Category : Career

  • January 10, 2013

    Thursdays with Amanda: Make an Offer They Can’t Refuse


    Amanda 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.

    Well, with a new year, comes a new me. So say “hello” to my more current photo.

    This week, I wanted to share something that I have found particularly effective when it comes to growing platform…

    Do you remember those months ago when I offered Free Social Media Critiques?

    And then do you recall, if you follow my Facebook group, the other week when I gave Free One-Liner Critiques?

    I did both of these things to be nice. And to gain trust. But I mostly did them to grow my platform.

    Let’s look at the numbers.

    I received roughly 115 comments on my Social Media Critique promo. That’s around 100 people (some commented more than once) who not only interacted with me online, but who were then driven to come back every Thursday in hopes that their site would be reviewed. (I’m still working through the list…just taking a break for now).

    The post was shared quite a bit on Twitter and through other venues, and the coolest part is that it attracted NEW readers to the blog. In other words, in exchange for a bit of my time, I got new readers, positioned myself as an expert, and got my name out among people who are not closely linked to me. Pretty cool.

    (Not to mention, I got free blog fodder for the rest of my life).

    Now, the Facebook promo was even more of a success.

    I had around 650 likes before the promo. In days, that number jumped to 750. My post was shared a whopping 86 TIMES on Facebook, and even more so elsewhere. It saw 145 comments and was viewed by

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  • January 8, 2013

    Should I start with a small publisher to get the attention of a large one?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Do you think it’s a good idea to start with a smaller publisher and try to have some success, as a way of getting the attention of a larger publisher?”

    That’s not only a good idea, it’s pretty much the pattern writers follow in today’s market. (Occasionally we’ll see a great novelist get discovered and published by a large house, but that’s become the exception instead of the rule.) The majority of authors are starting small, working with the publisher to sell their book, building a reputation for themselves, and then later moving to a larger house  — or sometimes simply remaining with the smaller house. 

    Of course, to do that, the best thing an author can do is write a great book. Greatness gets discovered, in my view. If you write a great book, readers are going to find you eventually. I’ve seen that happen time after time. But whether you remain with a smaller line or move to a larger house is probably going to be part of the “career” conversation you have with your agent. Some writers have done very well at smaller publishing houses, and prefer feeling like the big fish in a smaller pond. You might be much more comfortable with the editing style of a niche publisher, or the familiarity of the staff, or smaller sales expectations that come with a small house. Don’t think that landing at a large publisher is going to be a dream come true — it might be great, but larger houses have unique issues (for example, you can become writer #37 on their list of top authors). A large publisher may offer you access to wider distribution, but that access may not amount to much — and we’ve all seen authors get swallowed up by a big house and just disappear. Bigger can be great, but it’s not always better. Nor will it always

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  • January 1, 2013

    How did you get started in your writing career?


    Someone wrote and asked, “How did you go about the business of becoming a writer?” Since it’s a holiday and the start of new year, I thought this would be a good time to re-tell that story. 

    For years I tried writing in dribs and drabs, trying to get an actual “writing career” going. I had started working in publishing as a copyeditor at a magazine, and had done quite a bit of magazine writing, plus some newspaper writing and lots of chapter editing, but I could never get over the hump and get my own book done. So I edited, and wrote some, and worked for magazines and newspapers and journals, sometimes running the publications for organizations. Then two articles I stumbled across in the course of my reading changed my writing life.

    The first was an interview with Thomas Wolfe in Esquire magazine. Wolfe, the author of such books as The Right Stuff, The Bonfire of the Vanities, and The Man in Full, was shown resplendent in a white suit, hat, and spats. The caption read, “Thomas Wolfe on his way to the office,” or some such thing. Notably, his office was in his home. Wolfe would get up, get dressed, and go into a spare bedroom to write — just as though he were heading off to an important publishing luncheon in a downtown New York restaurant. In the article, Wolfe explained that, to him, writing was a business. So he treated it as a business. He would begin writing at nine every morning, and would write until noon. Then he’d take ninety minutes off for lunch. Wolfe noted that he didn’t wait for inspiration to strike him – instead, he would sit down, read the last few pages of what he’d written the day before, and begin to type. By simply approaching writing as a business, he got much more done. After lunch, he returned

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  • December 15, 2012

    Will being young keep me from getting published?


    One writer wrote to say, “I’m only twenty. How much, if at all, does my young age affect how seriously agents and editors will consider my fiction manuscript?”

    When I look at a manuscript, I generally review the words first. I always figure I have to like the writing before we explore much of anything else. Most agents and editors will approach things that way, I think — so they’ll have no idea how old you are when they take that first look at your proposal. (In fact, I’m wondering why I’d need to know an author’s age… most writers don’t include that in their proposal.) So at least initially, your age isn’t going to matter much at all. What will matter is the idea and the writing.

