• Brian

    September 24, 2015

    Permissionless Innovation


    Publishing & Technology: Permissionless Innovation

    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 wattpad, the concept of permissionless innovation, and the ongoing expansion of the world of fanfiction. I have been fascinated with the world of fanfiction for a couple of years now. But it was a recent post from Jane Tappuni on the Publishing Technology blog and her application of Benedict Evans’s logic regarding the concept of permissionless innovation to her analysis of the success of Kindle and Wattpad, and specifically the following comment that got me interested in writing about this topic this week. Tappuni says:

    “Not only does the concept of ‘permissionless innovation’ explain the success of Kindle and Wattpad, it also explains why so many publishing-focused start-ups fail. While Wattpad has focused on being the network that hosts an entirely new form of content, many publishing start-ups instead want to take publishers’ content and put it on another platform. This makes them dependent on publishers who need to be convinced the start-up has the right business model, will take care of their content and will provide a financial return that’s comparable to a traditional retail sale before they hand over the right to sell their IP. Instead of innovating, they end up negotiating.”
    Having dabbled a bit in “publishing-focused start-ups” myself, I can tell you, with great sincerity, that the reluctance of publishers to license content for innovative methods of delivery is a major barrier to entry, and hence to innovation in the publishing world. A certain amount of caution regarding the undercutting of their primary come-to-market strategy is understandable. But, the degree to which traditional publishers have generally blocked the use of their IP from anyone hoping to legitimately

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  • September 23, 2015

    Editing for Authors, Part 7: Rewriting vs. Editing


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to the series on editing for authors that will continue until I run out of things to say on the subject! If you missed last week’s post (which appeared on Friday instead of Tuesday), we discussed the second part of “big picture” editing: editing for consistent writing quality, and how, as a self-editor, one of the most important tools you can have is a knowledge of your own strengths and style.

    Often, when editing a manuscript, whether one you wrote in a hurry or one you wrote in stop-and-start mode over a long period of time, you’ll encounter some of the aforementioned “big picture” problems– missing information has led to a plot hole, or hurried storytelling have resulted in an absence of your voice in part of the manuscript, or long interruptions/breaks in the writing process have led to an inconsistent tone, etc. Editor-you finds these flaws and makes note of them, but now you have a tricky job in front of you: if editor-you tries to fix these problems, you run the risk of the edited portion of the manuscript reading as less authentic or more bland/sterile than the rest of the manuscript, but if you let writer-you off her leash and tell her to fix things, there’s no telling what new mess she might get herself into. (After all, most of this is her fault in the first place.) How, then, do you reconcile your editing goals with your creative voice in fixing “big picture,” writing-or-story-related problems?

    A good place to start is to treat your editing as if it were a job you were doing for someone else. If you’ve ever paid for (or received with a publishing deal) a professional edit, you know that the editor generally doesn’t just go through and make big alterations on his own. Sure, he’ll make a lot of little changes, usually having to do with usage/consistency/grammar, etc., depending

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  • September 18, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 6, Know thyself, edit thyself


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on editing for authors. This week, we’re continuing the discussion begun last time on the developmental editing process. As I said in part 5, the purpose of a developmental edit can be boiled down to two goals: to make the manuscript coherent in content and consistent in writing quality.
    Consistent quality can obviously speak to a myriad of different aspects of your manuscript– punctuation, grammar, sentence construction, voice, dialogue, storytelling, etc. all contribute to the overall quality of your manuscript, but since we’re talking about developmental editing, we know we’re looking at quality in a big-picture sense– the overall way you put together your stories and your overall writing ability. Elements that contribute to this big-picture quality include a consistently strong writing voice, effective storytelling (through good dialogue and and strong characters), and an identifiable tone throughout.
    While editing for coherence can be a challenge because of your extreme familiarity with and knowledge of the story/material, editing for consistent quality can be difficult for the opposite reason– many writers, especially those who’ve only written a few manuscripts, don’t have the self-awareness necessary to first identify their voice, storytelling strengths, and tone, much less the ability to edit to improve these. One of the first questions I ask authors who meet with me at conferences is, “How would you describe your voice?” and more often than not, especially with first-time novelists or non-fiction writers, I’m met with a blank stare. Knowing what elements most strongly characterize your writing– whether it’s subtle humor, rich language, punchy dialogue, or larger-than-life characters– and knowing the overall tone of your book allows you to notice when those elements are missing from a portion of your manuscript, or when you’ve veered from your tone.
    Just as beta readers can help identify plot holes and missing information, they can also help you identify your specific voice, the tone of your writing,
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  • September 15, 2015

    Bad Queries! Get 'yer Bad Queries!


