BY CHIP MACGREGOR
I’m one of those agents who believes in the future of publishing. I respect the past, but I understand that the old way of doing things won’t work today — everything has changed, we’re in a state of revolution, and people who want to make a living in this business will have to adapt or die. I know that’s true of agents, who must change the way they’re doing things if they expect to make a living in 2014. I think that’s true of publishers, who are big and successful for a reason, and who will continue to try to change their models to remain in business and make money. And I believe it’s also true of authors, who simply have to accept the world has changed and look to the future with a new plan.
The old plan for most authors was clear: write a great book, find an agent, and let him help you land a deal with a publisher. Most authors relied on an advance to make a living, and the full-timers tended to live from one advance check to the next. Royalties were great, when they showed up once or twice per year, but could barely be counted on. The power was in the hands of publishers, and there were a number of middlemen (distributors, retailers, agents) intruding on much of a relationship that SEEMED like it should have been simply “author-to-reader.” In that old system, the roles were clear: the authors wrote books, the agents negotiated books, the publishers produced books, the marketers promoted books, the distributors provided books, and the retailers sold books. Sometimes it didn’t seem fair — as though the authors who were churning out the art didn’t have much control, and were at the mercy of a sometimes fickle or arbitrary system.
Then things changed. Amazon came along and, in essence, removed many of the middlemen. An author
BY CHIP MACGREGOR
A reader wrote to say, “I’m going to a big writing conference that encourages us to join a critique group. You’ve talked before about the benefit of being in a critique group, but I was in a critique group that didn’t work. What I’m wondering is how to make a critique group actually WORK. Can you help?”
I’m a huge fan of critique groups, and have participated in several until I moved or they wised up and threw me out. The experience has taught me a few principles for getting the most out of the group. Here are my Ten Laws of Critique Groups:
- 1. Ask yourself why you want a critique group. What do you hope to get out of it? You ought to have clear expectations going in, so that you’ve got something to evaluate the benefits later. Some people basically want to hang out with other writers — more or less the same reason they attend writers conferences. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if that’s your reason for joining, you should easily find a group that fits your needs. Others really want a dedicated group of professional writers to take a careful and thoughtful look at their material. If that’s what you’re after, you’re going to need to put a lot more thought into your group.
- 2. The value of a critique group is based almost entirely on the membership. So look for people who are AT YOUR LEVEL or maybe just a bit better than you (if your ego can take it) and talk to them about the group. Basically, people want to know what the commitment will be (a weekly or maybe twice a month meeting that lasts a couple hours), what the expectations are (that members will actually READ the other member’s writings before coming to the meeting), and what the benefit is to them (you’ll hear advice for
Someone wrote to ask a favorite question: “Are there certain editing errors that drive you crazy?”
Yes! Of course! Here’s one! Novelists who use exclamation points as though the period key didn’t work on their keyboard! I hate this! Really! What’s worse is the writer who needs to use several at once!!!!
Here’s “another” one: Occasionally you’ll find “authors” who feel a “need” to put any emphasized words in “quotes,” since they think it makes them look “official.” This is particularly tiresome when a “funny” author decides to put his “punchline” in quotations. An “idea:” cut the quotation marks.
And a third (related) item: People who use an open parenthesis but no close parenthesis. (For example, this kind.
Number four: The serial comma. The rule for using commas is that there should be ONE LESS COMMA THAN THE ITEMS IN YOUR LIST. So if you list five things, you’d use four commas. Let me offer an example… “Farnsworth visited Italy, Spain, Bermuda, and Angora.” Note that there are four countries and three commas — one less than the list. Writers will often drop the serial comma, in an apparent attempt to make “Bermuda and Angora” one country (sort of like Trinidad and Tobago, if you need a geography joke).
5. Notice the unclear way I’ve used to create this list. I didn’t number the first or second. Then I used “third” and “fourth,” followed by the number 5. An editing error that drives me up a tree is jumbled numbers in a list. For some reason, Number-Impaired People will make an outline that reads, “First,” followed by “Two,” then “C,” and then “4.” (Or, occasionally, “13.”) Make all your numbered lists consistent. And try not to put a numbered list within another numbered list. Too many numbers drives editors insane.
Sixth: Please notice I didn’t write “sixthly.” From a strict editorial viewpoint, there is no reason the word “firstly” or
AGENT and VICE-PRESIDENT at MACGREGOR LITERARY
Glad to be back. I’m excited to start the year with a monthly blog series, HERE’S THE DEAL.