    If it’s fiction, the writing will matter first. If it’s nonfiction, they’ll probably review the idea first, then look at your writing. If they don’t like it, you’ll get a rejection notice and that will be the end of it — nobody will even know your age. But if they like your project, they’ll start looking at your platform and how you’d go about supporting your book. That’s when I suppose your age could matter. The publisher is basically want to know if you can help them market and sell your book. And this system is pretty well the same whether you are twenty or fifty or eighty.

    That said, there’s a practical matter that needs to be brought up: Most twenty-year-olds don’t have enough life experience to create a good book. I’m sorry if that sounds impolite, but I’ve found it to be true. I think there is a depth that comes with age and experience, and it’s why there are almost no successful novelists in their early twenties, and even fewer nonfiction writers. They normally don’t yet have the maturity to know their own voice or bring their experience to

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  • December 1, 2012

    Can I make a living with freelance writing and editing?


    Lately I’ve been besieged with questions about writing and editing for a living. Let me tackle a handful of them…

    One person wrote and said, “I’ve been writing for six years, and I’m trying to establish myself as a paid freelance editor with a book publisher or magazine. I hear companies are outsourcing a lot of editing. What advice can you give me for getting started? Is it possible to break into an industry that relies so much on in-house connections and networking?”

    Publishers seem to always be on the hunt for good freelance editors. Just this week I spoke to two Associate Publishers who both expressed the need for more outside copy-editors and proofers. In these tough economic times, publishers are going to be sending even more projects to outside editors — thus saving themselves the cost of paying benefits to employees. So if you want to generate some extra income doing editorial work, the first thing I’d suggest is that you become a proficient editor. Make sure you can copy-edit quickly and thoroughly, then contact publishers to begin looking for work.

    It’s true publishing relies on networking… which makes it just like every other business in America. I don’t think publishing is any different from any other industry — all of us do business most often with those we know and trust. So that means if you want them to hire you as a freelance editor, you need to invest in networking with publishers and editors. Go meet them at conferences. Introduce yourself at industry events. Email them a friendly note and ask to introduce yourself over coffee. Get face to face and let them see you’re a normal, friendly, capable person. Then show them your work or ask to take their in-house editing test. Most houses have either a copy-editing test, or a developmental editing test, or both. Once you’ve shown them you’re able to do the

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  • November 22, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How I Became an Agent


    Amanda Luedeke Literary AgentAmanda 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.

    I’m interrupting the regularly scheduled Social Media Critiques to wish you and yours a very Happy Thanksgiving.

    I’ve been an agent for about two and a half years now, but I’ve only been full time for one of those years. So today, I’m reflecting on how blessed I am to have been doing this “book thing” full time for a full year.

    I met Chip about four years ago at an author book signing. I was working as an Admissions Counselor at a university where he was a visiting professor. My friend, who happened to be a student there, kept telling me about this big time agent who was on campus and how I needed to meet him. But despite it being a very small school, I couldn’t for the life of me  figure out who he was.

    So the only way to meet him was to trap him at an author book signing. At the time, I (ashamedly) didn’t know who the author was (Chip tells me it was Lisa Samson), and I honestly didn’t know very much about Chip other than the fact that my friend told me he was epic. So, we winged it. We walked in to the store, found Chip, and then I took a breath, walked up, and introduced myself.

    He said something sarcastic.

    I said something sarcastic.

    The rest is history.

    I started doing odd jobs for him (basically all the stuff he didn’t want to do himself), and in 2009 I was hired on as a part time assistant. In 2010, I was promoted to agent (though I maintained a full time job at a marketing agency). And last November,

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  • November 19, 2012

    Career Planning in the Wild, Wild West



    While on an agent’s panel at ACFW in September, I sat next to Lee Hough, one of the smartest and hardest working agents in the business. While we all fielded the typical questions we get as panelists, someone asked a question about the current state of affairs in publishing, and how agents are faring.

     I tend to take a positive, entrepreneurial, and philosophical approach when answering questions about the challenges of publishing.

    Lee, however, hit the mark when he said “It’s like the wild, wild west out there right now.” His summation about the new landscape of publishing has really stuck with me. In fact, it’s a new constant on the landscape of my daily work life these days — right alongside MacGregor Literary’s long-standing company philosophy that “good is always better than fast.”

    As positive as I try to remain, I’ll admit, it’s felt exceptionally difficult to place books and find homes for authors these past few months. Even with the successes I’ve enjoyed this year in spite of it all, it feels like I’m on more uneven ground than ever. And I know agents aren’t the only ones who feel this way.

