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Category : Proposals
Random thoughts on proposals and writing as we end the week…
I am teaching a one-day workshop in Richmond, Virginia, on Saturday, November 6, at the Sierra Hotel near Short Pump. If you're in the area, I'd love to have you participate. All the details can be found here: http://www.regonline.com/the_perfect_proposalMy friend and fellow agent Noah Lukeman has some great advice to share on how to write a strong query letter, and he's giving it away as a FREE downloadable book. Check it out at: www.writeagreatquery.comAnd noted author Harlan Coben had some fascinating things to say about author branding in an interview he did with The Atlantic. Check out his thoughts at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2007/07/paperback-writer/5988/Several folks have written to ask if there is a book-marketing site I like. There is — check out what Rob Eager does at http://www.startawildfire.com/And there's fascinating advice on how to make the most of social media here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFZ0z5Fm-Ng&feature=relatedI've had at least a dozen people write to ask what's going on with the various lawsuits among the guys who created the novel The Shack. Frankly, it's a mess. One guy is suing his partners for not sharing the money equitably. They are in turn suing him and claiming they helped write the book. And the publisher is even being sued (though it sounds like all they did was stick the earned royalties into a suspense account until the various other lawsuits could be resolved). It's ugly… and it's coming from people who bragged about how they didn't need an agent because they were all such good friends. Ugh. You can read about it here: http://www.christianretailing.com/index.php/newsletter/latest-etailing/21824-legal-showdown-over-the-shackThere's something new coming up on the market — "Kindle Singles," a new idea from the folks at Amazon to create and sell e-books under 30,000 words (a size that is almost impossible to sell to a regular royalty-paying publisher). With the advent of e-readers and book-reader phone
Awhile ago, I asked an author to send me the first chapter of a manuscript they had queried. The author was unpublished, but they had an ok platform, which made me think that if the writing was fabulous I could maybe get somewhere with the project.
But the writing wasn’t fabulous. It lacked emotion and jumped around too much to allow the reader any sort of bearings. So, I declined representation, citing the author’s writing as my primary reason.
And here’s where it gets sad.
The author wrote me backing saying that they knew the manuscript was weak—that it was in fact the weakest of their manuscripts—but that they had sent it out anyway without really considering how it would affect the aftermath.
I’m not sure what advice writers are getting these days, but it appears as though it’s the general mindset that agents and editors exist to perfect, polish and publish. That we love spending our time teaching writers storytelling basics and that we’re much more energized by the possibility of what could be than the reality of what is.
Um… Folks, I think that’s a load of crap.
Over and over I come across brilliant story ideas backed by wonky rough drafts, exciting plotlines headlined by cookie cutter characters, and moving scenes flooded with embarrassing grammar and punctuation.
And I reject every one.
This isn’t a race, folks. There are no extra points for finishing first. But there are extra points for finishing with a publishable manuscript.
Don’t query until the manuscript is perfect. You’ll save yourself a lot of heartache.
– Amanda Luedeke is an Agent at MacGregor Literary
Going Nude: How I Kicked an Addiction, Gained a Dress Size, and Discovered the Real Me
The above title is a fictional example of a writer being too clever for her own good. Sure, it has everything. It’s perfectly-structured, in that the subtitle properly explains what the book is about, while the main title merely suggests at awesomeness. It has wording that makes passersby do a double-take. It’s catchy, relevant and zeroed in on its target audience.
And yet … it’s the very type of title that is exactly what a publisher asks for but not what they want.
Let’s break this down:
1) Shock-value Words. SEX! PORN! DRUGS! SEX AGAIN! This is a serious soap box of mine. I’m sick and tired of writers trying to grab my attention with shock-value words. The worst part is they usually appear just like that … lined up in all caps. The truth of the matter is, yes, publishers want a title that grabs attention. One that’s in your face and, to some degree, shocking. But they’re never interested in titles that are offensive. Or creepy. Or just plain in bad taste. Though GOING NUDE would maybe fly with some publishers, others would simply roll their eyes and toss it aside. Because shock-value words always come across as cheap. Not to mention they tell the publisher that the author’s plan for selling the book has everything to do with a great title and cover. (And in case you haven’t heard Chip’s story, that plan’s already taken… by the publisher).
