Category : The Business of Writing

  • 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 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 18, 2013

    How can I get exposure for my book?


    A writer got in touch and asked, “Since it seems like anyone can get a book published today through self-publishers, how do I make sure my book gets the needed exposure?”

    As I’ve noted several times on this blog, the key principle for anybody doing marketing of their own book is simple: Figure out where your potential readers are going, then go stand in front of them. If you’re doing a book on lowering cholesterol, research to find out what websites people with high cholesterol are visiting, what blogs they’re reading, what magazines and e-zines they’re checking out, what the most popular sites for information sharing are. That’s the first step. The second is to get yourself involved with those venues. That will get you started on marketing. (And be sure to read Amanda’s Thursday blog posts, which are filled with good, practical ideas to help you move forward in your marketing abilities.) 

    Now you have the tools you need to create a plan. You’ve got a list of the places people who are interested in your topic are going online, and you’ve got a list of ways you can try and get involved in those sites (by writing articles, doing reviews, creating an interview, offering a chapter of your book, etc). The next step is to start the hard work of getting your words out there.

    On a related note, someone wrote these words: “You have frequently told authors to find out where the potential readers are, then go get in front of them. How can an author find the target audience for his book?”

    Research, my friend. It will take time, but start checking out key words and topics. Find other books and sites that cover similar material and check them out. Start doing reviews on Amazon and GoodReads. Get involved with Pinterest and Flickr. Create online bookmarks. Join Facebook and Twitter. Begin researching your topic and you’ll

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  • March 4, 2013

    When does an agent want to see a book proposal?


    I’ve been trying to answer a backlog of questions writers have sent my way, so we’re doing some short-answer blog posts for a while. For example, one person asked, “At what point in the process does an agent want to see a book proposal? After the book is completed?”

    Most agents will look at a nonfiction book proposal before the book is completed, but after the author has figured out what he or she wants to say. That is, the author has figured out the question and the answer, and has tried to put some structure (in terms of an outline or table of contents) to the material. With a fiction proposal, most agents want to see a synopsis or overview, just to know what the basic story is, then the first ten to fifty pages, to see if the author can write. If the agent reads a portion and likes it, he or she will probably ask for the rest of the manuscript.

    Someone else asked, “I’ve been told the internet has killed nonfiction… Is nonfiction really dead? It seems like most of the questions you get have to do with fiction.”

    My wife was cooking an East Indian dish the other day, and needed a recipe. Where did she go? To a cookbook? Nope, she went online. I was looking for the answer to a port wine question yesterday. Did I look at one of my wine books? Nope, I went to the web. The internet has made basic information available on every topic to anyone with a computer. That puts the core of nonfiction at risk. I think this points to a major shift we’re seeing in publishing — away from much nonfiction in traditional print form. There will still be plenty of nonfiction that sees print (history, memoir, and much of the “literary” side of writing), but a lot of the how-to side is quickly shifting

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  • March 1, 2013

    How do you know which agents will work hard for you?


    I’ve been going through a long list of questions people have sent in, trying to offer short answers (as compared to my usual loquacious responses). One person wrote this: “I’m interested in getting an agent. How do you know which agent will work hard for you? For that matter, how can an author know which agents the publishers view as legit?”

    If you want to know about an agent, you can always start by asking around. Ask publishers and editors in confidence what they think. Go onto the agency website and check the agent out. Check with “Predators & Editors” and “Writer Beware” to see which agents are not considered legit. Look into “Agent Query” and the other agency-ranking organizations. Pick up a copy of Chuck Sambuccino’s Guide to Literary Agents so you can do some research into the agent. In my opinion, you should look for an agent that’s a member of the Association of Author Representatives (AAR), the professional organization for literary agents. To see if the agent will work hard for you, all you have to do is to see which authors are happy and which agents are doing deals — you can find information on the number of deals done by an agent in the “Dealmakers” section of Publishers Marketplace. A lot of people will just tell you to “talk with other authors,” but I find that less than helpful. First, most people don’t want to say bad things about an agent, or worry that saying something honest will lead to a lawsuit. Second, many authors don’t often know a good agent from a bad one — if their agent got them a deal, they’re happy. I know some authors who have a lousy literary agent, but they’re completely satisfied because they don’t have anything to judge it against.

     Another writer sent me this: “I’m a beginning author, have written a novel, and want to
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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 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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  • February 19, 2013

    What fiction trends are coming and going?


