Making Money through Articles
Kerry sent me this question: “Is it realistic to think an author can still sell articles and get paid for them? It seems like magazines and journals are all moving to unpaid, web-based forms.”
I started out in magazines, and I still think magazine, journal, and e-zine writing is a viable way for an author to make some money. No, it's not as easy as it once was… but when was making a living as a writer ever easy? If you're looking for ways to generate income through your writing, don't feel you've got to land a book contract — focus on writing short articles. My experience has been that I made more money in less time creating articles than in writing books.
It's best to go to magazines or e-zines you already know, so you're familiar with (1) the sort of articles they publish, (2) the most likely reader of the 'zine, and (3) the length and tone of the articles. By going to the website of, say, Redbook magazine, you can find out what they buy, how long they want each piece to be, and what their interests and requirements are… but you might not really get a feel for what the voice is in that particular magazine.
Once you have targeted a magazine, you create an article for them. Have a clear topic, find out who is the decision-maker, and send them an email. Put the title of your piece in the "subject" line. Tell the editor very simply who you are, what your idea is, the details of the piece (word count, etc), and why you're the person to write it. Keep it short, and under your name list a handful of links to other articles you've written.
This really isn't rocket science, but it takes some work. Magazines have a tendency to do business with the same writers again and again (like every other sort
A Dirty Dozen Notes on Agents
We had several interesting comments sent to us on that last post. Let me offer a dozen comments…
1. One author's suggestion to "do your homework" before selecting an agent is key. DON'T sign up with somebody just because they say they're an agent and they want to represent you. I know that's a temptation, but this is a professional relationship. Would you go to a guy's office for your health problems just because he claims to be a doctor? Ask around. Check him out. This is the biggest mistake people make with agents, in my view. This past year at CBA you could toss a rock in the air and when it came down it would most likely hit somebody claiming to be an "agent." Um… these guys are going to be taking your ideas and helping you sign legal agreements regarding them. Don't take that lightly.
2. Be wary of any agent who charges a fee or advertises what the charge is to work with them. That's a total violation of the guidelines for the Association of Author Representatives (and, in fact, those agents wouldn't be allowed as members of AAR). There are a couple relatively successful agencies in CBA who do that. It's unethical, and authors should stay away, if they want to keep from being scammed. On the other hand, I was VERY glad to have someone write and tell me that "Steve Laube is my agent and he's good." Don't we all get tired of people sort of beating around the bush, telling us one person is bad and another is good, but never mentioning names? The fact is, Steve IS good. So is Lee Hough and Janet Grant and Wendy Lawton and Rachelle Gardner and Natasha Kern and Greg Daniel and Karen Solem and Greg Johnson and Andrea Heinecke and Robert Wolgemuth and Sandra Bishop (the last works with me at MacGregor Literary). My
More on working with an agent…
After my recent post on agenting, a couple people said they didn't see why anyone would need an agent. One author suggested that all you need is a good proposal, and another asked, "What can an agent do for a writer that s/he can't do for him/herself?" I have some answers…
First, I'll admit that not everybody needs an agent. If you think you have the relationships and knowledge needed to succeed, then go ahead. There are authors who make that work. In my experience, most authors simply don't have the access to editors or the knowledge of contracts and negotiations they need to maximize their careers, but that doesn't mean it can't be done. It can.
Second, there is almost always wisdom in experienced counsel. That means a good agent should bring something to the table to assist with editing, writing, reading, negotiating, checking royalty statements, and marketing. I'm sorry to say I've heard from several authors who had bad experiences. Hey — it happens. The huge growth in Christian fiction over the past ten years led to a whole slug of people calling themselves "agents," but who didn't know what they were doing. One of the few good things that has come out of this lousy publishing economy we're experiencing is that many of those agents have dropped out, since they can no longer make a living at this business. As I noted previously, there are about 15 agents doing 95% of the CBA books.
Third, a good agent will have relationships that will get their authors' proposals looked at by decision-makers… something that many authors simply don't have. (A clue when selecting an agent: find somebody who is well-thought-of by ack editors. Ask around. See who your agent has worked with, who he or she has done deals with, and if others in the industry respect them.) A good proposal often isn't enough…it's got to get through
Understanding the Financial Side of Writing
Amanda asked, “What do beginning writers need to know about the financial aspects of writing?”
There are only a few thousand people in this country who make a full-time living at writing. Don’t assume, just because you’re hanging out at conferences with people who all write books, that the world is made up of full-time writers. An average novelist may take eight to ten months to write a book. With time added for edits and galleys, that works out to about one novel per year. Yet that novelist, unless he or she has a breakout book, is no doubt going to be paid less than $30,000 for the novel – sometimes considerably less. That means you’d work an entire year to scrimp by on wages barely above the poverty line. So think carefully before you quit your day job.
