Category : Current Affairs

  • May 26, 2013

    The Christy Awards make another major mistake…


    So, if you haven’t heard the news, I’ve been asked to be the keynote speaker at the 2013 Christy Awards. Yes — me. Chip MacGregor, literary agent. I’m fairly certain this was a clerical error, but it’s exactly this sort of thing that causes people to shake their heads at the decline of Solid American Values in publishing. Next thing you know, they’ll be having an agent serve as the Master of Ceremonies…

    Oh, wait. It turns out they also asked my good buddy Steve Laube to serve as the emcee. He is also a longtime literary agent. Um… Well this just goes to show that anyone can make a mistake. I mean, first they forgot to give Jerry Jenkins a Christy Award, now they hire a couple of agents to man the microphone. I’m telling you, we need a blue-ribbon panel to check into this. (Heads will roll.)

    If you’re not familiar, the Christy Awards are really the premier award for those who write inspirational fiction. They’ve been around about 15 years, and are named after Catherine Marshall’s seminal novel, Christy. Originally created by a dozen CBA publishers, the awards intended to honor Ms Marshall’s contribution to the field of faith-infused fiction, as well as providing opportunities to recognize the best novels and novelists in the genre. I’ve long been a fan of the Christy Awards, and have represented dozens of finalists and several Christy winners (including last year’s winners Mindy Starns Clark, Leslie Gould, and Ann Tatlock). We have several finalists again this year in the different categories — which you can find by going to .

    So I’m completely surprised and flattered that they’d invite me to speak, even if the person on the other end of the line MEANT to call Chip Kelly, the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles and, like me, a former Oregon Duck. (Don’t worry — I get that a

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  • May 20, 2013

    What do you look for in historical fiction?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Should an author who writes historical fiction stick only to fiction? Since so much historical research has to be conducted, how do you feel about authors using their novel research to also pen nonfiction?”

    I think it depends on the author’s preference, or maybe their gifting. I don’t have any problem representing authors who write both fiction and nonfiction. However, it’s really tough for a writer to succeed at both. In my view, a novel requires a different set of writing skills than a nonfiction book — novelists require the ability to show, not tell, while nonfiction is all about telling. There are very few examples of writers who have excelled at both. (Yes, there are some, but not many.) And readers simply don’t cross over – most tend to be either fiction readers or nonfiction readers. And historical fiction readers aren’t generally that interested in reading a nonfiction book from a favorite writer, so even a bestselling novelist will find her nonfiction book to be a hard sell in the marketplace. For those very practical reasons, most historical fiction writers tend to stay with the fiction genre. 

    Another writer wants to know, “What particular skills do you look for in a writer of historical fiction?”

    A strong voice, first of all. The one thing that makes a novel unique is not so much the setting or the characters so much as the voice of the writer. Too many historical novels feel the same — the setting has changed, but the book could have been written by anyone. So what really sets it apart, and the first thing I look for, is a strong author voice. That being said, a strong sense of history and adequate research so that the story feels genuine are essential, of course. I want a story that’s unique and interesting, so it’s best if the writer has a passion for

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  • April 28, 2013

    Why are you speaking at a writers' conference?


    I mentioned the other day that I’m going to be speaking at the Dallas Writers’ University on Saturday, May 4 — and someone wrote to ask, “Why are you doing a writers’ conference?”

    The fact is, I rarely do many conferences these days. I’m busy with the authors I currently represent, and aside from RWA and ACFW, I don’t do many — certainly not many smaller conferences (I may go to Bouchercon later this year, but after that my dance card is filled up). But when the folks at the Writers’ University asked me about this, I liked the idea right away. It’s a one-day writing conference, focused on some one-to-one face time with authors, so it feels more personal. I’ll be talking about “Creating Your Publishing Strategy” and “Developing Book Proposals that Sell.” Other speakers include Jeane Wynn of Wynn-Wynn Media (a fabulous freelance marketing specialist who I’ve worked on numerous books with) and Michelle Borquez (who runs Bella Publishing and will be talking about “Building Your Author Platform”). There’s also going to be an attorney there, Gary Ashmore, talking about publishing contracts. It’s a great group, and I love the fact that they invited me to participate.

    So last week I mentioned the big news: anyone who registers for the conference and mentions my blog gets a big discount. The normal price is $199 for the full day (that includes all the sessions, your lunch, a face-to-face meeting with me, and access to the other speakers). But if you want to come and you mention you saw this on Chip’s blog, you  can attend for $159. If you’re in the area, I hope you’ll consider coming. They tell me space is limited (I believe they have about ten spots left), and I’m doing this one because there are always a bunch of good writers in the Dallas area.