    Marketers are constantly scrambling to orient themselves to what it takes to get readers to buy in a noisy online environment. Sales teams are faced with succeeding in spite of the literal crumbling of their brick & mortar customer base. Publicists are being asked to do more with less. Editors are overworked. Authors are no longer just invited by publishers to help market their books, but are expected to do so. In fact more and more, the strength of an author’s proposal is weighed as much for the type and number of readers they bring to the table as it is for the quality of their writing. Maybe more.

    Top that off with the consideration that authors are not only competing with other authors for

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  • November 16, 2012

    What makes a second book successful?


    An author wrote and said, “I’ve been told that you’ll never sell your second book in New York if you don’t do well on your first. Just how well do you have to do? How many copies is considered a success?”

    I don’t really think this is a hard-and-fast rule. Many authors have started small, done a good job, sold a modest number of their first book, then gone on to build an audience. Sure, it’s harder to do another book if your first book completely tanks, but sometimes that’s more a reflection on the sales expectations than the quality of the product. And while there’s not a magic number to hit that makes you automatically “successful” in the eyes of publishers, for years we’ve known that a novelist who can routinely sell in the 12,000 to 20,000 range can expect to publish for a long time. Now, however, that number seems to be rising. Expectations are greater, and I think most larger publishers of trade fiction really want to see a basement sales number of about 14,000 for an established novelist (that number is much higher for a major author, for a book that had a big advance, or for a mass market or subscription house, of course). And that’s a bottom number — the expectation may well be in the 20’s, depending on the size of the house (keep in mind economies of scale — a small regional publisher will have a very different definition of “success” than HarperCollins, for example). Still, if you can create a couple books a year, and sell in the mid-to-high teens, you can expect to have very steady work for a long time.

    I have an author who wrote a good first novel, then spent months promoting the book. The author did everything the publisher asked, and sales numbers for the first year were about 8500 copies sold. Not great — but

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  • November 13, 2012

    How do I balance marketing and writing?


    Someone asked, “What is a realistic schedule for writing that second book while promoting the first book?”

    This will be unique to each author, since each person writes at his or her own pace. But if a novelist takes seven or eight months to create a novel, that means she will need to block out time in her schedule to market the releasing book as she creates the next one. It can be tough — do you spend all your time marketing the first book? Do you spend it writing the second book? Where’s the balance? This is why I encourage every writer to create a writing calendar, where you can map out which projects you’re working on for the next year or two — whether it’s writing, editing, marketing, or just taking time away to reflect on the next book.

    Generally speaking, most authors find they simply must help market their releasing book right around the time of release — so build that into your calendar. I realize you didn’t get into this business to be a full-time marketer, but you don’t want to let the book release and do nothing. So build in some marketing time, if not in your regular week, at least some focused time during the release season.

    By the way, here’s one piece of advice I’m famous for sharing: Good is always better than fast. Your publisher will want books fast, since he is in the business of selling as many books as possible. So he might push you to write a new book every four months — and will almost certainly encourage you to create a new book every six months, so you have one releasing each selling season. But if you require eight months to craft a good novel, then agreeing to the six-month plan is career suicide. You’ll either miss all your deadlines (and sour the relationship with your publisher) or

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  • November 9, 2012

    How can I get noticed?


    We’re sticking with answering a bunch of shorter questions for a few days…

    One author wrote and noted, “As I research book publishing, I’m intrigued by the ‘platform’ thing. And as I think about how to build my platform, I’m having a hard time discerning whether publishers would consider my platform attractive or small potatoes. I edit a professional magazines (10,000 readers), help manage an advertising agroup (500 advertisers), am busy with the local Chamber of Commerce (another 500 members), contribute to a popular blog site, have access to a handful of other groups, and have been invited to submit articles to some very popular websites. Is that enough to get an editor’s attention?”

    That certainly sounds like the start of a good platform. Of course, some of the “platform” issue will depend on what you’re writing and who you’re writing to. If all of your professional contacts are finance related, and you’ve written a romance novel, publishers may tend to discount the value of all those contacts. But if you’re writing a book that speaks directly to your contacts, I imagine publishers would find your data base of people interesting. There’s not really a magic number that you’re trying to hit — other than to say “the bigger it is, the better they’ll like you.” However, you’re really beginning to think like a publisher when you approach your platform this way. How many people do you already reach? How often? In how many ways? How can you approach them about your book? Those are questions to talk about with a prospective publisher or agent.

    Another wanted to know, “If my book is published with a small house, what are the chances it will get into Target or Wal-Mart? Do those companies only buy books from big publishers?”

    Wal-Mart and Target use book buyers to select the books they sell. The larger companies have full-time sales staff dedicated just to

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