Here’s what I did when I decided I wanted to write for a living: I set a monthly income goal for my writing. When I first started writing (on a very part-time basis), my goal was to make $100 per month. I would sell articles, write advertising copy, create newsletters, make up back-cover content – in fact, I’d do just about anything to produce some income from my writing. I edited manuscripts, worked as a ghostwriter, created study guides, and worked with pastors to turn their sermon series into books. Eventually that figure jumped to $300 per month. Then $500. Then $1000 per month. When I set a goal of making $1500 per month, that’s when I figured I was going to become a full-time writer. (And yes, that was more than 20 years ago, when $1500 went farther. Sorry to sound like my own grandfather.)
That said, there’s nothing in life that says you are necessarily called to follow that same path. As I have said in other posts, publishing a book doesn’t validate your life. Perhaps you are called
Waiting. Waiting. And Waiting some more …
News around here is that publishing is operating at a s-l-o-w-e-r than its usual s-l-o-w pace now for a few weeks. I'm trying to take advantage of this by catching up on submission reading. And I'm getting there, though still working every day to move projects along as well. And I'm also breaking into sudden fits of cleaning out closets, drawers, bookshelves, cupboards.
I was thinking today how hard it is to wait on others to make decisions that will impact your immediate, and possibly long-term future. When I worked as a freelancer I constantly queried editors, sent articles out on spec, responded to editing suggestions, and then waited on others to tell me what my next step might be regarding an assignment. While I liked having multiple projects going because it represented income and productivity, truth be told, I preferred the finished project – and not just for the paycheck, but because I simply like having things settled. Put away.
I'm a very organized person by nature. Not as in all-my-pencils-lined-up-in-a-row and all-my-spices- alphabetized organized, but I like to know where my stuff is. Don't like an excess of it to distract me or waste my time, and I LOATHE looking for things. I like things in their places. Like my Monopoly pieces lined up straight and my money tucked in a neat stack, ready for quick access in case an opportunity arises to buy St. James, another Railroad, or YES!, Boardwalk!
In my role as an agent, I have finally come to a sort of tacit understanding with the reality that I will now always have open loops hanging over my head; I will always have projects in indifferent stages, sometimes out at multiple places, and often completely out of my hands in regard to the final decision.
And I have had to make peace with knowing that I'll constantly in a state of waiting to hear back
Leftover Questions about ICRS
I'm finding a bunch of leftover questions regarding ICRS 2010…
A couple people wrote to ask if there were author signings… A ton of them! The convention keeps some "personality booths" busy, so conventioneers could get autographed books from the likes of Chuck Swindoll, Ted Dekker, Christy finalists like Kaye Dacus, and a bunch of other authors. The folks from the Thriller tour were all signing, and publishers had numerous authors in their booths to sign and give away books. Author signings is one of the reasons many folks show up for the convention. Author Tosca Lee hosted a "Heart of the Author" breakfast one morning featuring a dozen authors you could meet face to face, and there were various gatherings with significant authors going on every day of the show.
One person asked if there's one "can't miss" event for booksellers at the convention… If it wasn't the big Hachette party mentioned yesterday, it might have been Barbour's "Fiction Cafe." Barbour sells as much fiction as just about anybody in CBA, and they brought in Wanda Brunstetter, Kaye Dacus, and numerous others so that bookstore personnel could meet the authors face-to-face. They do this every year, and I always hear good things about it (though I'll admit I've never actually attended). Like everyone else, retailers like meeting celebrities one-on-one, so this is always a good way for Barbour to highlight their authors and books.
Someone wrote to ask what sort of awards are given out at the ICRS convention. There are all sorts of retailer awards given, some art awards, and various other ways to recognize retailers. I suppose the biggest are The Christy Awards, given to the top novels each year. This has become a big deal, getting major press in publishing, and it's nice to see. As I noted already, Lisa Samson was this year's keynote speaker, and she had good things to say about Christian fiction
The Last Word on ICRS 2010
Just back from ICRS 2010 in St Louis. As cities go, St Louis was really nice, so long as you don't want to do anything but look at an arch. And it was 100 degrees (though I'll admit that was, technically, outside — a place I rarely ventured). Still, the show was cozy inside the downtown "America's Convention Center," and the hotels were all within walking distance. I've never been one to grasp the charms of St Louis. I mean, the tourist guides can point out the arch, which really is nice, and there's a fine museum underneath it, but not much else. (Actual tourist guide I overheard: "And from THIS angle you get another nice view of the Arch!") The baseball stadium is downtown, which is cool. And there's a Budweiser tour. Um… some good rib joints. That about covers the high points of the city. Not exactly what you might refer to as Vacation Wonderland.
