What's your point — that publishers are making more money than authors? Time to check the history books, my friend… publishers have always made more money than authors. (I mean, if they're paying you 25% of net, who do  you suppose gets the other 75%?) They're the ones who own the business, remember? That's not unfair — it's how every business operates. The writer is the talent, the content provider. The publisher is the one packaging, marketing, and selling the content you provide. Finding a balance in compensation is what your agent is there to help you with.

6. D.J. asked, "Can you tell me why the biggest book show in the country is moving to a mid-week format instead of the traditional weekend show? This seems crazy."

Not to me. Most of the people who attend BEA (editors, agents, authors, booksellers, rights people) are professionals who work during the week. So BEA scheduled this year's conference during the week, to better fit their normal work-week. They also scheduled it in New York, which is still the heart of book publishing. There's been a lot of hand-wringing about this, and I think it's dumb. Okay, so we all don't get to travel to a fun place like San Francisco or New Orleans, and we all spend our normal work day at the show. Big deal. I think this is a good move (especially for a show that seems like it could be in trouble).

7. Lisa simply wants to know, "Is Borders going to survive?"

I hope so. They got their loans extended this past week. And they are taking steps to close unprofitable stores and shrink some of the outlets that haven't been working. Borders is a great company, and we want them to remain in business if for no other reason than to keep B&N from having a brick-and-mortar monopoly. But… it's pretty dicey.

8. And Jim wrote me to say, "It's been a while since you offered us any samples of the really bad stuff you see. Got any great pieces you can share with those of us who are parched for bad ideas?"

Happy to. We recently got a proposal that read in part, "This book is a natural to be made into a movie, since characters in it become Black; or possibly ALL of them become Black, now that we have a Black president."

This is in such remarkably bad taste I just stopped and read through it about three times. For those hoping to write for Hollywood, this guy's advice is to simply "have your characters become black." That makes it a sure thing. Yikes.

I also received a proposal for "Hari Sadhan Dam Meets HarryPotter." It simply came with the note, "The title is self-explanatory." Um… yeah. It is. I might have Sandra read this one…

And I just got in a proposal for "The Men Who Are Ruining America," but I didn't make the list, so I doubt I'll be interested.

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