Category : Current Affairs

  • November 14, 2012

    Why is your second novel so important?


    An author wrote with this question: “What would you say are the common areas of neglect you see in most second novels? Weak plot? Poor characterization? Underdeveloped themes?”

    Love this question, since I tell the authors I represent that “your SECOND novel will be your most important.” You’ve doubtless spent years getting your first novel completed, then worked to edit it, got all sorts of advice, and went through the process of shopping it with an agent. It’s polished and ready to go after three or five years of working on it. Then you get a deal, and suddenly the publisher asks you to write another one in five months. Ack! You race through it, and it comes out disappointing. That can be a career killer, since you want your second novel to build off the sales of your first.

    The biggest pitfalls in a second novel? A small idea (your first book was big; your second was hurried and not thought through as well.) Small characters (your first book contained characters you knew intimately; your second has people you don’t know as well). Less sense of place (your first novel is in a place you’ve spent considerable time exploring; your second is just a place). Less passion (your first novel grew out of a story you felt compelled to tell; your second is simply another book). You see the problem?

    You see, your first novel sets a baseline in the marketplace. Retailers will be looking at your second book to decide if your audience is growing (and sales are up) or your audience is shrinking (your sales are down). They’ll take that as a sign of your future potential in the industry. Like it or not, that’s the tendency in today’s market. So you can’t scrimp on your second novel — it’s got to be as good as your first.

    Someone else asked, “Should a novelist be thinking ‘sequel’

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  • November 6, 2012

    On staying current, book clubs, and drinking juice naked


    I’ve had people sending me dozens of questions recently, so I thought I’d try to catch up by changing things a bit and offering several short questions and answers. So the next few days of the blog will sort of head in a new direction…

    Someone wrote and noted, “I have a busy life, and I seem to spend much of it in front of my computer. How can I keep up with the industry? What do you fell is worth sacrificing my writing time to follow?”

    My choices may be different from your own, of course, but I subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly (the bible of our industry), and I get Publishers’ Lunch and PW Daily on my screen every day. They offer a summary of news, with links I can go to when I want to find details. (For example, today the Authors Guild asked the government to look into the proposed Penguin/Random House merger, since it turns out there just MAY be a bit of market-cornering going on.) These keep me in touch with the industry. There are a number of blogs I like, but I’ll admit that I tend to look at the blogs of the authors I represent, and I can’t quite keep up with all the good blogs that have been created. Novel Rocket is good because it keeps you on top of a lot of titles. I still read GalleyCat. Most of the publishers have their own company blogs. I like Mike Hyatt’s excellent blog,,, Digital Book World, and I belong to a couple discussion groups to talk about the business and marketing side of publishing. I’ll invite readers to suggest other good industry blogs in the “comments” section…

    Someone wrote and asked, “What can you tell me about audio books? My publisher isn’t interested in producing my books in audio, though they sell well in print. Is there a way to

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  • October 23, 2012

    Should I negotiate my own book contract?


    I’ve had a number of people write to me and ask something along the lines of,“How can I negotiate my own contract?”

    Okay, let’s get something straight right off the bat: You probably aren’t ready to talk contracts with a publisher. Just admit it right now. You spend your time plunking away at a keyboard, and most of what you learned about publishing contracts came in a 45-minute workshop at some writer’s conference, or possibly in a book you barely understood, entitled something like Understanding Publishing Agreements in 6 Easy Lessons. If that’s the case, let me help educate you: When you start discussing contracts with a publisher, you might want to remember that he (or she) has a team of professionals backing him (or her) up. There’s an entire group of people whose professional existence is to make mincemeat out of you. Lawyers, accountants, bookkeepers — even the assistants probably know more about contracts than you do. Have I scared you yet? I hope so. Because I’m not trying to sound superior — I’m trying to get you to understand how important a contract is in your life. A publishing contract is a legal document governing everything about your book for as long as it’s in print… so you don’t want to sign something without having read it carefully, and without knowing what you are signing. There are going to be clauses that sound like they were created by lawyers for whom English isn’t their first language. There’s fine print. There are terms used that are completely foreign to you. And while the publisher isn’t necessarily trying to force you into signing a bad deal, he (or she) is in business to get the best deal possible and to make as much money as they can.

    Think of it as going to a garage sale and finding a great book — a leather-bound, first edition. Maybe it’s

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  • September 24, 2012

    Should I write my cool personal story?


