Category : Career

  • October 9, 2012

    Does an author need to have a big ego?


    I’ve often talked at writing conferences about the motivation we have as writers — some people have a story they need to tell, others have advice they want to share, and still others simply want to be a star and get noticed. There’s something about that issue of “being a star” that becomes part of the writing business. So I was interested when someone wrote to ask, “As an agent, do you find yourself having to deal with ego issues a lot?” (His question came in within 24 hours of someone else asking, “Do you have to have an ego to survive in publishing?”)

    My perspective is that struggling with ego issues is part of any art form. If you’re a musician or actor or dancer, there’s a rush in getting on stage, in front of an audience, and basically shouting, “Look at me!” At the same time, that’s not the only motivation — the opportunity to express yourself, to tell your story, or reveal your vision is just as important. For a writer that same struggle exists. You’ve got to find a balance between expressing yourself in your writing and making this “all about me.”

    So, to make this easy, let me talk about myself rather than my authors, since the whole ego issue is something I have to battle. First, I’m not a star. I have no intentions of ever becoming a star. I’ve written books, but I’m in no way a celebrity author. And the funny thing is that I don’t really want to be a celebrity author, even though I enjoy doing a good job , and doing a good job in public. However…

    Second, I suppose if there is any place I’ve got a small measure of celebrity, it’s with the extremely small population of people who attend writers’ conferences — a group small enough that most people don’t even know it exists. In

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  • October 5, 2012

    Is there a career path for an editor?


    An author wrote and asked, “Is there some sort of career path to become an editor?”

    Of course there is a career path for most editors. You normally start as an Editorial Assistant, spending one to three years learning the book process. Generally you work with an editor, sometimes more than one, and your job is to fill in the gaps. It’s one of those unglamorous jobs — filing, letters, P&L forms, reading crummy proposals, cleaning up messy issues, talking to authors on the phone, and doing your best to make the editor look good. Most of the editors you see these days began as Editorial Assistants. The focus of the job is “process” — that is, learn the process of how books are done.

    The next step is to rise to the level of Assistant Editor. You’re still doing all the same crummy stuff as an EA, but you begin to focus on the word side — how do you edit a manuscript? That often means doing a shadow edit behind an editor. Many Assistant Editors are asked to work in one particular area — business books, or health books, or perhaps to help with one A-level author. The focus of the job is usually learning to edit words (unless you’re on the production side).

    For many, the next step is that of Associate Editor, though at some houses this isn’t cut and dried. An Associate Editor generally has a specialty, and it is most often defined as “working with words in some way.” That is, they spend their day editing actual manuscripts. Maybe they do copy-editing, some developmental editing, they do some reading and reviewing. I had an Associate Editor at Time-Warner who ran our “copy” procedure. There were Associate Editors who tracked cover copy, catalog copy, front matter, etc. At most houses, an Associate Editor is somebody who just focuses on the word side and doesn’t acquire

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  • October 3, 2012

    How can I make a living at writing?


    When you look at writers who are making a living at their writing, you find they come in two basic types:

    TYPE 1 is the writer who writes all over the map. There are plenty of examples of this in publishing – writers who do kids books, teen books, women’s fiction, romance, thrillers, study guides, and the occasional novella. They publish with multiple publishers, self-publish some titles, do some work-for-hire or collaborative writing, and cobble together a living. This author has good years and bad, makes decent money, is certainly out there a lot. On the nonfiction side, you find this much more with journalistic types — they’re taking on a variety of projects in order to make a living. 

    TYPE 2 is the writer who figures out what she wants to write, then writes it. She focuses on a genre, figures out her voice, and writes to that audience. An example of this is Terry Blackstock (there are plenty of others). Terry is writing suspense novels, everybody recognizes her voice, and she’s focused on that one audience. Another is an author I represent, Lisa Samson. Lisa writes literary fiction, knows who she is and what her style is, and focuses on it. 

    I’ll tell you right now that TYPE 1 writers rarely hit it big. She might make a good living, but it’s tough to really hit the big time when you move around in categories. You know that feeling of being overwhelmed because you’re doing six books in four different genres? Well, that’s the sort of life a TYPE 1 author is going to lead forever, because she finds it tough build an audience. Readers have trouble following her. Bookstore owners have a hard time getting behind her because they don’t know what her next book is going to be. That’s not to say you shouldn’t do this — frankly, it may be the only way to make

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  • August 17, 2012

    I want to be a career writer…


    I was at a big writing conference a couple years ago, and there was a glob of literary agents yakking it up on a panel. We were asked about the role agents play in the contemporary publishing industry, and one of the agents who spoke made a point of saying, “The most important thing we do is career planning for authors.”