I often find the story behind the deal – the journey to publication – as exciting as making the deal itself. Given that, on the first Friday of each month, I’ll be offering glimpses into the backstory of how a particular book came to be published. And not from hearsay, but directly from the perspective of the acquiring editor.
Of course it is a big day when an author hears those long-awaited words from their agent “we have a deal!” But as anyone who works in traditional publishing knows, getting to that point is rarely quick and never, never easy. And it’s not just the author and agent who labor to sell a book, but also the acquiring editor who works diligently to champion and support a project all the way through, from initial discovery all the way through acquisition, editing, marketing, release, and beyond.
To kick things off, I interviewed Marc Resnick, Senior Editor at St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan. In addition to having an office in the Flatiron – one of the coolest buildings in New York City – Marc is a pretty cool guy himself, and we’ve kept in touch since first meeting at a conference a few years ago.
Though he and I have yet to do a deal together, we share an affinity for military topics. So, when we spoke for this interview I wasn’t surprised he chose to tell me the story behind the acquisition and success of the 2011 title SEAL TEAM SIX by Howard E. Wasdin and Stephen Templin.
The Team Behind SEAL TEAM SIX
Marc told me that when he received the proposal, originally titled Confessions of a Navy Seal Sniper, he read it immediately. A big part of his motivation
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.
Last week, I showed you a bunch of viral videos, and we talked about how most book trailers don’t deliver on a great experience, and then they fail to become even remotely close to viral.
But let’s really dig in here. Let’s really take a look at book trailers and what works and what doesn’t.
DIVERGENT by Veronica Roth was one of the most-read series of the past few years. It’s a dystopian YA story that followed on THE HUNGER GAMES’s coattails (though maybe unintentionally) and now has movies and merch and all that good stuff.
But despite being a smash hit, its book trailer looks like most book trailers. It’s flat. Simple. It does the job, but it doesn’t do the one thing that all viral videos do…it doesn’t cause you to want to talk about it or share it with anyone. Here it is:
On the flip side, we have MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs. This book came from a mid-sized house (instead of the machine that is HarperCollins). It also is a middle grade/YA novel about weird things. But its trailer offers an experience that gets you, the reader, EXCITED about the book:
WOW, am I right?
So here’s how the numbers look…
DIVERGENT has sold a ton of books. Like a bazillion. On Goodreads alone it is rated almost 585,000 times. So a smash hit, for sure.
Its book trailer has been watched 215,000 times since the book released in May 2011. To me, that number is a bit
Here’s the thing with writing contests—they’re kind of like gas station pizza: either an incredibly satisfying experience…or HORRIFYING. And sometimes, you just don’t know which it’s gonna be until it’s all over and you’re smiling in cheesy happiness or tossing your cookies…which in this case would be more like tossing your pepperoni.
[Rambling. Revert course]
So writing contests.
Though I’m no contest guru, I do think we can take our contest experience to a much happier place when we enter the right way…as opposed to the way that may drive you and quite possibly your loved ones up to the brink of batty.
(Some signs that you may be entering the latter way: You’ve got a countdown app on your phone noting the days and hours until the date finalists are to be announced. You’re sure if you DO final, it means you will be published in the next couple months. You’re sure if you DON’T final, God is telling you to stop writing. In short, you slip into obsessed territory. Please don’t go there.)
So here are my suggestions for entering a contest the right way:
1) Enter the contests that give GOOD feedback.
Do you homework about the contest you’re considering. Who are the judges? Talk to past entrants. Do the judges do more than stick a number on a page? Good. Do they offer feedback beyond, “Hated your character’s first name.”? Good. These are the contests you want to enter.
2) And then enter FOR the feedback.
This is the thing with contests: It’s your chance to get professional feedback…for super cheap! Seriously, $40 or $50 to have a published author, agent or editor look at your work is a steal. If you can view this contest as a transaction in which you’re getting a great deal with a solid return on your investment (dude, Dave Ramsey would be so proud!), then finaling or not finaling loses
So… we updated our WordPress site at the end of the year. And in doing so, somehow the system ended ALL of the subscriptions. That means nobody is receiving this blog any more, and we have to try and get everyone to re-subscribe. My apologies to all, and I promise — If I ever get to meet the person in charge of the WordPress update debacle, I’ll be sure to kick him in the shins.
If you’re a loyal reader of our blog, offering inside information on writing and publishing in these changing times, we appreciate you subscribing, and we’re sorry for the inconvenience. But subscribe now, and… um… the NEXT PERSON YOU MEET WILL HAND YOU A TEN DOLLAR BILL! Really! It works like one of those chain letters. Failure to subscribe will mean terrible things are about to happen — Broncos fans will be forced to watch reruns of the Super Bowl. Seahawk fans will be forced to watch reruns of the Super Bowl commercials. Trust me on this.
