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Category : Career
William wrote and asked, “Can you tell us why you became an agent?”
Okay…I got into agenting by accident. I was making my living as a freelance writer, collaborating on books with some great Christian speakers (David Jeremiah, Bruce Wilkinson, Howard Hendricks, Joe Stowell, etc). I had worked as an editor, and knew about writing books, so I felt confident about the "word" side. But something had always stuck in my craw—the fact that when I did my first book
deal, I simply didn't know what I was doing. The editor called me on the phone, made me an offer, and…I was stumped. I had no context for deciding. Was this a good deal? A bad deal? Normal? Incredible? No idea. So I said yes, wrote the book, and started doing my research on the "business" side.
Over the next couple of years, I got a great education. I learned about printing and publishing. I studied contracts and read up on intellectual property rights. I did my doctoral work in Organizational Development, so I'm fairly well organized, and good at seeing the big picture. I began doing talks at writer conferences about "how to make a living writing" and "how to get your writer's business going." Pretty soon writers were asking me things like, "Would you take a look at this contract?" and "How would you handle this publishing situation?" In essence, I became an agent without realizing that's what I was doing. (And I was doing it for free!)
The thing is, I have always had a heart for mentoring/discipleship. It's sort of been my ministry, and since I've spent my life as a words guy, I was naturally drawn to helping writers with things like career decisions, contracts, and proposals. And I suppose if I have a strength (a topic that could be debated), it would be simply that I get along with people. So pretty soon I
Jay asked, "In your view, what are the essential things a novelist has to understand about marketing?"
I talk about marketing a lot, Jay, so let me see if I can simplify it…
Author, YOU are responsible for your marketing. Not the publisher. Not the agent. You. The publisher and agent will both help, and they ought to bring something to the table or they aren't doing their jobs. But the book is yours – nobody else knows it as well as you do. Nobody else is as enthusiastic or as committed to it. Nobody else has as much riding on it. So give up any illusion that the publisher is going to take over your marketing – I'm just not seeing that very much any more. If you don't take charge of your marketing, it won't happen.
Just reading over those words, I realize that, for many authors, this is tough to hear. But I'm serious — I never hear an author say, "Gee, I'm thrilled with the marketing my publisher is doing on my book." Instead, I generally hear authors grousing about the crummy marketing or the little work being done. And my response from now on is going to be to tell the author to change his or her perspective. Start being appreciative of the few things your publicist gets right. Start saying "thanks" more for the fact that your publisher is doing ANYTHING. And then just go do the rest of it yourself.
To do that means you're going to have to educate yourself. Just as you've had to learn the ropes of how to write well, I think most of us are going to have to learn how to market well. You'll have to pick up a couple of marketing books, maybe attend a marketing class or seminar, and do some digging to figure out what makes a good marketing plan.
"I've been working with an agent I was introduced to at a conference, but I'm not sure she knows what she's doing…nor do I know what she should be doing for me. It seems like I basically did the deal myself. Can you help me?"