    AND if you decide to register and let me know

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  • April 4, 2013

    Thursdays with Amanda: Book Piracy, Idea Piracy, and What Happens When You Live in Fear


    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. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon andBarnes & Noble.

    I received a question the other week on the danger of posting ideas, content, and other deliciously stealable things online.

    Then this week, I fielded a few emails from authors who are seeing their books available for free on some pretty sketchy sites.

    So, BECAUSE I’m a big fan of ebooks, and BECAUSE I’ve encouraged writers to throw their content online and therefore subject it to the all of the content pirates that lurk about, I figured I should say a few things about this very unfortunate…yet inevitable…problem.

    1. There is no way to fully prevent others from stealing your work. Especially if you publish anything digitally. Amazon brags about their DRM anti-piracy thing-a-majig, but it’s really a bunch of fluff. There’s zero way for us to adequately patrol and safeguard digital content.

    2. There will always be people looking to get things for free. There will always be people who abuse creative content. The good news is these people aren’t as prevalent in the book industry as they are in, say, the music industry. Piracy FOREVER changed music. We aren’t seeing it doing much to change publishing, because while it exists, it’s not as prevalent, and the music industry paved the way for lots of anti-piracy legislation that has helped minimize the problem.

    3. There is always a chance someone will steal your book idea. And this doesn’t just happen online. Go to a writer’s conference or critique group or MFA program and tell your idea to the wrong person and BAM. It’s stolen.

    4. There is always a chance someone

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  • March 26, 2013

    Does a proposal marked "requested materials" get reviewed faster?


    I’ve been using the past couple week to try and blow through a bunch of publishing questions people have asked, offering shorter-than-usual answers to try and get people the information they need. For example, one writer asked this: “I’ve heard that requested materials get put toward the top of the slush pile in most cases, but does this still mean a 3 month response time from most agents?”

    If you ask ten agents “what’s the average response time to a submission,” you’ll probably get ten different responses. Just remember what your mom always told you: patience is a virtue. My guess is that, for most of the agents out there, the response time varies based on how busy we are at the time. Some months (like December and July, for example) are slow months for publishing, so all of us get to catch up on our queries and proposals. But yes, most of us are sure to look at requested materials ahead of the slush pile. I try to respond to every query within a month. I try to respond to every requested proposal faster – as soon as I can get to it. In most cases, that’s about two weeks, sometimes three. But no, I’m not perfect, and sometimes things take longer.

    Another writer sent this question my way: “I have a question for all you hardworking agents out there. [Note: Though the author of this question has aimed it at “hardworking” agents, I decided to answer it anyway.] When you get a submission from an unpublished author who has requests from several publishers, do you prefer if the author wait to see if you want to offer representation before she or he sends those submissions into the requesting editors? Or does it not matter?”

    No question about this one—I much prefer the author wait. The thing is, I’ve been working in this business a long time.

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  • March 19, 2013

    Does a writer need a blog as well as a website?


    I’ve been trying to catch up on questions people sent in about writing and publishing. For example, one writer wants to know, “Do I need both a website AND a blog? Or will just a website do?”

    That’s like asking, “Do I need to wear black to the meeting, or is color okay?” Depends on the meeting. For an author, it depends on your book and your audience. If you’re an author covering a current topic, you probably need to have a blog where you’re sharing cutting-edge information. If you’re a novelist who just wants readers to get to know you, maybe a basic website is enough. Think of the purpose of each — a site is to introduce you and share basic information; a blog is to interact with others. So there’s a lesson here: The growth of the web offers you the chance to market your self and your book without having to rely on the old notions of “platform” — you don’t have to have a syndicated radio show, host a television talk show, or have a huge speaking schedule. Relying on social media can help you build a platform by creating a big network of online friends.

    I’d love to hear from some authors on this topic… Do you have a blog as well as a website? Which has proven most helpful to you in promoting your books?

    Another author wrote this: “Is it important for an author to be involved in Facebook and Twitter? I HATE Twitter!

    Yeah, I know what you mean. I’ve rolled my eyes too many time at tweets from people telling me “We had fish for dinner!” and “Petey got a new haircut.” What you’re trying to do with social media is to expand your network of friends, so you want your interactions to be informative, interesting, and, probably, thought-provoking. But let’s face it, we talk with friends about dinners and

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  • March 11, 2013

    What is "voice" in writing?


