• October 21, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 9, Writing Lessons from Editing


    brick green no smile b:wHere we are at the final installment of my “Editing for Authors” series. If you’ve been following from the beginning, you know we’ve talked about several different editing styles and strategies and that the overall goal in employing any of them is to make your manuscript better (and by extension, more salable). Eventually, however, because there’s no such thing as a “perfect” manuscript, you’ll have to decide that it’s done and put your red pen away and send the thing off into the cruel world to make its fortune. And since, as the title of this series suggests, you are predominately an AUTHOR, once your editing duties are completed you’ll likely start working on a new manuscript in pretty short succession. And while the return to the freedom and creativity of writing can and should be a glorious change from the dictates of editing, you shouldn’t rule out the possibility that your recent editing exploits can offer several lessons to you about your writing– lessons that, if heeded, could result in that fun, creative writing process turning out a stronger, better-written first draft this time around.

    For your future writing to benefit from your editing experience, you’re going to find it helpful to sort the types of edits you made into groups– did you have a lot of plot-related fixes to make? Holes, conflicts, missing information, out-of-order events, confusing timelines? What about cliche or repetitive language? Did you routinely overuse certain words or phrases? What kind of verbal clutter did you cull from the last manuscript? Attribution? Adverbs? Excessive description?

    Once you’ve sorted your edits into general categories, you’ll start to be able to identify what your “weak areas” are. Obviously, everyone will make a few each of many kinds of errors/weak writing choices, but we all have certain shortcomings that are more prevalent than others, and these are the kinds of weaknesses you can hope to improve upon if

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  • October 19, 2015

    How do I fire my agent without hurting any feelings?


    Someone wrote to say, “I have published one nonfiction book, and have a contract for another.  But I’m not happy with my agent, and would like to change. What suggestions can you give me to make this happen without hurting feelings?”

    You want advice for ending a relationship with no hurt feelings? I have none. The end of any relationship usually has some hurt feelings. If you’re decided, I’d bet that there will be some pain. But before you move forward with that, I’d like you to consider something… 

    Most of the time an author wants to fire an agent it’s because some expectation wasn’t met — the project didn’t go out fast enough, the phone calls weren’t frequent enough, the money wasn’t great enough. The frustration builds, and they eventually get to the point where someone says, “That does it — I’m leaving!” But in my experience, having a good conversation can often clean up the bulk of the problems. (Not always, but a lot of the time.) So go back and talk to your agent before racing into this decision. And by the way, having clear expectations, for what both sides want, can resolve a lot of issues. Frequently a good conversation about the struggles you’re having will give the agent a better picture of how to move forward with you.

    Case in point: I once had an author fire me and state, “You can never remember my children’s names!” My response was something along the line of, “Um… you have children?” I didn’t realize that part of the relationship was so important to her — turns out she felt it was critical. Now I try to do a better job of gauging what each author wants. Just so you know, there is no “one right way” to have an agent/author relationship, just like there’s no “one right way” to have any friendship. Each is unique.

    So make

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  • October 15, 2015

    How does an acquisitions editor acquire books?


    Someone wrote with this question: “When someone is hired by a publishing house and allowed to acquire new books, are they trained or do they just ‘go and do’? Is this something they do individually or as part of a team?”

    An acquisitions editor has usually spent time with the company and has a feel for what he or she should be acquiring. Most are brought up through the system. They know if the company does well with historical novels, or if they like self-books, or if they struggle to sell memoir. So most ack editors know the list and the company culture — and yes, personal tastes will shape the books they bring in. If an editor likes thrillers, and is charged with building the list, you can pretty much expect his or her preferences will begin to be reflected in the books they’re doing. (Though not always — an editor at Harlequin is generally responsible for acquiring romantic novels, no matter how much she happens to like spec fiction… Again, knowing the corporate saga and culture is essential.) Editors shape houses. That’s the way it’s always been in publishing. So a publishing house that hires a bunch of new acquisitions people gets reshaped by the editors who work there.

    That said, few editors (just a handful of executive editors) have the authority to simply go acquire. The system looks like this:

    Step One is that the editor must like the presented idea. He or she works with the agent and author to sharpen the proposal and make it as strong as possible.

    In Step Two the idea is usually taken to the editorial team. In this meeting the merits of the book are discussed, several people read it, the team evaluates it, they determine if it fits the corporate identity, they explore other factors (such as “is this book too similar to one we did last season?” and

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  • October 14, 2015

    Literary Jetpacks for All!


    Publishing & Technology: Literary Jetpacks for All!
    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literarystock-photo-jetpack-businessman-in-flight-271332893. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about innovation, “publishing’s jetpack,” and the Dutch “Renew the Book” competition. If you are of a certain age and inclination, then you probably remember eyeing Jean-Luc Picard’s Kindle-like reading device with understandable envy. You may have even been pleasantly surprised to see that one piece of twenty-fourth century technology appear at the beginning of the twenty-first century. But would you really call the advent of the e-reader a revolution in the way books are used and enjoyed? Setting aside the incredible leaps in technology that it’s taken us to get to the age of the smartphone, tablet, and e-reader, it’s still difficult to see the ability to read digital text as “publishing’s jetpack.”