    I almost laughed out loud. She happened to be an agent who…um… I want to put this delicately: She has no idea what she’s doing. One of those people who can’t seem to figure out what this job actually entails, besides sending emails and collecting checks. So to hear her talking about “career management” made me smile. It’s not that I disagreed — I happen to think that assisting authors with their careers is probably the most important piece of what I do. It’s just that I believe to some agents “career planning” can be defined as nothing more than “find a deal for my author.” In other words, a writer who doesn’t have a book contract simply needs a deal in place, and he or she will have a “writing career.” But anybody with a lick of sense could figure out that a book contract is sort of expected if you’re going to make a living as a writer of books. I mean, every author who signs on with an agent expects to land a book deal.

    So, for an agent, there’s a bit more to it. In my view, a career plan for an author is created by helping the author figure out (1) where they are now, and (2) where they want to be in the future. Because, you see, “success” is going to be defined differently for each author. There’s no one level we reach that equates to “success” for every writer. Some people really want to make their living writing; others don’t

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  • August 9, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: Promoting Yourself at a Conference Part 3


    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.

    Last week, we started to touch on brand and how a great brand can help you stand out at a conference. If you didn’t catch his posts, Chip’s been talking about brand as well over the past few days. His first post on author branding is here and his second is here.

    Take a minute to read through those. There’s quite a bit of good content there, and “brand” really is so important these days.

    So clearly, one of the first things you want when promoting yourself at a conference, is a brand. A promise. Clarity on who you are as a writer and what kind of content you produce. Whether you’re published or not, the same is true…you want to communicate what you’re about so that the right readers and the right supporters are attracted to you.

    Which leads us to not only a vital piece of the conference puzzle, but a major piece of the author career puzzle: who is your target audience? and what is your genre?

    The last thing you want is to walk around a conference, declaring yourself the author of historicals, YA, thrillers and picture books. Not only will your conference experience lack focus, but every professional who comes in contact with you won’t take you seriously. And every potential reader you meet is going to wonder whether they’ll have to wade through a bunch of historical or YA muck to get to your Thriller stuff (and so on).

    I argue this at least once every conference when meeting with authors…careers aren’t made by dabbling in multiple genres. Careers are made by focusing on ONE genre, to ONE audience type.

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  • July 19, 2012

    Thursdays with Amanda: How to Promote Old Titles


    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.

    Today, we’re going to gear things a bit more toward published authors and, for the time being, away from strictly talking platform-marketing. Today, we’re going to talk a bit of book marketing, thanks to Tina’s question:

    I once heard MJ Rose say we shouldn’t stop promoting past novels. She even told a story about a guy who promoted his book for two years after a publisher dropped theirs and he sold an amazing 100,000 copies.

    It seems even more important to promote when we are in between novels, but I don’t want to beat people over the head.  At the same time, I feel like I need to keep promoting my writing to keep from disappearing from the industry. Thoughts?

    The simple answer (in my opinion), is yes. You should continue to promote all of your books. Lets talk numbers, here…

    You write a book. The publisher gives you $10,000 as an advance. The book comes out. It almost earns out that advance before the publisher wants to do another book. They give you another $10,000. In the course of one year, or so. You’ve made $20,000. Not too shabby, but it’s still not a solid income.

    At this point, most authors stop focusing on their old book and focus on their new one. New is exciting! Fresh! It’s a way to start over! And maybe earn out that advance!

    But let’s think about this…your first book is almost going to earn out. That means, once the publisher recoups the $10k, you’re going to start seeing royalty money come in. If you drop the book altogether, chances are it will go out of print, and you haven’t made

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  • May 4, 2012

    When a writer needs a staff person to help…


    In response to our series on writers and staff, Susan sent this: “What success tips, or pitfalls to avoid, can you provide for hiring part-time staff?”

    First, I think you can ask yourself “what is my single greatest point of vulnerability? How could I get help in that area?” That will help you figure out when you need help most. All of us have stuff we don’t want to do, or don’t have the training to do, and it’s often best to bring in a professional who can help us get it done. 

    Second, before hiring anyone, even on a short-term contract basis, make sure you have your own life organized. If you have a calendar, a filing system, an address book, and a clear “to do” list with A, B, and C priorities, you will be better prepared to work with someone else. Without your own personal organization, you’ll find it nearly impossible to organize others.

    Third, keep in mind the best time to fire a person is when you don’t hire them. (Kudos to Bobb Biehl, management guru, for phrasing this so well.) All of us have had to fire a person who didn’t work out after we’ve invested a lot of time, money, and energy into their career. It hurts, and it puts us further behind. So don’t just hire anyone — hire the right person to work with you.