Okay, so I lied… I guess we’re still living with the fun-filled antics of those wacky WinePress people. Just in case you’re following the story (and you can get the whole thing in my previous post), let me offer a handful of quick updates.
1. WinePress is out of business. Or it’s not. Or it is. Seems like they can’t decide. They posted on their website that “the time has come to end” — which surprised exactly nobody, since the time to end probably came when they started not producing the books authors had paid for. But then they sent out an email saying they weren’t out of business, things were in “a state of flux,” and that authors could still get their books. Then it changed, and they were out of business after all. Then… well, you get the picture. Like most everything else at WinePress, pinning down the truth can be a bit tricky.
2. Remarkably, they’re asking authors for more money. Um… you might find this hard to believe, but in their most recent email to authors, they shared a link which asks authors to send them money in order to get their book files back. This from a company that is being accused by many of having taken their money (I personally talked with a woman who says she sent them $17,000 and received nothing; another who said she sent them more than $12,000 and got no books). So as far as I can figure out, the new line goes like this: “Hey, suckers… You think you haven’t sent me enough dough yet? I got an idea… send me some MORE. Trust me, it’ll be fine.” Anyone who falls for that should have his or her head examined. And I’ve heard from more than one source that a Class Action suit is going to be filed against them. You know the old saying — you take
Amanda Luedeke is a literary agent with MacGregor Literary. Every Thursday, she posts about growing your author platform. You can follow her on Twitter @amandaluedeke or join her Facebook group to stay current with her wheelings and dealings as an agent. Her author marketing book, The Extroverted Writer, is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Today, it is on sale for $2.99…check it out!
Oh, the book trailer…The minute-long visual of stock photography that dances across the screen to the beat movie scores, voiceovers, and sound effects.
Publishers create them. Authors adore them. But readers?
Readers ignore them.
I get it. Having a book trailer is like this announcement that you’ve arrived. For most, it’s the closest thing to a movie trailer that the author will ever get, and so it’s special.
But it’s also a waste of money. Why? Because it’s a minute-long advertisement that is usually the equivalent of a locally made commercial. Just take a moment to think about those local commercials…when was the last time you watched one and thought to yourself, “I just HAVE to look up C&C Heating and Air Conditioning!”
Probably never. So if book trailers are similar to these local commercials, the likelihood of someone watching one and then becoming interested in your book is so, so, so, so low.
THE POWER OF VIDEO
When done right, video can make viewers respond in positive ways. Let’s take the Oikos commercials with John Stamos. They’re a tad funny and a lot nostalgic for those of us who remember Uncle Jesse and obsessed over ER. So all in all, they’re decent commercials. But they are still advertisements.
How do you take an advertisement and turn it viral?
THE VIRAL VIDEO
Viral videos happen when a video of any sort (whether a home video, a stunt, a performance, etc), catches on with the general public.
So faithful readers will recall that a couple years ago, the woman who started vanity press success story Winepress Publishing, Athena Dean, had announced the business had basically been taken over by a cult, and was being run by a guy who had bullied her into handing over her business to the church — you can find her story at www.tinyurl.com/nx6sulx
It’s fascinating reading — a seemingly normal woman sucked in by a group of true believers, she lost her family and business over it, and eventually woke up to the fact that she was the victim of a manipulative group of religionists. I made one comment on it on Facebook (my exact words were: “Holy cow. I mean… WOW! This will blow the socks off of anyone who’s been involved in CBA publishing in recent years. Wow…” ) and that was enough to earn the wrath of the guy in charge of both the church & the publishing company. They sent me a cease and desist letter, complete with really cool bible verses and a laughably funny “thou shalt not” tone that sounded right out of a 1950’s biblical epic movie with Charleton Heston. Bullying and obfuscation is their stock in trade, so of course I blogged about it (you’ll find my post here: www.chipmacgregor.com/current-affairs/conspirators-r-us/ ) — I figured if they were doing this to ME, they were doing it to others in publishing, and somebody needed to say something.
Sure enough, it turns out those wacky folks at Winepress had been threatening and cajoling people with their legal letters and threats for a long time. But a funny thing happens when you shine a little light on darkness — people begin to see the problems. And LOTS of people saw the problems at Winepress. Authors started leaving them in droves, not wanting to be associated with a cult (and let’s define a cult as a group of people