However, since the Christian book show has shrunk markedly in recent years, putting it inside a smaller venue is nice. So St Louis is probably a good size city to host something like this, assuming it survives (more on that later). It doesn't feel like you've got to walk miles to get to everything. (Some of us remember attending past conventions that were so spread out it felt like you were trodding from nearby towns.) And while the convention space is certainly smaller, sticking it here made it feel more crowded, so the mood was generally upbeat. The only downside is that the entire area around the convention center is under construction (the city had to do something, since downtown was becoming ugly and dangerous). That meant it lacked a lot of great restaurants close by, like we had in Denver, and wherever you walked you were stepping over pipes or walking under scaffolding or wondering if the St Louis Crips were holed
NEWSDAY TUESDAY …
With a lot of general market editors at the Library Convention and CBA editors (and Chip) off at ICRS, it's been quiet around here. Or as quiet as it can be when you work from home, have decided to finally prepare your office for re-flooring, and kids are around begging for food, rides, friends, screen time, food, chores (yes, they beg for chores – when the word "bored" leaves their lips that's what I hear) and food.
We're pulling together a kids book swap in the neighborhood next week – it's encouraging that though we're in a neighborhood rich with pre-teen boys, they are all avid readers. I'm looking forward to hearing the discussions these guys have about their favorite authors — they get SO passionate about everything at this age. Personally, I've just started reading LITTLE BEE by Chris Cleave. Just into it, but I think it's going to be a gripper.
I'm also working hard to get through submissions – some I've held on for way too long, admittedly. It's hard for me to admit I simply can't take on everything, but I'm coming around. It is nice that we now have Amanda on board to take a look at projects as well, though she's received over 500 submissions since we announced adding her to our staff. Obviously she's going to be slow in getting back to folks, so y'all be patient, k?
At this point I'm reading submissions from about three months back. If you've not heard from me and I'd offered to take a look (spare me, please, if you sent me a query beginning "Dear Agent," or some other randomness and are wondering why I haven't bothered to answer you ) please feel free to write me and check in. It could be that I've decided to decline your work but didn't have the common decency to let you know about my decision (sorry, it happens
Advice from a Successful Self-Publisher
Steve Henry, a successful businessman with a book idea, came to one of our marketing seminars recently. He left the seminar, completed his book, then began marketing it to his audience. The book has been so successful that I wanted him to be able to share his story with others…
When a skilled professional preaches a consistent message, you’d better pay close attention. On four separate occasions, I heard Chip MacGregor pose this question to his audience of writers: “What are you, the author, going to do to market your book? If you rely on your publisher or their sales team to produce an outrageously sure-fire, best-selling marketing plan when your book hits the street, then you’d better think again.
If you’ve ever attended one of Chip’s teachings, or if you read his blog, you’ve heard him say, “It’s imperative that you, the author, know exactly who your audience is and then go stand in front of them.”
This is when the light flashed for me. I was in the process of writing a business book based on my successful used-car dealership, the $5,000 Car Store, where we use Christian principles as our operating manual. The book’s successful launch and continued success was going to be up to me.
I gave in to this reality, and developed and marketed the roll-out of The Playbook for Small Businesses, my book, which tells the story of how I run my business. Here’s how I did it:
1. I designed a website that generates high traffic. It’s crucial to offer your potential readers an incentive to visit the site and then to complete a purchase. This is a numbers game. I knew that my potential customers were short on capital and could be in need of some great start-up advice, so I hired a company to provide me with contact information for new business owners who filed for business licenses. I sent
15 Trends Shaping CBA Today
I'm about ready to get on a plane and fly to the International Christian Retail Show (the big religious book show) in St Louis. Since I've had several folks ask me what sort of trends we're seeing in CBA, I thought I'd bang out a handful of things that I see going on…
1. More readers (Remember when we were worried about "why Johnny can't read"? No more. We read all the time. You might read books on your iPhone. You're probably wondering who's on Facebook right now. Wait — is that your Blackberry going off?)
2. More varieties of fiction (Bonnets! Pirates! Prairie dogs! Cowboys! Patriots! Immigrants! Soldiers! Shopkeepers! And some, such as Amish books, have created their own sub-genres.)
3. More historical fiction (People enduring hard economic times long for the good ol' days when life was simpler.)
4. More graphic scenes (There's a good and a bad side to this. I'm all for realism… but what IS it with people — must every fiction proposal I see these days have a rape scene? Be different. Let your character survive something else, like a nuclear disaster, or a car wreck, or waxy build-up.)
5. More creative packaging and inclusions (We're quickly moving toward the place where each editorial team will have a specialist whose job will be to create images, games, widgets, and other stuff to enhance the text.)
6. More reformed and ecumenical books (CBA has become less the protected domain of evangelicals as we've seen the inclusion of a broader group of believers, including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, and Orthodox Christians. That means I'm now, finally, a Christian. It's about time.)
7. More book choices (Obviously we're seeing the rise of the digital book, but the real fight to be won is over the significance of the content in them, and how all those titles present choices to consumers. A great book requires time and effort and