    I frequently get proposals telling me about someone’s cool personal story. Right now, I’m looking at a New York cop who busted several organized crime figures, a guy who spent his life in the bush, the child of an on-the-road professional musician, a former Islamic soldier who came to see the world differently, and a very talented poet and songwriter who survived breast cancer. These are all fairly interesting stories, and I doubt very much I’ll take any of them on. Why? Because there’s very little market for personal story books. 

    Here’s what I consider to be a hard truth: You may have led a fascinating life, seen incredible things, and even had miracles happen to you. But in today’s market, there’s not a ton of interest in publishing this information in book form. And while you may not like that truth, the fact is, it’s where we are in today’s publishing economy. No matter how successful these books used to be, or how interesting your story is to you, publishers just aren’t selling enough copies of personal story books to make it worthwhile anymore. 

    I mention this because I’ve been seeing more and more personal story proposals cross my desk. (In hard economic times, MORE people create proposals, apparently thinking they’re going to cash in and make some easy money. Ha!) But right now network television is filled with reality shows — and these are basically personal stories. There are 20 million blogs — many of them people sharing their stories. In fact, the web is filled with people who want to tell the world about their stories. So there are cool personal stories everywhere, and they’re free. And that’s taken away the incentive people have to purchase a personal story book, unless there is a great sense of celebrity or media associated with the book. I represented Lisa Beamer’s post-9/11 memoir, LET’S ROLL, a few years ago,

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  • August 1, 2012

    The Wine Press Follies


    A few months ago (March 5), I wrote a blog post about the situation at Wine Press Publishing. They’re a big self-publisher of religious books, and their founder and former president alleges they’ve been taken over by a cult called Sound Doctrine Church. I’d read about the story online, and I made a comment on Facebook about it all — and was promptly served with a threatening letter from Wine Press, suggesting I was going to be sued, prosecuted, and presumably keel-hauled for having basically said, “Wow… I didn’t know this was going on.” They claimed I was a co-conspirator, and had their lawyer try to intimidate me with heavy-handed rhetoric.

    Their lawyer’s name, by the way, is Dumas. (Feel free to pronounce that however you want.)
    Well, several people have written to ask what the follow-up is, and what it was like when I ran into them at the ICRS book show. The fact is, I’ve stayed away from the topic on this blog. I mean, it’s not really my fight, I just happen to not like being barked at by a Dumas. Still, I noticed that the Brain Trust at Wine Press must have read my post, since they decided to write a couple responses on their church blog. (That’s right… I wrote a blog post about Wine Press, a publishing company claiming to NOT be a church, and their defense was posted on the church’s website.) On it, they took pains to detail what a “conspiracy” is, citing as their source that bastion of wisdom, Wikipedia. They also claimed that I was “lying about the facts,” though I notice they didn’t actually cite any lies, and concluded by saying I was “directly aiding… supporting, and contributing” to the people who oppose them. (You can read the whole thing here: )
    It makes for interesting reading. I particularly like the parts where they quote all
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  • July 20, 2012

    The Golden Weenie Award


    I’m just back from ICRS (the International Christian Retailing Show), where I always enjoy getting to see longtime friends in CBA. A lot of people in publishing don’t really understand the Christian Booksellers Association — they still refer to it as “the inspirational market,” and have no idea that it’s a HUGE part of publishing. I think it’s funny that a major magazine recently admitted, while putting together notes about book publishing in the US, that they had excluded all religious works in their totals… then noted that religious publishing accounts for about 20% of all publishing in this country. That would be akin to a publisher saying, “Here are our sales figures for last year — but, of course, they don’t include any of the books we sold on Amazon.”

    Anyway, we at MacGregor Literary represent a bunch of Christian books. We don’t work exclusively with religious books (though I get that question frequently, we do about a third of our business in the general market), but Sandra, Amanda, and I probably sell as much Christian fiction as any agency in the country. So I was there, representing the company at the book show, trying to act nice, and remembering to wear a clean shirt.

    As usual, I loved seeing editors and authors. There were great new covers to see, some trends in books that we’ll get into later, and authors we represent won several major awards — so a good show all around. It was once again held in Orlando — faithful readers will know that the people in charge of ICRS hold high-level meetings each year, to try and determine which will be the hottest city in the country the next year, in order to book the show someplace completely uncomfortable. (“How about hell? Have we considered doing the show in hell?”) Rumor has it they light candles, throw the urim and thummin, and then decide to

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  • July 7, 2012

    Cheryl Jarvis does some Reviewing of Reviews


    A GREAT bit of writing from author Cheryl Jarvis, looking at the various reviews her book received. Jarvis wrote a nonfiction book, The Marriage Sabbatical: The Journey that Brings You Home, that told the stories of women who took time away from domestic life to pursue their passion. She then stayed away from all reviews of the book for six months. At that point, she printed up every review she could find, to see what people had to say.