    I’m trying to catch up on the hundreds of questions people have sent in. Someone wrote to say this: “The popularity in genres seems to go in cycles, with perhaps the exception of romance, which always seems to sell well. Where in this cycle do you see the historical fiction genre right now? In the near future?”

    Fiction goes through a cycle with publishers: produce some, watch it grow, produce more, produce too much, cut back, start selling again, produce some, watch it grow, etc. Right now one could argue that there are more historicals being sold than there used to be, but I agree with you — that’s simply a cycle. People love reading about other eras, so while we may be trending down a bit right now in some genres, it will trend back up. That’s how fiction works. In a lousy economy, people want a book that’s an escape to a simpler time, so historicals were doing well. Now that the economy is brighter, we’re seeing a swing back to more contemporaries. Suspense, which also had an explosion with the growth of e-books, seems to have been waning a bit, but since it’s cyclical, they will come back. 

    Another reader sent me this: “Is there a certain sub-genre of historical fiction (fantasy, romance, thriller, mystery) that you think is selling best now? And is historical fiction fading out?”

    A sub-genre that seems to be trending up is the romance novel with a strong suspense line. Another has been the romance with fantastic or supernatural elements. Some historical periods continue to sell, so there is renewed interest in the Edwardian and Victorian periods (thanks to Downton Abbey, an entire period of time that’s been overlooked is once again popular). And despite slowing, plenty of readers are still in love with the Amish and all things simple. Romance novels set in Texas seem

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  • February 18, 2013

    Should the agent tell me where he sent my manuscript?


    I dug into my “blog” file this weekend, and realized I’ve got a backup of more than 300 questions people have asked. Gulp. That means I could start today, take the next year responding to them, and still not get to everything. So… a change in plans for the next few weeks: I’m going to try and tackle several questions each day for a while, just to offer some answers and catch up a bit.

    To begin, someone sent me a note that read, “My agent won’t tell me who she sent my proposal to. She also doesn’t show me the rejection notices. Is that normal?”

    Not showing rejection notices has become normal. You need to understand that the days of editors sending long rejections to agents, detailing the perceived issues with a manuscript, went out with the Reagan Administration. It’s not uncommon to get a brief email that says, “No thanks” or “We looked at this and we’re not going to pursue it.” And frankly, there’s not much value in my forwarding those notes to one of my authors, unless I want to drive her into depression and a possible drinking binge. (On the rare times I receive a thoughtful reply, with notes on how the manuscript could be improved, I try to always pass that along to the author.) So tell your agent you’d like to know what people are saying — that’s a fair request. However, I’ll admit I don’t know why an agent wouldn’t show you a list of who’s looking at your proposal. I mean…it’s your proposal, so I wouldn’t think that would be a secret. You may want to ask your agent what the reasoning is behind that decision. I find it odd. I’m not saying she is necessarily wrong, but it’s definitely not the norm.

    Someone else wrote and asked, “Can an agent help me plan the marketing for my book?”

    Normally an

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  • January 28, 2013

    What should a good author/agent relationship look like?


    Someone wrote to ask, “Can you tell me what a good author/agent relationship should look like?”

    I can try. Keep in mind that there’s no “perfect agent style” that suits everyone. One writer needs an agent who is a strong editor-and-story-idea person, another writer needs an agent who is a contracts-and-negotiation person, and a third writer needs an agent who is counselor-and-chief-supporter. It’s why I always encourage authors to think carefully about what they need in a literary agent. I consider myself a good agent, having done this job for a longtime, contracted a lot of books, and developed a good track record of success. But I’ll be the first to say I’m not the agent for everybody. My style doesn’t fit every author, nor can I provide everything each author needs. So sometimes I’ll meet a writer whose work I like, but we’ll both feel the vibe is wrong. We have to get along personally as well as professionally. Other times the author has expectations I know I can’t meet (such as wanting me to edit their entire manuscript). So finding a “good” agent is like finding a “good” friend — what works for you might not work for your neighbor.

    A good author/agent relationship is usually one in which expectations are clear, and the agent helps the author succeed in those areas they’ve decided to focus on. It might be story development, or editing and fine-tuning a manuscript, or support and encouragement, or career management, or contract advice, or… the list is as varied as authors want to make it. If you don’t really know what you need, you’ll find yourself just going toward someone you like, or someone your friends like.

    Keep in mind that most working literary agents come from one of four backgrounds. They are either (1) a former editor, so they have strong words skills, or (2) a former writer, so they understand

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