    As Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives, Edward Nawotka reports in an editorial in this month’s edition of his newsletter, something more disruptive, more pillar-shaking, may be on the way if the Dutch Publishers Association’s “Renew the Book” project yields the results that it has the potential to. Five companies are about to relocate to Amsterdam for forty days and forty nights of non-stop innovation. In the end, the winner will take home a prize of 15,000 Euros. Let’s hope they actually create something akin to a literary jetpack with that money. I for one am ready to take to the literary skies. For more information on the contest and the participating startups check out this article on the Dutch News website, or renewthebook.com

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  • October 12, 2015

    I can't make sense of my royalty statement!


    A regular reader of this blog sent me a note that said, “I get a royalty report twice a year from my publisher, but I don’t really understand it. What tips can you give me for reading a royalty report?”

    I swear some companies hire Obfuscation Technicians, just to try and make royalty reports hard to decipher. And remember, each company has their own format for royalty statements, so it doesn’t always pay to compare, say, a Hachette royalty report to a MacMillan royalty report. Many authors simply get confused when trying to dig into the details of the thing. Even an experienced author will complain that the Random House statements don’t look anything like the HarperCollins statements, which are different from the Simon & Schuster statements. And, unfortunately, some of the smaller companies seem to be purposefully trying to make them impossible to read. (One mid-sized publisher just revised theirs — and they are now worse than ever.)

    In addition, there are some companies that do a good job of breaking things down (like Harlequin), but may not do a good job of aggregating the numbers — so you can see a book did great in large print, but you can’t actually see how many copies it has sold overall. Some companies do a wonderful job of telling you how your book did this quarter, but they fail to include life-to-date information. Ugh.
    With all that crud in mind, there are about ten questions I need to keep whenever I approach any royalty statement…

    1. Who is the author?
    2. What is the project?
    3. How many copies sold?
    4. In what formats?
    5. What was the royalty rate(s)?
    6. How much money did it earn this period?
    7. What was the opening balance?
    8. How much is being paid now?
    9. Is any being held back? (a provision allows the publisher to retain some of

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  • October 7, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 8, Editing for a Specific Audience


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to Editing for Authors, the series where I surprise myself every week by having something else to say on the subject!

    I’m getting ready to wrap up the series, but before I do I wanted to talk briefly about a type of editing that differs a little from the rest of the methods we’ve been discussing but is still worth having in your “editor toolbelt,” and that is the ability to edit your manuscript with a specific audience in mind. This type of editing is different in that, while the goal of the majority of editing techniques covered so far is to make the manuscript objectively better, your goal in editing for a specific audience is usually to make the manuscript more marketable/salable to that particular audience, be it an editor/publishing house or the reader, whether or not that actually makes it a “better” book.

    Let me start with the disclaimer that I obviously never advocate changing your book or compromising your message just for the sake of being more commercial or more “trendy” and that if you feel deeply convicted that certain content belongs or doesn’t belong in your book you should follow that conviction and trust that if it’s supposed to be published it will find the right publisher, etc., etc. Now that that’s out of the way, there may be times when you will want to edit your manuscript with a specific audience in mind, and yes, this may mean toning down certain elements or adding or removing others, as well as making different style or formatting choices than you otherwise might, even if there’s nothing objectively “wrong” with yours.

    This type of editing is done to make your manuscript more appealing to a specific audience– in cases where you know that a certain publisher or imprint you’re submitting to has specific guidelines for length or content, it only makes sense to edit your manuscript

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  • October 5, 2015

    If I'm a CBA novelist, can I cross over to the general market?


    Recently I’ve had several people send me a version of this question: “You seem to be one of the few literary agents who works in the general market (what a lot of people call the ABA) as well as working in the Christian market (the CBA). I’ve published two books in CBA, but think my next book fits more of a general market audience. My question: is ‘crossing over’ from CBA to ABA a reality?”

    Okay, I’ve answered this question a couple times, so even if you’re not terribly religious, stay with me for a minute…. I think this stuff is interesting to talk about. First, for those not in the know, I represent books in both the CBA and the general market. There aren’t many agents who do that, so I’m very much in the minority. Second, in case you don’t know, CBA is the Christian Booksellers Association, and it’s the realm of all things faith-based in publishing. ABA is the American Booksellers Association, and it’s sometimes used (though less and less) as a descriptor for the general, non-religious world of publishing. Third, if you’ll indulge me, let me offer a theological reflection that speaks to this issue of CBA and ABA books: Christianity teaches that when you meet God, you are changed. (I don’t care if you believe that or not, just hear the argument.) A Christian would argue that everything about you is different, because you’ve been exposed to God. So, from a theologian’s perspective, a Christian probably won’t be completely understood by those who are not Christians. He or she is speaking a different language. And any cultural anthropologist till tell you that the longer you’re a Christian, the fewer non-Christian friends you have, and therefore the less you have in common. So you’ll have a tough time communicating with non-Christians in language they’ll understand.