    I regularly get people sending me notes asking, “Why haven’t you shared any bad proposals with us lately?” So this morning I sat down and gathered together a bunch of the great projects people have sent my way over the past several months…
    —I received a proposal that starts with this line: “A serial killer masquerading as a priest is brutally Pitch Book Covermurdering convicted rapists….”  He also notes that his killer “blots out child rapists.” It ends with these words: “This is a family-friendly story.” And he also notes in his proposal that “kids loved it.” (Yeah… nothing sells books like the family-friendly combination of serial killers, rapists, and children.) 
    —And here’s a great bit of salesmanship from an author (the title and author’s name has been changed): “After reading MY BLOODY LOVER visual trailer, who do not like to see MY BLOODY LOVER made into a movie? Tell me now!!!!! I, Dong ValDong, have been told many times this is the greatest horror romance ever written and women around the world are in love or in lust with me that I am in no hurry to shoot MY BLOODY LOVER into a full feature. I will let them salivate and be romance for the taste of their dream man in the pages of MY BLOODY LOVER. Read the magic of the dialogues of what your lover should be saying to you, as my character in the world of MY BLOODY LOVER. BELIEVE IN TRUE LOVE AGAIN.” (I believe!) 
    —Speaking of romance, I culled out this great line from a romance query:Balloons don’t even scratch the surface of what you mean to me…” (Um… what?)
    —One of my favorite opening lines of all times in a query? “Ring! Ring! said the telephone.” (Yes. It’s brilliant writing like this that led me to drink.) 
    —And another romance query came in with this biographical note: “I have written and illustrated a
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  • September 14, 2015

    What does a good query letter look like?


    I’ve had three different people ask me about query letters recently… specifically, “What does a query letter look like?” and “What goes into a good query to an agent?” 

    Happy to help. To query an agent or editor is to simply approach someone and introduce your book Pitch Book Cover
    idea. The goal of your query is to get them to read your proposal. (Let me repeat that: your goal in sending an agent a query is to get them to read your proposal. No industry professional has the time to look out the window, much less sit down and read your entire unsolicited manuscript.) So you entice them with your pitch, get them to want to see the writing, and then give them the details in a quick, industry standard proposal — then you walk away, praying they’re going to want the full manuscript. The goal of a query is not to move them from “I don’t know you” to “let me make an offer on your book.” The goal is to move them from “I don’t know you” to “hey, your book sounds interesting… I’ll have a look.”

    If you are sending a query letter, it should be only three to four paragraphs long and contain your pitch, your writing bio, the manuscript status, and some comparable titles. If you are querying face-to-face at a conference, where you’ve signed up for appointments with editors and agents, your query will have these same elements, beginning with a verbal pitch lasting no longer than two or three minutes.

    And, of course, before you even consider querying, you need to make sure your manuscript draft is honed and polished, including a developmental edit (i.e., has your novel’s plot or structural flaws been revised? In a nonfiction book, is your overall argument complete and logical?) and a final proofreading, preferably from a professional editor. If you are serious about publishing, you need to take yourself—and

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  • September 10, 2015

    What's the best step for my novel writing career?


    Someone wrote to me, “What do you think is the one best step I could take in my novel writing career?”  

    I’ve thought about this a lot, since I represent a number of novelists. I suppose part of me wants to say to beginners, “Take a class so you’re forced to write” or “find a writing partner so you’ve got someone to hold you accountable.” But, after having mulled it over, here’s my response: Spend some time hanging out with other successful writers.  I just believe there’s value in doing that, if you want to take the next step in your career. How to do that?

    First, attend a great writing conference, then force yourself to attend stuff and meet people. It just seems like most of the novelists I know (not all, but most) found their careers moved forward by a writing conference. They got a chance to learn from really good writing instructors, they got to hear about the bigger industry, and they got to rub shoulders with a bunch of other writers.

    That last part is part is particularly important. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s easy to go into your cave, produce something, and have no context for knowing if it’s any good (besides having a firm belief in your own abilities, and a loving partner who tells you how wonderful you are). So being able to sit and talk with other writers is a blessing — you find out they are facing some of the same obstacles you are, and you’ll be encouraged by the people who overcame those problems and moved on to the next step. You’ll discover creative people who you like, and who inspire you, and who sometimes have great solutions to suggest to you. I don’t do a bunch of conferences any more, because my schedule won’t allow it, but I try to go to RWA and ACFW every

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  • Brian

    September 9, 2015

    The Argument for Metamedia


    Publishing & Technology: The Argument for Metamedia

    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 the prematurely forecasted death of the codex and the emergence of “metamedia” and the “bibliographic” writer. I recently was afforded the opportunity to peruse an advance copy of Alexander Starre’s forthcoming title Metamedia: American Book Fictions and Literary Print Culture after Digitization due out this fall from the University of Iowa Press.

    In the book Starre examines a new phenomena in contemporary American literature, a rediscovering of the print book as an artistic medium in and of itself. Starre argues that this trend, as exemplified by a fusing of design and text, is a direct reaction to the proliferation of e-book readers and the ongoing conversation surrounding the digitization of reading.

