- Author News, Deals
- Bad Poetry
- Blog News
- Collaborating and Ghosting
- Current Affairs
- Deep Thoughts
- Favorite Books
- Marketing and Platforms
- Questions from Beginners
- Quick Tips
- Resources for Writing
- Social Media Critique
- The Business of Writing
- The Writing Craft
- Thursdays with Amanda
Category : Current Affairs
So I happen to be sitting at Cafe Greco in North Beach (the Italian section of downtown San Francisco), and thought this was the perfect place to suggest authors sit down to have a cappuccino and talk. This month we’re just inviting authors to send the question they’ve always wanted to ask a literary agent, if only they could be face to face. I’ve been sent a bunch of questions, and I’m trying to get to each of them…
I know many agents are looking for an author to have a big “platform.” What does a big platform look like to you?
A platform is a number. You speak? How many people do you speak to over the course of a year? You write a column? What’s your readership? You’re on radio? What’s your listenership? You blog? How many hits do you get? You do a column? How many people read your work? You belong to organizations? How many people are you connected to? All of those are numbers — just add up the numbers, and you’ll know how big your platform is. The bigger the number, the happier a publisher is going to be. More important is how many people you actually have some sort of relationship with — that is, how many of those folks do you speak to or consider an acquaintance? Can you suggest what percentage might actually purchase a book? A small publisher may be happy with a platform of ten to twenty thousand. A medium sized published may be looking for a platform that is at least forty to sixty thousand. A large publisher may not be all that interested if your platform is less than 100,000 — possibly not interested if your platform is less than 250,000, depending on the project.
Is it pointless to seek publication before launching a blog? I have substantial Facebook and growing Twitter followings, but haven’t launched my
In this week’s issue of Publisher’s Weekly, they have their annual report on the bestsellers of the previous year. I always enjoy reading about it and discussing it with authors, because nothing gives perspective more than a number. You see, authors like to talk about having books “sell a million copies,” and I’ve frequently seen proposals in which writers make wild promises about selling millions, since the audience for a particular topic is considered huge. (“There are 246 million people with dandruff in this country! There’s a ginormous market for my book on hair care!”)
But then every spring PW releases its report, and everyone gets a dose of reality. How many hardcover novels sold a million copies in 2013? One — Dan Brown’s Inferno. How many hardcover nonfiction books sold a million copies? Three — Bill O’Reilly’s Killing Jesus and two of the “Duck Commander” books, Happy, Happy, Happy and Si-Cology. How many trade paper books sold a million copies? One — and it was released decades ago… F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There was only one mass market book that sold a million copies, proving that this formerly big-number format is quickly dying off, replaced by digital books — George R.R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones.
On the children’s side, there were a handful of books that passed the million mark. Jeff Kinney’s Hard Luck: Diary of a Wimpy Kid #8 sold more than three million copies, and was the biggest seller in one format of any book sold last year. But Veronica Roth’s Allegiant and Insurgent, Rick Riordan’s The House of Hades, and John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars also hit the mark. (Two other titles probably did: Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief and Dr. Suess’ Green Eggs and Ham, but the numbers are unclear because of several factors.) Still, when it comes to print copies, that means there were
by Ghostwriter [While this says it’s written by Chip MacGregor, it is not. It’s written by a professional collaborative writer who is a friend — Chip just posted it.]
Hi. I’m Ghostwriter and I’m the collaborative author of an engineered bestseller.
The news that Mars Hill Church paid ResultSource about $200,000 to get Mark Driscoll’s book Real Marriage on the New York Times bestseller list shocked a lot of people. For me, that news solved a mystery.
As I already mentioned, I am a collaborative author and occasionally a ghostwriter. Although I am a published author in my own right, I learned long ago that I could earn a much better living helping other people write their books. It’s a good life, and I enjoy my work. Nevertheless, I still hope that someday I’ll see one of my books on a bestseller list—any bestseller list.
This explains my obsession with Amazon rankings and sales figures.
I know, I know…
You have to take Amazon numbers with several hundred grains of salt. I get that. But I still enjoy checking my author page and seeing how many copies of my books have sold in the previous week. Generally, the numbers are unremarkable. Sometimes they are depressing. But a while back those numbers astonished and mystified me.
I’d collaborated on a book with a megachurch pastor and, although it was a contract job for which I received a flat fee and no royalties, I asked for and received cover credit. Because my name was on the cover, I was able to list the book on my Amazon author page and track its sales statistics. Even though I wasn’t going to receive royalties for the book, I was still curious to see how well it was selling.