    If you’re an author, by all means read her article in Publisher’s Weekly:

    It will offer you perspective, the next time some bonehead who hasn’t read your book says something completely stupid on Amazon, or the reviewer in PW notes that “this is good if you like this sort of thing.” (I particularly like the conservative talk show host who scorched the book, then admitted he’d never even seen a copy.) What’s clear is that “journalistic integrity” has little to do with the world of reviewers. Worth reading!

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  • June 21, 2012

    An interview with novelist Les Edgerton, plus…


    Crime writer Les Edgerton, author of Just Like That and The Bitch, offers some good writing… have a look:

    Read it and hear what he has to say. You will not agree with everything Les offers (and you may get offended at some of it), but the man can write, and is a student of words. Good stuff here for writers.

    And if you’d like to learn more from the man, he’s teaching online workshops next week — find out about it here:

    Oh… and if you type in the secret code SHUfriends (yes, it’s case sensitive), you’ll get 50% off each class. The benefits of reading my blog!

    By the way, I keep getting questions about HarperCollins’ new “360” publishing program (which aims to release two new ebooks EVERY WEEK — yow). You can read the details here:

    In a stunningly bad move, the Department of Justice has decided monopolies are now good (at least when it comes to publishing):

    If you’re interested, here’s what the Association of Author Representatives had to say to the DOJ:

    And Cory Doctorow had some good insights into the role of publishers in his latest Publishers Weekly column, which you’ll find here:

    Now don’t you feel up to date?

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  • June 19, 2012

    Lisa McKay talks about her memoir…


    In a memoir that reviewers have called a “modern-day fairytale”, a single thirty-something receives an email from a distant stranger proposing they date. As they get to know one another entirely via email they must confront troubling questions about purpose, passion, and what it really means to commit to a person or a place.

    Love At The Speed Of Email is the story of an old-fashioned courtship made possible by modern technology:

    Lisa looks as if she has it made. She has turned her nomadic childhood and forensic psychology training into a successful career as a stress management trainer for humanitarian aid workers. She lives in Los Angeles, travels the world, and her first novel has just been published to some acclaim. But as she turns 31, Lisa realizes that she is still single, constantly on airplanes, and increasingly wondering where home is and what it really means to commit to a person, place, or career. When an intriguing stranger living on the other side of the world emails her out of the blue, she must decide whether she will risk trying to answer those questions. Her decision will change her life.

    I sat down with the author, Lisa McKay, to chat recently.

    Chip: Your first book, my hands came away redwas a novel. Why did you choose to write a memoir this time around?

    Lisa: I didn’t intend for this second book to be a memoir. In fact, I was working on a novel on human trafficking when my husband, Mike, and I became engaged. But as we began to plan our wedding I found it increasingly difficult to flip in and out of such vastly different worlds – the happiness of the one I was living in and the harshness of the one I was trying to write about.

    After months of trying to force myself to persevere with the trafficking novel, one day I stopped

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  • April 25, 2012

    More on teaching at a writers’ conference…


    Continuing our thoughts about teaching at a writing conference…

    6. If you go as a teacher, take some time to talk to people. YOU are one of the reasons they chose to attend. Look, in reality, I’m not a big deal, and I always figure people are going to be disappointed when they finally meet me. But giving writers the  opportunity to meet a “real agent” or a “real editor” or a “published writer” is part of the reason people attend. So don’t try to skip out on actually talking to the newbies. Schedule one-on-ones. Sit and talk with people at your table. Don’t ignore the beginners — they’re paying the bills.

    7. If you’re evaluating proposals, don’t tell everybody “send it to me.” Doing so officially qualifies you as a weenie. (Besides, your in-box is going to be swamped with bad proposals for weeks.) If you’re looking at proposals, find something good to say about each one, then give the writer a couple ideas for improving his or her craft. But if it’s not very good, be honest and tell them it’s not ready. If you know if doesn’t fit your organization, tell the author you won’t be publishing it. If it’s a bad or wacko idea, tell them you don’t think it is salable, or doesn’t reach a wide enough audience, or is only going to appeal to people on medication. But don’t give a bad writer the false hope of thinking that he or she is GOOD when they are not.

    8. Learn to speak the truth in love. Yeah, I’ve been accused at times of being too blunt. And yes, I’ve had people start to cry because I didn’t like their book idea. I once snapped at a guy for trying to hand me his proposal while I was standing at a urinal. (Yes, that’s a true story. It was at a conference at

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