    Still with me? Okay (done with the theology lesson), from an

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  • Brian

    October 1, 2015

    Double Posting for a Negative Return


    Publishing & Technology: Double Posting for a Negative Return

    Brian Tibbetts is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Wednesday, Brian posts about trends in the publishing industry and developments in technology that impact the industry. You can find him on Twitter @BRIANRTIBBETTS

    This week in Publishing & Technology we’ll be talking about using social media platforms to drive engagement with audience, a common misconception about posting duplicate content to LinkedIn, and the ramifications of doing so.

    Earlier this year LinkedIn opened up its long form publishing platform to all members (formerly it was only available to LinkedIn’s “influencers” – I’m still not entirely sure what the distinction meant). Almost immediately a flood of “fresh” content swamped the social media platform as a significant chunk of LinkIns 340-million strong user base rushed to repost identical copies of material they’d already posted on their company website or professional blog. Yes, several authors and prospective authors did so as well. This was a mistake for a variety of reasons.

    First off, the power of LinkedIn’s size as a platform naturally affords it a better ranking in search engine results for identical content (yes search engines can tell when identical content is posted on more than one site). Because the LinkedIn version of the identical post ranks higher than the original posting on the author’s site or blog, the search engine will naturally lower the rank of that other site or blog for all postings, regardless of content. Additionally, duplicate content sends a message to your already converted fans that you couldn’t be bothered to put together new content of value prior to re-engaging with them over social media. It’s considered a bad practice for a wide variety of other reasons, but we’ll save those for another post someday. Suffice it to say, that if you are going to spend time building your platform as an author try to make each effort a

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  • September 30, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 7, The Machete


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to “Editing for Authors,” the series where we guarantee you’ll be sick to death of the word “editing” by the end or your money back!

    Most of the series to this point has dealt with editing that adds to or changes the manuscript– correcting grammar/punctuation, filling plot holes, honing your voice, rounding out characters, re-organizing information, etc. As important as these tasks are, however, one of the most important jobs of an editor is not only to add what’s missing, but to trim off the excess or mediocre content (“trim” here being a word which may mean “hack, chop, and/or slash away without mercy”). Being able to fix mistakes and add missing content is all well and good, but an author-editor needs to be able to recognize when the best course of action is simply to cut out a piece of text, and be mentally and emotionally prepared to do it.

    Think about your manuscript like a garden. You planted every single seed in that darn thing, and watered and fertilized and sweated over it all summer, and now you feel an emotional connection to every living thing growing in there. The problem is, you mistakenly planted a bunch of weeds right alongside your flowers (or, if you’re weird, vegetables) and didn’t realize it until they were full grown and mixed in among the rest of the garden. Now, even though the weeds are choking out the flowers, you feel like you’ve invested too much hard work and time in them to pull them– okay, so it’s not the best analogy, but many authors do struggle when it comes to cutting repetitive, unnecessary, or inferior content.

    It’s only natural– no one writes their manuscript thinking, “Okay, that was a great chapter; now I think I’ll write a mediocre one.” We usually like what we’re writing and think well of it, so when someone tells us our prologue is

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  • September 28, 2015

    How much should I charge when I speak?


    I’ve had several people write to me recently and ask about what to charge when they speak. I’ve talked about a system for thinking this through in the past, so if you don’t mind, I’m going to re-play a blog post from a couple years ago… When someone wrote to say, “I’ve been asked to speak several times since my book came out — some large venues, some very small. My problem is that I don’t know what to charge when I speak? A flat fee? A sliding scale? Is there some guidance you can give me?”
    Happy to begin this conversation. Okay… start to think about creating a matrix for your speaking events:
    First, there are certain topics you speak about. (We’ll name those A, B, C, D.)
    Second, there are lengths of time you can do each one — for example, let’s say you can talk about Topic A for 30 minutes, for 2 hours, or for an entire weekend retreat, but you can only talk about Topic B in a couple one-hour blocks of time, so you could do a one-hour or two-hour chunk of content; and Topic C is nothing more than a 20 to 40 minute casual talk.
    Third, you create a list of those options… You’ve got A1 (30 minutes of Topic A), A2 (2 hours on Topic A), A3 (a whole day on Topic A), B1, B2, and C1, etc. Still with me? That starts to give you a matrix to figure out the topics and times.
    Fourth, you need to consider how many times you speak. If they want you to just show up and give a speech, that’s X. If they want you to teach several workshops, that’s Y. If they want you for a weekend retreat, that’s Z. (This will start to get confusing, but it means you’d be doing a Y Day — several

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