So I set the book up and waited for the launch date. The first week’s sales stats took my breath away. The book went from zero
I was once let go from a job in publishing for “creative differences,” the same week another guy was let go, at another company, for some very different reasons. We worked in the same industry, are the same race and age, and he lived in a city where I had once lived. Several people got our stories mixed up. I had a writing conference cancel my participation at their event, saying they had heard rumors that cast me in a bad light, and that they didn’t want me coming. You can imagine my surprise when I was told they were un-inviting me, since none of what they’d heard was actually true. I invited them to call my former boss, to talk with the people around me, and to check my references. But I also got angry — I mean, they made their decisions based on a RUMOR? They’d never even called me to ask about it? They never checked facts with anyone at my former employer? Nope. They just heard a story and took it as gospel … and, to make matters worse, the other guy (the one who had actually been fired from that other house) was scheduled to speak at their conference. (I didn’t mention that to the conference director. I figured she could figure out the truth on her own damn time.)
I’ve never gone back to that conference, and I’ve never forgotten how much that error hurt. It’s why I want to make sure I get my facts straight on the stories I write, so that I don’t share something hurtful about somebody unfairly. I don’t mind offering bad news, and I realize some people will read my blog to get some information that publishers are too frequently reluctant to share, but I want to make sure I get my facts correct.
Here’s why I mention all of this: I got a couple of phone calls
Last week I made a point of saying that I think a guy who buys his way onto the bestseller lists is a weasel, and I had a bunch of people write to ask me why. This is a worthwhile topic for everyone in publishing, so let me offer some background…
Mark Driscoll pastors a large church in Seattle. Last fall he was accused of plagiarizing the words of another author, Peter Jones, in his latest book, and in addition there were other examples given of him plagiarizing, including pages of text recreated word-for-word from a Bible commentary and stuck into one of the church’s publications. The people at Driscoll’s church made the situation worse, first claiming it was okay because one of the obviously plagiarized documents had never been sold, then changing their story when it turns out it had indeed been sold, but saying they hadn’t made much, then blaming it all on un unnamed research assistant (even though it had Mark Driscoll’s name on it), then taking pains to criticize the “haters” instead of owning up to their own ignorance and laziness. The whole thing was a mess. Driscoll clearly plagiarized (whether you want to cut him slack and call it something else), and his publisher examined the book and released a statement that admitted there were “inadequate citations,” but defending him for handling the situation well. In the end, the entire mess faded away. I was a bit surprised, since I’ve seen books get cancelled and editorial careers get ruined over less than this. Still, we all moved on.
Until last week, when it was revealed that Rev. Driscoll had paid a marketing firm, ResultSource, more than $200,000 to get his book onto the New York Time bestseller list. The scheme included hiring people to purchase 6000 copies of the book in bookstores, then ordering another 5000 copies in bulk. They even made sure to use
There has been a ton of discussion over a report on author earnings by ebook authors (which you can find here: http://authorearnings.com/the-report/), the response to it (http://tinyurl.com/pcebsd5), and the responses to the responses (two of the best are http://tinyurl.com/kbjts5s and http://tinyurl.com/omkjz6v ). If you follow this discussions in our industry, you already know what’s going on: successful self-published author of Wool, Hugh Howey, did a bunch of research and came to the conclusion that self-published authors are selling more books and making more money than those publishing with traditional publishers. It was quickly pointed out that there were some problems with Howey’s work — he sells his books on Amazon, did all his research on Amazon, and (surprise!) came to the conclusion that Amazon is a great place to do your ebooks. Nevertheless, there were really some interesting things that showed up in his research:
—Indie-published ebooks have generally higher ratings on Amazon than Legacy-published ebooks.
—Indie-published ebooks generally cost less than Legacy-published ebooks, possibly leading consumers to the sense of getting better value from indies.
—Indie-published ebooks may be outselling Legacy-published ebooks (this is more inferred than proven).
—Indie-published ebooks constitute a larger percentage of books sales than we’ve been led to believe in the past (Howey estimates it’s more than 50% of all book sales, though his methodology lacks stringent validity testing).
—Indie-published authors of ebooks are earning more per book than Legacy-published ebook authors. (Though his argument that Indie-published authors are making more overall is based on very shaky evidence.)
It’s all fascinating stuff, and I believe his conclusion that publishing’s brightest days are ahead is spot-on. As an agent, I’ve never felt I was one of the people who needed to protect the status quo — the fact is, I believe in authors self-publishing.. Unfortunately, the debate that arose after Howey released his findings was considerably less than insightful. It’s become a fairly
A couple of people read my Tuesday blog and asked me, “What does a writing budget look like?”
Here’s the basic idea…
1. The author sets a financial goal for the year. It’s got to be something that is livable (if the writer is attempting to make this a full-time job) and reachable (so there’s no setting a goal of “a bazillion dollars”). Let’s say, for someone just moving into full-time writing, the goal is $24,000 per year. Skinny, but a real wage for most writers. So figure out how much you need to earn in a year from your writing.
2. I encourage an author to break that annual figure into monthly chunks — so in our example, the author’s goal is $2000 per month.