    Fourth, if the person you’re interviewing simply doesn’t have the skills you need, ask yourself if you have the time and desire to train them. Sometimes a person YOU train is better than the person somebody ELSE trained. If they don’t have the experience the job requires but they have the skills, ask yourself if the position needs that extra level of sophistication, or if you can offer them the experience they need.

    Fifth, keep in mind that all of us were once beginners. Look

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  • May 2, 2012

    More on “Does a writer need a staff?”


    As a follow-up to yesterday’s question, Jim wants to know, “How did you find the right person to work with? And how did you justify the expense?”

    I asked around, found candidates, then I asked them hard questions. Most of us want to hire someone because we LIKE them — and, unfortunately, we end up hiring someone just like ourselves. So that individual always feels frustrated and they never quite have the skills to fill in the remaining gaps. So let me make a suggestion: BEFORE you start interviewing anyone for the job, create a simple position description that describes what it is you need done. 

    It will look like this:

    Job Title:

    Here’s What I Need Done:

    Here are the on-going responsibilities:

    Here are the hours I’d like:

    Here’s my definition of success:

    Skills required:

    Experience I’d prefer:

    Additional thoughts:


    If you do something like this ahead of time, you can evaluate a candidate against your expectations and their skills. It’ll keep you from hiring that nice, perky assistant who, unfortunately, doesn’t know how to read.

    As for the additional expense, I make my living representing authors. Any help I can get to take away other responsibilities and work more effectively with authors is generally worth it. In the long run, I make MORE money paying somebody else to do my taxes and mow my lawn and copy-edit my manuscript and double-check all the citations than if I were to do it myself. Does that makes sense?

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  • May 1, 2012

    Does a writer need a staff?


    Veronica sent me a question about working with outside help: “Do you think writers should ever hire a staff person? (And what sort of staff do you use?)”

    I think it’s possible for a writer to have others helping in various ways — research, editing, design, marketing, branding, etc. But I want to encourage you to expand your vocabulary a bit… Think of the word “staff” as being defined as something like “all those people who work WITH you to help you succeed at your job.” If you do that, you’re not just “picking up a freelancer” to assist you. Instead, you are “working with your staff.” So, the way I look at it, any time you use another person to assist you, you’re hiring staff to help you get your job done. 

    With that in mind, I’ve had a number of part-time staff work for me in different capacities. When I ran a writing and editing service, I would hire (on a contract basis) people to transcribe speeches, to read manuscripts and give me their evaluation, to copy-edit, to create an index, to write back-cover and marketing copy, to research, to create study questions, and (sometimes) to simply sub-contract some of the writing jobs I’d taken on. I also hired a bookkeeper to take care of checks, a tax guy to deal with Uncle Sam, and an artsy type to assist in discussions over covers, posters, web sites, etc. All were part time. And though none were official employees, they were all part of my “staff.” I paid them a fair wage, but I wasn’t interested in making anyone an employee.

    Some writers who have had success and need assistance in particular areas use this sort of approach — specialists who can help in specific areas. Others use more of a generalist approach, hiring someone to assist them in whatever comes up. There’s no right way to do it

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  • April 23, 2012

    What helps a writer facing career decisions?


    Brant wrote and asked a question that I figure goes through every writer’s mind at one point or another, so it’s probably worth giving it some thought. It’s not rocket science—but because it’s not rocket science, it can be easy to overlook. He asked, “I’m trying to decide if I should move from part time writer to full time writing — what advice would you have for someone who just needs to make major career decisions as a writer?” 

    1. Go slow. The decisions I’ve raced into have a tendency to be the ones I’ve regretted. There is rarely a time a writer MUST make a decision today, rather than thinking about it and sleeping on it for a night. 

    2. Listen. I’ve found my gut will tell me if I’m right. I hate to be so vague, but I always found that to be true—when it didn’t feel right, it probably wasn’t. So learn to stop and listen — to trusted friends, to people in the industry, to that voice in your head. 

    3. If my gut fails me, my SPOUSE will tell me if I’m right. While I hate to admit this, my wife is probably right more often than I am. (But don’t tell her I said this.)

    4. If I’m doing something solely for the money, I’m probably making a mistake. The worst situations I got into as a freelance writer were the ones where I didn’t want the job, or didn’t understand the job, but needed the money. (“A book detailing your…what? Your history? And your business decisions? And your thoughts on life? And include a rant against the US parrot-importation laws? Sure, I can do that.”) 

    5. Everybody needs a calendar and a to-do list. Trust me—it makes saying “no” much easier if you can say, “I’m busy that day.” Even if all you’re busy with is taking your daughter to the school play.

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