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- Thursdays with Amanda
Category : The Business of Writing
Ask the Agent: What does an average first book pay?
We’re doing “Ask the Agent” this month — your chance to ask that question you’ve always wanted to discuss with a literary agent. Someone wrote me to ask, “What does an average first book deal pay? And can you explain how money is paid on a traditional publishing contract?”
Happy to explain it. First, when you sign to do a book with a legacy publisher, most authors are paid an advance against royalties upon signing the contract. There’s a long tradition of publishers paying advances to authors, since it allows the author to survive while he or she is working on the book. This isn’t free money — it’s sort of a no-interest loan that will be earned back after your book releases.
Let’s say the contract calls for a total advance of $15,000. Typically you’d get one-third of this on signing, another third upon turning in the completed work, and the last third upon publication. (That said, there are a million ways to divide the advance. Some pay half on signing, some pay a percentage when the author completes the bio and marketing forms, Random House wants to pay a portion when the book flips from hardcover to trade paper, etc.) So when your book releases, you’re now in the red $15,000 with the publisher. You’ve been paid that amount, but you haven’t earned anything back yet. Again, that’s not a loan that needs to be paid back, but it’s advance that needs to be worked off — or, in the parlance of the industry, it needs to be “earned out.”
Second, it’s really tough to determine an average first-book deal. Nobody shares the numbers. And the deal points have so many factors: the author platform, the potential media exposure, the timeliness of the topic, the bigness of the idea, the quality of the writing, etc. I’ve done first-book deals for as little as zero (no advance was paid)
Ask the Agent: How do I transition from self-published to traditionally published?
We’re doing “Ask the Agent” for the entire month of April, so you have a chance to send in that question you’ve always wanted to discuss with a literary agent. The other day someone sent this: “What does it take for a book to transition from being self-published to being picked up by a traditional publisher? If an author wanted to make that transition, what would you recommend? Do I take down the manuscript and pitch as fully revised?”
Great questions (and there were a bunch of other questions asked by this author, which I’ll try to speak to in my answer). Let me try and cover some important ground with ten thoughts…
First, just to be clear, I am very supportive of indie publishing. We represent more than 100 authors, and all of them have heard me say that I think they need to at least consider self-publishing as a means of helping to make a living in a competitive and changing publishing environment.
Second, I don’t believe that indie publishing is second class citizenry, and that traditional publishing is necessarily the preferred means of making a living. I think authors need to look at all their options. (For the record, I also don’t believe in the myth that all you have to do is post your book on Amazon, and watch the Publishing Fairy show up and sprinkle you with golden coins. Both traditional and indie publishing can work — but both can also fail. Making a living writing is a lot of damn work.)
Third, if you’re successfully self-publishing, selling books and making money, you’d have to think long and hard before transitioning to a legacy publisher. The benefits they offer include giving you potential distribution in stores, more marketing muscle, and obviously taking on the production, warehousing, and order fulfillment of your books. But you’ll make less per book, and have less control over things like
Ask the Agent: How can I do a novel series?
The month of April is set aside for “Ask the Agent” — your chance to finally ask that question you’ve always wanted to run by a literary agent. In the comments section the other day, someone asked, “If you’re writing a series of three books, how do you find an agent and publisher that will take on all three if they only have the manuscript for the first one? Are there things they look for — outlines of the two remaining books, rough drafts, notes on where you’ll be going with the series?”
Okay… What is easier to sell, a car or a fleet of cars? Normally I try to sell ONE book, then, at some point, see if we can extend the deal. It’s daunting to have someone sit down across from me at a conference and announce they’ve created a twelve-book series (which has happened to me), since something like that is going to be nearly impossible to sell. So focus on one book, and make the manuscript as strong as possible.
Make sure you understand that a true “series” is one continuous story, told over the course of multiple titles. That’s tougher to get a publisher to commit to, since it means they’ll have to do all the books to tell the whole tale. It’s usually easier for a publisher to commit to doing several related titles — not one story told over multiple books, but multiple stories that share a setting and some characters.
Of course, no matter which direction you go, each book in the series has to have a satisfying ending. Each book has to feel complete, so a reader can pick it up and enjoy the novel, even if they never read the other, related books.
Another thing to understand that novel series go in and out of vogue. For a while, everybody wanted series, so it seemed like every negotiation
Coming in April: “Ask the Agent”
What is it you’ve always wanted to ask an agent? I mean, if you could sit down for a few minutes over a cup of coffee and ask a literary agent anything — about proposals, or writing, or marketing, or the process, or the economics of publishing, or anything else — what would you ask?