3. The next step is to add up what the author expects to earn on the writing they are doing. How much in contracts does she already have? What other writing does she know she’ll be doing and getting paid for? That will help her figure out how much money is coming in, and how much she needs to add. Let’s say an author has a royalty check coming in May, expects to have completion money on a book contract in July, has a couple of self-published books releasing in April and August, and is expecting to sell a project in October. All you have to do is to figure out the amounts and write them onto your writing calendar. Nothing will give an author more clarity than hard numbers written down on a calendar — it’s a way of saying, “I’m making this… so now I need to work to make that.”
4. The obvious thing to do next is to match up dates and amounts. If you know you’re going to be working on a book in March/April/May, you can write down how much you’re making on that project. By
I was on a long plane flight last week, and the guy next to me found out I was an agent, told me about the lousy book contract he’d received for his non-fiction book, and asked me, “Does a publisher lose money if a book doesn’t earn out?”
I get this question a lot, and to answer it I need to beg your forebearance… Let me answer this with hard numbers, so that I can make my case. It will take a couple minutes to run the numbers.
Remember, every business can lose money. Retail shops, service business, even publishers. I mean, if you own a shoe store, you order in shoes that don’t sell, and you have to drastically reduce prices, you can lose money on each pair of shoes sold. Publishing is no different. The publishing house pays out advances, they pay an editor, hire a cover designer, buy ink and paper, then pay a printer, and cover overhead such as the light bill and the editor’s long distance phone calls. A lot of expenses are involved in every book. I like and respect publishers, and as a longtime agent, I WANT them to make money and stay in business. So I’m just answering a question, not writing a polemic.
That said, the argument put forth that an unearned advance equals a loss for a publisher just isn’t true. (Or at least not the whole truth.) All you have to do is look at some math…
Let’s take some big book the publisher is doing with a celebrity. She’s created a $25 hardcover book, and the publisher has paid her a $100,000 advance. The average discount a bookstore gets when ordering a book is roughly 50% — so they’re paying the publisher $12.50 for that book. (In reality, it could be less, and there are a thousand factors determining that amount, but let’s use a conservative 50% for
Okay, so I lied… I guess we’re still living with the fun-filled antics of those wacky WinePress people. Just in case you’re following the story (and you can get the whole thing in my previous post), let me offer a handful of quick updates.
1. WinePress is out of business. Or it’s not. Or it is. Seems like they can’t decide. They posted on their website that “the time has come to end” — which surprised exactly nobody, since the time to end probably came when they started not producing the books authors had paid for. But then they sent out an email saying they weren’t out of business, things were in “a state of flux,” and that authors could still get their books. Then it changed, and they were out of business after all. Then… well, you get the picture. Like most everything else at WinePress, pinning down the truth can be a bit tricky.
2. Remarkably, they’re asking authors for more money. Um… you might find this hard to believe, but in their most recent email to authors, they shared a link which asks authors to send them money in order to get their book files back. This from a company that is being accused by many of having taken their money (I personally talked with a woman who says she sent them $17,000 and received nothing; another who said she sent them more than $12,000 and got no books). So as far as I can figure out, the new line goes like this: “Hey, suckers… You think you haven’t sent me enough dough yet? I got an idea… send me some MORE. Trust me, it’ll be fine.” Anyone who falls for that should have his or her head examined. And I’ve heard from more than one source that a Class Action suit is going to be filed against them. You know the old saying — you take
So faithful readers will recall that a couple years ago, the woman who started vanity press success story Winepress Publishing, Athena Dean, had announced the business had basically been taken over by a cult, and was being run by a guy who had bullied her into handing over her business to the church — you can find her story at www.tinyurl.com/nx6sulx
It’s fascinating reading — a seemingly normal woman sucked in by a group of true believers, she lost her family and business over it, and eventually woke up to the fact that she was the victim of a manipulative group of religionists. I made one comment on it on Facebook (my exact words were: “Holy cow. I mean… WOW! This will blow the socks off of anyone who’s been involved in CBA publishing in recent years. Wow…” ) and that was enough to earn the wrath of the guy in charge of both the church & the publishing company. They sent me a cease and desist letter, complete with really cool bible verses and a laughably funny “thou shalt not” tone that sounded right out of a 1950’s biblical epic movie with Charleton Heston. Bullying and obfuscation is their stock in trade, so of course I blogged about it (you’ll find my post here: www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/conspirators-r-us/ ) — I figured if they were doing this to ME, they were doing it to others in publishing, and somebody needed to say something.
Sure enough, it turns out those wacky folks at Winepress had been threatening and cajoling people with their legal letters and threats for a long time. But a funny thing happens when you shine a little light on darkness — people begin to see the problems. And LOTS of people saw the problems at Winepress. Authors started leaving them in droves, not wanting to be associated with a cult (and let’s define a cult as a group of people