    He looks at Mark Z. Danielewski’s House of Leaves and other works, Jonathan Safran Foer’s books, and a variety of offerings from McSweeney’s, attempting to establish these works as metamedia for the way in which they challenge traditional notions of the way in which books (and authors) communicate with readers. He argues that these works are expanding on our ideas of the book, or the text, as a flat communicative device.

    Unfortunately, while Metamedia provides readers with an excellent investigation of what is at play (and in some ways at stake) in these works, it does little to advance its assertion that what is happening is truly a new development in the world of publishing. Except for the fact that these works may represent initial forays into metamedia territory for “serious” literature, they are no more revolutionary (or reactionary to the digital delivery of text) than the pop-up books you may have read as a child.

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  • September 8, 2015

    How long should I wait before following up on a submission?


    Someone asked, “What is an acceptable time period to wait before following up on a proposal to an agent? And how do agents feel about writers following up on a query or submission? ”

    I’ve answered this question a couple of time, so let me set some ground rules. First, I’m assuming if you sent me your proposal, we met somewhere, and I asked to see it. Remember that if I didn’t actually ask for your proposal, I don’t owe you a response. (I’m sorry if that sounds rude, but look at this from my perspective: If I had to respond to every proposal that comes in cold, I’d have a full-time job just responding to proposals… and I’d never make a dime.) So if I read your query and give you a response, even if it’s a “no thanks,” I’m doing you a favor. Second, I’m going to try and get to it quickly, but there’s no guarantee it will be immediate. I have current projects and authors, that are already making me money, and those are the priority. (Again,not trying to sound hard; just offering a reality check.) I’m the type of person who hates having a bunch of stuff sitting around the desk, so I’m bound to get to the new proposals as soon as I can. But I can get busy with travel or meetings or simply working on projects for the authors I already represent — so sometimes things can slow down considerably. Third, I understand this is a business on the writing side, so if an author needs info, I want to be fair about it; if she decides she needs to go elsewhere, I’ll probably be understanding.

    All right, so when an author sends me a proposal I’ve asked for at a conference or because we met through a mutual friend, I try to get back to people within four to six

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  • September 4, 2015

    Nurturing the Writer's Spirit (a guest blog from novelist Danica Favorite)


    One of the things we talk a lot about at conferences and workshops is how to improve the craft of writing. But I believe we’re missing an important layer of what it means to be a writer. As writers, we have to dig deep into our inner being so that we can convey stories that reach our readers. Technique is easily learned, but the essence that goes into what we write, that’s something that can only come from deep within, the core of who we are as people.

    Which is why we also need to focus on nurturing our writer’s spirit.

    Writing is an incredibly deep and emotional process. Writing is one of the few endeavors where a person lays their soul bare, gets heaping criticism flung at it, then comes back for more. Yes, there is positive feedback, but many writers will agree that there’s far more negative than positive. How do you nurture a soul that faces regular criticism in the face of all the other doubts and fears that come with the job?

    Writers, your work has value. The problem is, we’re so busy learning about techniques, markets, trends, social media, and whatever new toy the writing world has come up with, that we forget the absolute core of what we do and why we do it. All of us have different reasons for writing, different stories to tell, and a different impact we will have on the world. Yet sometimes, we lose sight of that because we’re so focused on the business of writing that we forget the soul of our writing.

    That’s not to say there’s no place in our writing careers for the business of writing. The last time I checked, writers needed to eat, too. But if we do not take the time to go back and nurture our writing spirits, if we do not care for ourselves at our very core, then

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  • Brian

    September 3, 2015

    Reading the Cloud


    Publishing & Technology: Reading the Cloud

    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 e-readers, cloud-based computing, mobile apps, and the Fabrik cloud e-book reader.

    When I recently broadened my role with MacGregor Literary, from exclusively dealing in translation and other subsidiary rights to representing new works for publication (for clarity’s sake, I am not open to unsolicited manuscripts at this time), my reading for work increased exponentially. Initially, I was content with reading manuscripts directly on my laptop. But, over time this became an issue as more and more of my time was spent in the office “working.” And less and less “relaxing” with my family. I solved the problem by borrowing a rarely used Kindle from a friend and downloading my work reading as PDFs onto the device. I could then “relax” with the family, while “working.” For some reason the change in device represented a change in my behavior to the observers (who spend half of their time exhibiting second-screen behavior of their own). I have been happy with Kindle, but my friend has been making noises about wanting it back soon for an extended trip out of state, so I find myself with a problem.

    Recently, I finally broke my iPhone4. And, while perusing the available upgrades at my mobile provider, I was enticed with a bundled deal that would allow me to also pick up an Android-based tablet for very little extra money. So, I dove into the internet and began looking up Android-based e-reader apps in the hopes that I might find something that mirrored the features of the Kindle that I enjoyed while being compatible with the tablet that I haven’t necessarily committed to purchasing yet.


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