Here’s your chance. Starting April 1st, we’re going to take a month and just focus on the questions writers have for literary agents. What do you want to know? What do you need clarified? What is it you’ve always wanted to ask (or ask again)? I’ll be taking a slug of questions each day and offering my best response.
So come join the conversation! Either go to the comments section below and drop in your question, or send me an email asking the question you’ve long wanted answered. I promise to try and get to all of them in the month of April. Looking forward to seeing what you send me.
Don’t just sit there — ASK!
What’s the tenth step in marketing your book?
It’s been said that some people have twenty years of experience; while other people have one year of experience twenty times. The difference? The former keep track of their progress and learn from their mistakes as well as their successes. The latter keep trying something new, and have to re-learn the process every time.
When it comes to marketing, make it easy on yourself — mark your trail. The last step in creating a marketing plan is to make a point of writing down everything you do, so that you can evaluate it later. Make note of what works and what doesn’t. Which parts you enjoyed and which parts you hated. Who you liked working with, which activities seemed to be effective, and what things actually sold copies (instead of being fun, but not making you any money). As you work through your marketing plan, you want to make notes to yourself. Remind yourself of what people responded to, and what seemed like a waste of time. That will help you focus on the good ideas and eliminate the bad ones the next time you’re doing marketing for a book. Give yourself some evaluations. Figure out if you could do something better next time, or tweak an unsuccessful effort in order to make it successful.
Here’s an example: I represented an author who spent a bunch of money and time on a video book trailer. She worked on the script, shot scenes, and spent more than a thousand dollars to create an ad for her book. Um… it did nothing. Nada. It looked great, and she enjoyed it, but who chooses to look at book ads? For her, it was a waste of time. But I represent another author who really got into making a trailer that fit her book, used it as more or less an introduction to her concept, made it seem like more of a news
What’s the ninth step in marketing your book?
Now that you’ve done all your research and planning — you’ve figured out WHAT you need to do, WHERE you need to do it, WHEN you’re going to get it done, WHO you’re going to be reaching, and WHY you’re going to all this trouble — now you need to go do the work. If you created a calendar, this is easy… you simply look at the calendar, figure out what needs to be done, then go get the tasks accomplished. Instead of worrying about what steps you need to take in order to market your book, you can begin working through the plan you’ve spent weeks creating. No more seat-of-the-pants, no more guessing what activities to do. You’ve done all the background work; now you need to put it into practice.
Authors tend to come in two types when it comes to marketing… Some will want to take several weeks and just market full-time. They’ll set their current writing projects aside, and suddenly become marketers for a season. Others will want to set aside a chunk of time each day for marketing, leaving themselves with a few hours to continue writing. There’s no “right” way to plan this — it depends on what you’re comfortable doing, and what your schedule looks like. But either way, you’ve got to commit to being a marketer for a season, in order to help promote your book.
I’m frequently asked how much time an author should spend on marketing each day or each week, but of course the answer lies in what your plan calls for. If you do the things that are on your plan, the amount of time required will become clear to you. Some authors set aside an hour or two each day to do some marketing. That time can increase as you have a new book come out — so you might find yourself spending half your time on
What’s the eighth step in marketing your book?
At this point, you’re probably wondering what else there is to do with a marketing plan. Take heart — we’re almost to the end of the process…
Once you’ve written down everything you want to do, you need to tie each activity to a calendar and a budget and a person — or, as I like to say, every activity has a date and a dollar sign and a do-er. So, for example, if you are planning to send out a bunch of copies to a “big mouth” list in order to get people talking about your book, you pick a day when you’re going to write the notes, address the envelopes, and get them in the mail. Then you figure out the cost of envelopes, mailing labels, and postage. If you’re planning to write several freelance articles to support your book, you mark down the days you’re going to write them, the days you’re going to query and send them, and the days you’re going to check back on them. If you’re going to hire a freelance marketing consultant to help you schedule radio interviews, you pick the days you’re going to be available for the interviews, you mark the dates you’re going to talk with the consultant, and you write down the costs involved with hiring him or her.
