• September 2, 2015

    How I got screwed by Delta (your Happy Traveler Note of the Week)


    So last week I was supposed to fly from Denver (where I was having publishing meetings) to Nashville (where we were hosting a marketing seminar for our authors). I’m the type that Deltaalways tries to keep travel expenses low (in the technical term, a “cheapskate”), so I used some Delta miles to purchase a one-way ticket  back in April. I made sure to get a ticket in the late afternoon, figuring if there’s any sort of problem, Delta could always stick me onto a later flight. I had to be in Nashville at 9 the next morning to speak.

    So I get to the airport in plenty of time, go to one of those Delta machines… and it won’t check me in. It says there’s a problem, and I have to go stand in line. Grrr. Okay, so I stand in line a half hour, am greeted by a very nice Delta employee who looks sharp but, unfortunately, has the attention span of a Cocker Spaniel, and who informs me that my flight, which routed me through Atlanta, was changed, and they’d be getting me to Nashville, not that night, but THE NEXT DAY. AT 1:30 IN THE AFTERNOON. She smiles sweetly as she says this.

    I keep my cool, explain that no, that plan won’t work, I’ve got to speak in the morning, and they need to find some alternative. She looks around, as though I’m speaking a foreign language, then says she can’t find any alternatives. “Um… really?” I ask. “Because I used to live in Nashville, flew in and out all the time, and there are plenty of flights into BNA. It’s only 4 PM, there’s no weather, so maybe you could look again?” She does, but I can’t tell if she really understands the routes, since she twice talks about getting me to Charlotte — which, technically, isn’t Nashville, although I hear they also have great

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  • September 2, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 5, The Big Picture


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back (after a couple weeks off) to my series on editing for authors. I spent the last two posts talking about the role of a style sheet in the editing process (here and here, if you missed them). A style sheet is an extremely helpful tool in making “little-picture” edits such as consistent spelling or formatting, and in keeping track of details such as a character’s hair color, mother’s name, or the kind of car she drives. When it comes to editing your book for the “big picture,” however, it’s hard to draft a checklist that can anticipate the variety of bigger-scale problems that can show up in a manuscript. Learning to recognize problems such as inconsistent pacing, incomplete plots, weak dialogue, or mushy writing voice takes a different kind of perspective and a different set of editing skills. These kind of “big picture” edits are part of the developmental editing process, the purpose of which can be boiled down to two goals: to make the manuscript coherent in content and consistent in writing quality. We’ll look at the first of these two goals this week.

    Coherency in a finished manuscript is one of the hardest things to assess accurately as a self-editor. After all, all your manuscript’s content came out of your head– you invented the crazy plot, you know the thoughts running through the characters’ heads, you understand the connection between seemingly unrelated anecdotes or lessons in your memoir, you appreciate the significance of a piece of information in your business book, etc. Inevitably, some of this information that is so clear in our heads gets muddled when we transfer it to the page, leaving a reader confused about a sequence of events, a character’s actions, or a seemingly pointless paragraph. We can try to edit our own work for clarity and coherence, but because we invented these scenarios or are writing out of our

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  • August 31, 2015

    The View from the Bookstore (a guest post)


    In response to the posts we’ve had on the Family Christian Stores debacle, we’re received a number great letters from people involved. Authors, editors, publishers, and agents have all written with their thoughts. But I wanted to share one note from a bookstore owner in Green Bay, Wisconsin, who I think offers some perspective on the situation. This is shared with her permission…

    People have talked about how much Family has lost in this bankruptcy, what the vendors have lost, what the authors have lost, and I’m sure what you may have lost also. However, no one seems to have mentioned the problems this has caused for the entire independent Christian bookstore industry. We have read how the vendors had to have Family stay in business because “they needed to have someone to sell their books to.”
      I am a part of the Munce Group, and we still have nearly 500 independent stores. The Parable Group has a large group of stores, too. The Covenant Group has independent stores that have faithfully served the market for years. And there are many who are not a part of any marketing group. These were stores they could sell to also.
     These were stores who have been paying their bills, and have most likely been paying more for their product than Family did. We didn’t get consignment offers, and if we did we would have understood that product was not ours – it still belonged to the vendor.
      Family talks about all their profits going to widows and orphans. If there were no profits how many widows and orphans were helped? In contrast, many of these independent stores have ministered in their own communities, and brought the gospel to thousands of people? We will not know that until we all reach heaven and see who has been touched by our ministries.
      Who is going to champion for the independent stores? Many of us
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  • August 27, 2015

    "Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores?"


    Okay, so my recent posts (here, here, and here) on the bankruptcy, reorganization, and sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) has created a bit of a stir. Four publishers wrote me to say thanks. Several independent bookstores wrote to tell me I’ve not told the whole story. And a few folks wrote in to say, in essence, “Why are you picking on Family Christian Stores? Don’t you want them to stay in business? And don’t lots of businesses go through bankruptcy?” 