2) Unintentional negatives. Even though the title clearly indicates that the author’s increased dress size did nothing to damage her confidence, appeal, or looks, readers aren’t going to see it that way. Imagine yourself in a bookstore, desperately looking for the perfect book to give your sister who’s struggling with an addiction. Are you going to choose the title
Jacob wrote to me and said, "I submitted to one of those compilation books, and the company requested I put my social security number on all my submissions. I wrote to ask them about the practice, since my submission had not yet been accepted, and was told by one of the people who helps with the project that he ‘puts his SSN on everything’ he submits. What’s your advice on this subject?"
My advice is clear: DO NOT PUT YOUR SSN ON YOUR PROPOSALS. In fact, my guess is that anybody who routinely sticks that sort of confidential information on all his proposals is a dipstick. Don’t take career advice from that individual. Yikes.
Belinda wrote and noted, "I have been accepted into a compilation book, but their contract has an endless non-compete. When I asked them about it, I was told they ‘don’t mean it like that.’ What should I do?"
Sticking with the dipstick theme, if the editor said to you, "I know the contract only calls for you to make a 2% royalty, but we don’t mean it — we’ll pay you 15%," would you agree to sign? No way. The reason you have a written contract is to clarify exactly what the deal is. If they want to offer a broader non-complete clause, get it written down, or suggest some wording for them to insert into the contract. Basically a non-compete is there to protect a publisher from an unscrupulous author writing a book with one house, then writing a very similar book and producing it with another house, thereby cannibalizing sales. An author who regularly writes and speaks on a particular topic needs to gain some freedom, so as not to be prohibited from ever writing on that topic again. A good contract strikes a balance between the publisher’s protection and the author’s calling to speak to a certain issue.
Timothy asked, "How long
I’ve got a bunch of notes and questions regarding writer resources, so let me try to get to several of them today…
On MONEY: Patricia wrote to say, "Thanks for your recent blog post about earning money. So if a book doesn’t ‘earn out’ its advance, is the balance applied against the next book?"
It is if your contract is cross-collateralized — that is, if all your various book advances are "basketed" into one deal. If not — if each book is on a separate contract — then no, your advance cannot be applied to your next book.
On REMAINDERS: DeeAnn wrote me to ask, "What does it mean to ‘remainder’ a book?"
That’s when the publisher sells the remaining copies of your book to a book wholesaler for less than the cost of printing. It commonly happens when your book is going out of print, or when they’re down to the last 1000 copies or so, and the publisher wants to be rid of them. The books might have cost $2 to print, but they’ll sell them for $1 apiece to somebody who will buy the entire remaining stock, just to get them out of the warehouse.
On SELF-PUBLISHING: Gene wants to note, "The latest issue of Writers Digest is filled with ads for self-publishing. I’m on my second agent, still trying to get published, but it takes SOOOO long. How can you convince me not to go to lulu.com and have my book for sale on Amazon tomorrow morning? When will the traditionalists speed up the process?"
You’re right — there are a ton of self-publishing companies. Some are good, some are not. Be careful. The problem with self-publishing is not the speed, it’s the sales. If you write a book, you have to make sure the book is good (and if publishers are all turning you down, there could be a message there, Gene). You also
Today marks the four best words in the English language… And I don’t mean "Happy Valentine’s Day, Darling" (though there’s nothing wrong with those sentiments — I got engaged on Valentine’s Day way back in 1982). No, the four best words are these: "Pitchers and Catchers report." You see, for those of us who are diehard baseball fans, today marks the start of a new season. Nobody has any losses, everybody has hopes for the future, and there are people across America who believe that this could be our year. (Not everywhere, of course. My apologies to the people of Kansas City.) So on this happy occasion, I thought we should take a bundle of new publishing questions people have sent in…
Rhonda wrote to say, "I had a book published several years ago with a small press. It’s now out of print, but I’d love to get it back into print. Do you think that’s possible?"
The hard truth? Unlikely. I’m sorry, Rhonda, but the facts are there’s almost no market for books that have been in print once before. Publishers have a tendency to look at them and say, "Um…if that other publisher couldn’t sell this, what makes you think we could?" It happens occasionally, but most often with a successful author revisiting an old book, or repackaging a book that can now be tied to an event in the newspapers.
Keep in mind that a book is like a man’s suit. It’s in style for a while, maybe even a long while, but eventually it seems dated. The culture isn’t static — things are moving forward all the time. The world is changing. It’s why parenting or relationship or health books that your parents read won’t speak to our contemporary world. So when your book releases, assume it’s going to be in style about as long as a new suit. In a while, it will start to