Again, for EVERY activity, you choose a date and, if applicable, the dollar amount it will cost you, then figure out who is going to do it. So if you’re going to try and schedule a blog tour, you write down on your calendar the dates you plan to fill up with blogging conversations, as well as the dates you plan to contact bloggers in order to schedule those visits. If you’re hiring or getting a volunteer to do this, you make sure they have clear instructions, and a script, and a plan to follow. There may not be
What’s the seventh step in marketing your book?
Okay, you’ve come to the point in the process where you really get into the details… you’ve done a bunch of research. You know who you are, and what it is you want to say. You’ve figured out who your audience is, and done some research on how to reach them. You’ve made choices about the general strategies you’ll use to get your words in front of potential readers, and you’ve decided what your specific plans are — where you’ll go and what you’ll say. Now you’ve got to write it all down.
You probably think this is too simple, that you’re waiting for some secret to making marketing work. Well, this is it. Write it down. Put down on paper all the things you want to do. All those tools you were choosing yesterday? Write them down. All those places you want to reach? Write them down. All the audiences you want to stand in front of? Write it down. Get down on paper everything you want to do. Force yourself to get everything in one place, since it will make it much more real (and therefore more likely that you’ll actually DO it).
So if you’re going to do a blog tour, and visit 30 blogs in 30 days, here is where you write down the goal, then note the actual blogs you intend to target, and make notes on how you’re going to reach out to them and what you’re going to talk about. If you’re going to be focusing on talk radio, here’s where you right down the places you want to hit — the cities, the regions, even the shows and stations if you know what they are. Write down notes about what questions you expect to be asked, and how you plan to answer them. Prepare stories — both long and short stories, that will get your point across and entertain listeners. If you’re
What’s the sixth step in marketing Your book
We’ve been talking through the basics of marketing — what you would explore if you were taking an “introduction to marketing” class in college. Recently we covered the first five steps in the process, and over the next few days we’ll look at the next five. Now that you’ve figured out which basic strategies you’re going to use, you need to select that actual “tools” you’ll use — that is, the actual WORK you will do to help you market your book. For example, if you decided that three of the strategies you were going to use were (1) sending out review copies, (2) writing articles to support your book, and (3) doing blog tours, then in this step you will list…
1. Who you’re sending those review copies to,
2. What articles you’re going to write, and who you’re going to send them to, and
3. The blogs and groups you’re going to reach on your tour.
In other words, you start to create the details of your marketing plan. Remember, every choice you make at this stage reflects your earlier decisions. The core of marketing is to figure out where your audience is, then go stand in front of them, so you want to go back and remind yourself just where, exactly your audience is going to be. If you’re doing a nonfiction book on lowering cholesterol, you do your research to discover where those interested in the topic go to seek information, then you target those magazines, websites, blogs, e-zines, journals, associations, chat rooms, etc. If you’re writing an Amish novel, you do your research to determine where those interested in Amish culture and Amish stories go, then you make those destinations the focus of your marketing.
Fortunately, the world wide web has made this process MUCH easier than it used to be. Instead of having to snail mail things, or go to a marketing research company,
Thursdays with Amanda: The Numbers Behind an Author Platform
OK, nonfiction writers. You’ve heard it before. If you really want to impress an agent or a publisher, make sure you have three things: a great idea, great writing, and a great author platform.
But more and more, platform is becoming THE way to secure a book deal.
This is because while writing can be fixed or edited and the idea can be tweaked, platform has to happen organically.
It can’t happen by chance. It can’t be bought. It’s about hard work over a period of time and it’s something that only the author can bring to the table.
So what do impressive social media stats look like?
Brace yourselves. Winter is coming.
A decent nonfiction author platform has a handful of the following components:
If you have a website or blog your monthly unique visitor count should be at least 30,000
(a unique visitor number of 100,000 is likely to secure a book deal)
If you have a Twitter account your followers should be at least 10,000 (and you should have stats that show considerable growth over the past six months)
If you have a Facebook page you should have at least 8,000 likes (along with Insights that show your past and projected growth)
If you’re a public speaker you should speak at least 30 times a year and you should shoot for a newsletter list of at least 10,000
Publishing Is More Competitive Than Ever
Needless to say, these numbers aren’t easy to achieve, and I’ve seen a number of authors who HAVE these numbers come away without a book deal.
But on the flip side, I’ve seen authors with the bare minimum of the above components land a book deal because they also had great writing and a great idea.
So yes. Platform is HUGE. It’s an absolute must if you write fiction. But never underestimate the power of strong, moving writing and a great,