    I think there are four things to note…

    First, this isn’t your typical bankruptcy. Look, I’m a small businessman. I know that bookstores_2sometimes the market can turn on you, and you lose money. I had a friend who went big into microfiche, just as the ‘fiche industry was made obsolete by digitalization. Tastes change, technology creates new products, and a business can suddenly be facing hard times. Um… that’s not what’s going on here. According to vendors, the folks at FCS were ordering products in, knowing they were not going to be able to pay for them. Some small businesses delivered orders within days of FCS shutting down — and they have claimed the company simply had to have known it was receiving product for which they’d never pay.

    The worst example? Bibles — and at least two publishers have said to me, “This was all about Bibles.” Of the $14 million FCS owed to publishers, about $10 million of it was in Bibles. The vast majority of money they owed to HarperCollins was for Bibles that Family had ordered in. So look at the money for a moment… FCS orders in $10 million in Bibles. But instead of paying ten million, they end up, after their re-org, paying roughly one-and-a-half million. AND they get to keep that product and sell it at full retail price, so somewhere in the neighborhood of $20 to $25

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  • Brian

    August 26, 2015

    You’re Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy


    Publishing & Technology: You are Getting Sleepy, Very Sleepy

    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 practice of incorporating psychological techniques into children’s books to help children with a variety of emotional, behavioral, and other problems. Yesterday, the Smithsonian published a piece on its website called Six Children’s Books That Use Psychological Techniques to Help Kids. In the article, Smithsonian writer Emily Matcher takes a quick look at The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep and five other books that use suggestions, cues, hypnosis and other techniques to facilitate a variety of reactions in children. Whether it’s going to sleep in the case of the Amazon best-selling self-published title that begins the article, working through PTSD with A Terrible Thing Happened, getting help with anger management with Calm Down Time or Angry Octopus, or dealing with stress by reading Ladybird’s Remarkable Relaxation, all of these titles employ a kind of embedded technology to produce a desired effect. The other thing that all these titles have in common is that they are selling well. The Rabbit Who Wants to Fall Asleep is currently Amazon’s number one best seller. I find this infuriating for two reasons: First of all, where was this book when my children were young enough that they needed help falling asleep (as opposed to help getting out of bed at a reasonable hour). And secondly, given that haptic interaction is one of the key qualities missing from the experience of reading digitally delivered text, one wonders if electronic publishing could learn something from the success of these titles regarding the idea of embedding technology in the reading experience to deliver an enhanced result for consumers of

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  • August 25, 2015

    Why does everyone want to be published?


    I thought you’d like to see this question someone sent me: “I’ve been writing for several months now, and I’m trying to figure out what my motivation is. Can you help me understand WHY so many writers want to become published authors?”

    A fascinating question. Okay, this may surprise you, but I believe most new writers basically Keyboardwant to get published so that they’ll be famous. They want that thrill of holding up a book with their name emblazoned on the cover, show it to their friends, leave it on their coffee table, maybe peruse a copy at the bookstore and casually mention to someone in the aisle, “You know… I wrote this.” I think most new writers are seeking fame and encouragement, that they believe validity and meaning will arrive out of publication. They see fame as offering a measurable amount of worth and competence.

    That’s not to say most new writers don’t also have something they want to say — they do. It’s just that many newer writers struggle with having a worthwhile story. Think about it — we all know it takes a while for a writer to become competent. Rarely do you see a novelist get her first completed work contracted. The industry average is five complete books before landing a deal… in other words, if you’re starting out, it will probably be your fifth completed novel before you get a contract. That’s why so many writers give up after one or two — it takes persistence to complete five novels before a publisher will pay attention to your work. So, in my opinion, many writers get into the business as a way to express themselves; as a way to get noticed.

    Yet most writers who have achieved some level of fame fairly quickly eschew it in favor of craft. They may still enjoy the warmth associated with being recognized, or having someone come up and

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  • Brian

    August 20, 2015

    Freeping the Hugos


    Publishing & Technology: Freeping the Hugos

    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 discussing the upcoming Hugo Awards, freeping, and literary awards in general. This weekend in the seventy-third annual World Science Fiction Convention comes to Spokane, Washington, bringing with it the annual Hugo Awards ceremony, with all the pomp and circumstance one might expect from an awards ceremony. But this year, the awards are somewhat embroiled in a bit of controversy. It seems that a fringe group of conservative sci-fi writers and fans was able to freep (stack the poll results with a swarm of votes) the nomination process for the Hugos and secure nominations for a group of like-minded writers. For an in-depth article on the controversy, click here.

    The first question that comes to mind is, “why?” Why would anyone, much less a whole group of people, devote their time and energy to so seemingly pointless an exercise? Are the conservative minority so offended by the ongoing swell of social consciousness invading their beloved genre? Or have they been angry since say 1956, when Heinlein’s thinly-veiled social commentary Double Star won the Hugo for Best Novel? Or are they just angry because authors who don’t look like them (white men) are getting good work published in the genre that is selling and winning awards?