    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

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  • February 27, 2013

    Must a novel be completed before an agent will look at it?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Must a novel always be 100% finished before an agent will want to take a look at it? Or if you spotted great voice in an unfinished work, would you take a look and offer encouragement?”

    If I absolutely love the voice, I might sign an author based on the quality of the writing. That happens on occasion. More often, I will look at a project and offer encouragement to the writer if I like his or her writing voice and think it has potential, but still think it needs to be completed. Right now the market is more or less demanding a novel be completed if a publisher is going to take a risk on a new or newer author. So yes, an agent might very well say he likes your work, but put off a decision to sign you until you complete your novel.

    Another asked, “How much of a difference does it make to an agent to hear I’ve been referred by one of their current clients? And how does that compare to a face-to-face with an agent at a conference?”

    It always makes a difference to me when one of the authors I already represents sends a talented writer my way. I figure the writers I represent are already my friends — we understand one another, so they’re probably going to send people my way who would likely be a fit. So consider that a good start. That said, it still usually takes a face-to-face for me to really get to know someone. A conference meeting is often too short (sometimes ten minutes), but it’s a start. In both cases, it will need to be followed up by great writing and a long talk or two, where we both get a feel for whether or not we’re a fit for one another.

    One writer asked, “How are royalties paid? Why is it

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  • February 26, 2013

    Should I use first-person or third-person in my novel?


    Someone asked, “In your opinion, is it better to see first-person or third-person POV novels for a first-time novelist?”

    I’m not one who gets too worked up about first-or-third POV as the “answer” to great fiction. A good novelist can use either one. However, I can tell you from experience that many first-person novels from beginning writers suffer from an overuse of the “I-verb” syndrome. (“I started… I walked… I ate… I moved… I handed… I answered…”) That endless parade of I-verbs creates a really dull novel. First-person fiction can be great, and it’s certainly become much more common in recent years, but in my view it’s harder to master than third person. 

    On a related note, someone asked, “Is it true most publishers don’t want first-person novels?”

    No, I don’t think that’s true at all. Again, writing an excellent first-person novel is simply harder to do well, so publishers probably have set the bar a bit higher. But some of the best fiction on the market is done in first person, and publishers still buy first-person novels. (Two favorite authors of mine, Ross Thomas and John D. MacDonald, wrote nearly everything from the first-person point of view. Bridget Jones Diary was a wildly successful first-person novel. I could give a bunch of other examples.)

    One author sent in this: “How many POV’s should a new novelist have in women’s contemporary fiction? I’ve heard we should use two for romance and one or two for general fiction. (I’m asking because my work in progress has one main character, but three other storylines that each require chapters from their POV. I’m wondering if that will make my novel harder to sell.)”

    Interesting question, since it seems to suggest there are hard and fast rules to be followed in contemporary fiction. While there are certainly rules to follow in genre literature (for example, if you’re writing contemporary romance, you’ve got to have

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  • February 25, 2013

    What does an acquisition editor do?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Can you explain what an acquisition editor is, and how that’s different from a regular editor?”

    As the name implies, the main role of an acquisitions editor is to acquire manuscripts for the publishing house. That means he or she knows what sort of books the house wants to do, and in the role will talk with agents, read the proposals that are sent in, perhaps go to conferences to meet face-to-face with authors, and evaluate everything in order to identify the manuscripts the house should pursue. Understand that most good acquisition editors are actively going out to hunt down authors and projects and ideas — not just sitting in an office and reacting to what’s sent to them.

    Another author asked a similar question: “Are people hired into that type of position? Or does one have to ‘work one’s way’up to do that? What is the usual period of time/experience required to do that?”

    Most new editorial hires start out as editorial assistants, working with an editor to assist with general office stuff. There’s not necessarily a major in college for becoming an editor, so we see a lot of English and Journalism majors, but also Business, History, Marketing, and Communications grads hired into the role. They learn the process of what a manuscript goes through in order to become a book. Then they are graduated to assistant editor, where they learn to actually edit. Then usually to associate editor, where they can begin to learn how to acquire. Eventually they become a full-fledged editor (in case you know of any editors who are only partially fledged). Most editors have two roles: to acquire books and edit them. At some houses they have “Acquisitions Editors,” whose sole job is to acquire new titles — in most cases others will do the actual editing of the manuscript. So yes, you work your way up. And the

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