    Regardless of the point of the freeping of the Hugos, I’m led to question the value of the awards in general. Are they truly “prestigious”? Do readers “looking for a good science-fiction or fantasy book…look for the distinctive rocket ship logo of the Hugo Award,” as recent NPR coverage claims? I’ve heard that booksellers may be swayed by a titles status as award-winning, and I’ve witnessed firsthand

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  • August 17, 2015

    The Family Christian Follies


    Okay, it’s all settled. After months of arguing, pointing fingers, and making late-night calls that threatened to screw up the entire deal, the country’s largest Christian retail chain is going to remain open. That’s good news for writers (in a way). It’s also a mess (and I’ve reported on it here and here).

    Late last week a bankruptcy judge approved the sale of Family Christian Stores (FCS) to a “new” entity, called FCS Acquisitions, which happens to be owned by the same folks who owned FCS. The price tag? About $55-million — which is interesting, since FCS owed about $127-million. So by going through a Chapter 11, they shed millions of dollars in leases, rent contracts, loans — oh, and debts to publishers. According to two sources, Credit Suisse (the largest of the creditors owed money, and the bank that kept FCS in business with a huge loan a few years ago) will be paid roughly 17.5% of what it’s owed.

    Publishers, on the other hand, who were owed roughly $14-million, will be paid about 15% of what is owed them. Several publishers, including Baker, Harvest House, Tyndale, B&H, Crossway, Barbour, and others, are taking huge losses — many in the half-million dollar range. HarperCollins is having to write off millions. Gospel Light Publishing had to file for bankruptcy. And this means authors, whose books will be sold from store shelves, won’t actually receive any royalty from those sales because the publishers will never be paid for the books they shipped. I also heard from at least two suppliers that were going out of business because of the money that had tied up in products FCS took in and will never pay them for. And, despite their claim that all 266 stores will remain open and nobody will lose their job, estimates are that they’ll close at least 20 stores. It’s been a total black eye for Christian publishing.

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  • Brian

    August 13, 2015

    Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood


    Publishing & Technology: Tiny Bubbles, in the Blood

    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 I’m not writing about technology. I’ve just come off my first appearance as an agent at the venerable Willamette Writer’s Conference and, though I had an excellent time hanging out with writers and other industry professionals, I’m afraid that I’m just too mentally exhausted to do any meaningful research into what is happening in publishing at the moment. It’s as if I was deep, deep in the ocean, under the relentless pressure of a six eight-minute pitches an hour, every hour, from nine in the morning to five in the evening for three days straight, and after all that, I came up for air too fast and developed a case of what feels like the bends.

    I know, if I were still working for a living (and I mean with a shovel), I’d probably scoff at the idea of being exhausted after three days at a writing conference. But, I’m not lying when I say that it can be completely tiring hanging out with several hundred introverts all doing their best to be extroverted enough to sell their work to agents, editors, and the like. And to have so many of them pay to sit in front of me and try valiantly to explain their plots and characters and platforms was both disheartening and absolutely beautiful at the same time. The least I can do to honor their courage is to offer up one little insight that I have for authors as I walk away from this experience for the first time.

    My one insight: Anyone that tells that there is one perfect way to pitch your novel to agents and acquiring

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  • August 12, 2015

    Editing for Authors: Part 4b, The Great and Powerful Style Sheet


    brick green no smile b:wWelcome back to my series on editing for authors. Last week, I started to talk about the role of a style sheet in the editing process, specifically the story and character-related elements. This week, we’re looking at the craft and style-related elements of a style sheet, as well as how to use a style sheet to focus your editing.

    As I said last week, style sheets are largely descriptive rather than prescriptive– in other words, your style sheet is based on the writing voice/habits that are already in evidence in your manuscript. When you’ve finished a draft of a manuscript and are ready to start editing, you want to look at your manuscript and determine which conventions you’ve used most often and which ones you want to define your voice, and build your style sheet accordingly, adding entries addressing usage, punctuation, spelling, style, and formatting questions that will arise as you edit your manuscript.

    For example, if you hyphenated a word the first three or four times you used it (“birth-mother”), you would probably make the hyphenated version an entry on your style sheet, the idea being that you will use that entry as a reference by which to determine that you will alter any subsequent uses of that word where you didn’t hyphenate it. If, however, you hyphenated it the first time but then used it seven more times in the first three chapters without hyphenating it, you’d probably want to let the majority dictate your style-sheet entry, and use the non-hyphenated version as the rule to be followed on your style sheet, since, again, the goal of a style sheet is to define the elements of your style that are already in evidence in your writing and your voice so that you can ensure that they are reflected in your whole manuscript, since precious few of us write with perfect consistency throughout a 75,000-word manuscript. Use this

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